The Great Pacific Northwest and Tempranillo

Tahoe, 2009“Nueve Messes de Invierno, Tres Messes de Inferno,” is how Javier Alfonso describes the climate of both his home of origin, Ribera del Duero, Spain and his adopted home, Woodinville, Washington. Javier is the owner of Pomum Winery in Woodinville. He serves on TAPAS, which stands for Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society. Their mission is to cultivate Spain’s famous grape, Tempranillo in the Great Pacific Northwest of the United States, and to educate as they go.

What do the Great Pacific Northwest of the United States and North Central Spain have in common? A lot, according to the members of TAPAS. As Javier Alfonso points out in the above Spanish saying that he brought with him from home, both regions have a climate that can be described as ‘Nine Months of Winter, Three Months of Hell.’ That is the climate that Tempanillo needs; a continental climate with hot summers, big diurnal swings and a short growing season.

Tim Harless of Hat Ranch Winery agrees and has found that same climate in Idaho, yes, ‘Let’s dispense with the potato wine jokes right up front’ Idaho. Along the Snake River, the climate is hot in the summer and the elevation is high, in some places as high as 2500 feet, much as it is in central Spain.

Dwight Sick, the winemaker at Stag’s Hollow Winery has found the Tempranillo grape to be right at home in OKanagan Valley, British Columbia. He has found the soils of this region, a combination of sandy, gravel, glacial and clay to be a good match to the grape.

One of the pioneers of bringing Tempranillo to the Great Pacific Northwest is Earl Jones of Abacela Winery in Oregon. He realized back in 1992 that the Iberian grapes would be a natural to the region, not just because of the similar climate, soils, and altitudes, but also, because of the same latitude as some of Spain’s great Tempranillo growing regions.

The word ‘Tempranillo’ sounds similar to the English word ‘temperamental,’ but all representatives from TAPAS agreed that it is not a difficult grape to grow. As they have all shown in their wines, Tempranillo can do quite well outside of its place of origin. The Tempranillos that we tasted from Stag’s Hollow, Pomum, HAT Ranch, and Abacela all had aromas of mineral and dark fruit. The Okanagan wine from Stag’s Hollow had undertones of leather and spice. Washington’s Pomum Cellars presented coffee and raspberry. HAT Ranch of Idaho offered cranberry and rose, and the Abacela of Oregon Tempranillo gave off smoked meat and chocolate aromas. But they all had a similar flavor profile and structure to the Tempranillos of Rioja and Ribera del Duero.

In Spanish ‘temprano’ means ‘early.’ That is what this grape needs. It is early ripening and thrives in a short growing season. In the Great Pacific Northwest, Tempranillo has founds its second home.