BACK IN THE 1960s and ’70s, the first pinot noir vines were planted in the Willamette Valley, and within a few seasons, the winemaking pioneers who planted them proved naysayers around the world dead wrong. As we all now know, the Willamette Valley has become one of the world’s most renowned pinot noir producers.
Now take that bit of winemaking lore and apply it to the Southern Oregon AVA, where some three dozen wineries have, in the past 10 years or so, just begun to explore the viticultural possibilities of the Rogue, Umpqua and Applegate Valleys that lie between Roseburg and Jacksonville. Comprising the state’s most mountainous—and perhaps most remote—wine region, Southern Oregon’s warmer climate is friendlier to Rhône and Spanish varietals, such as syrah, malbec and tempranillo (although there’s still plenty of pinot noir and pinot gris being cultivated in the region). That’s good news for those who prefer big wines with ripe blueberry fruit flavors and full tannins, as opposed to the subtlety and light acidity of our state’s pinot noir.
If there’s a downside to Southern Oregon’s relatively new status as a notable wine region, it may be that it’s taken many of the wineries up until now to determine exactly which warm-weather varietals grow best there. But a few, Abacela and Wooldridge Creek among them, have already figured it out, and have garnered well-deserved accolades for their wines as a result. In fact, it’s our prediction that Abacela co-owner and winemaker Earl Jones, who was the first to plant tempranillo in the area, may do for Southern Oregon what pinot pioneer David Lett did for the Willamette Valley: In 10 years time, don’t be surprised if tempranillo is this budding wine region’s international calling card.