Winery Profile:

Abacela

Abacela Story

For years Earl and Hilda Jones have pursued their passion to produce fine wine from Spain's noble Tempranillo grape - - - - - in America. Despite Tempranillo's obvious quality role in Spanish wine production and its utilization in America for more than a hundred years, Americans vintners had, by the early 1990's only produced jug quality wine from the varietal. Why was the wine industry in America trapped in this rut and unable to produce fine wines similar to those produced in Spain's Rioja and Ribera Del Duero? Travel and research in Spain revealed that a fairly specific climate, characterized by a cool spring, dry-hot summer and a cool early autumn was closely associated with and likely a key requirement for production of fine Tempranillo. Learning that in the USA the grape had been historically grown in the hot central valley of California, they suspected the inability of Americans to produce fine Tempranillo wine was the result of growing the variety in the wrong climate.

Given that the Joneses lived at that time on the subtropical Gulf Coast near Pensacola Florida they were well aware that a long distance move was likely required if they were ever to realize their dream. The question was where? Thus began the search for an American climate that was analogous, e.g. a holoclime, to the Spanish climate tightly linked with production of fine Tempranillo wine.

Searching for that holoclime lead the Joneses to many libraries and through books, climate records, and maps and eventually to visit each of the western U.S. states and finally to Southern Oregon. There they found an analogous climate to blanket much of Southern Oregon's Jackson, Josephine and Douglas counties.

From this climate zone the Joneses selected a site on south sloping hillsides in Douglas County's Umpqua Valley eleven miles southwest of Roseburg and in 1995 planted the first Tempranillo in the Pacific Northwest. To commemorate the event they named their new vineyard and winery Abacela from an ancient and now almost obsolete verb, 'abacelar' common to three Iberian languages-Spanish, Galician and Portuguese-and which means "to plant a grape vine."

With early success in producing Tempranillo, the Joneses began the Abacela vineyard research and development project to determine if other winegrapes might also thrive and produce fine wine in this unique terroir. This pioneering "project" has subsequently expanded into a 60 acre vineyard growing over 20 winegrape varieties and a winery producing outstanding varietal wines many of which were firsts in the Pacific Northwest.

The most critical issues in viticulture and winemaking is to understanding precisely what is meant by the two statements; 1 “The wine is made in the vineyard” and 2 “the finest wines are successfully produced from grapes grown in marginal cool climates”.

In the first sentence, the words “is made” has been bolded to emphasize that all quality in a finished wine is present in the grape when it leaves the vine. It will not ripen further in the winery nor become more varietaly correct. From that point forward winemaking is about stewardship, in essence understanding the fruit and what to do with it so as not to do things that detract from the final quality of the wine.

In the second sentence, the word cool has been bolded to emphasize that the reciprocal, that is making wines from grapes grown in a marginally warm climate for the varietal is never thought to result in a fine wine. The flavors in such a wine are often described as raisined, stewed or cooked. The reciprocal, that is growing grapes in a climate too cool to ripen the fruit produces unripe or green, stem-like aromas and flavors that is equally problematic.

The word successfully was bolded to emphasis that success, defined as quality wine or fiscal success is only achieved in the right climate. All the while climate is the average of the weather and each vintage has its own weather. To be economically viable the climate must adequately ripen the grapes in even the coolest years while never being excessively warm in even the hottest years. Thus only the ideal varietal site-climate match, lying safely between these extremes, is an economically successful choice. The critical issue in varietal site matching then becomes, how much safety, or extra warmth or cold are you willing to tolerate in the pursuit of excellence?

When matching the climatic requirements of a particular varietal to a climate the odds of economic and vinous success may be heightened by certain site specific considerations. In this philosophical sense, there are four major attributes that require further discussion as one approaches a varietal's marginally cool limits. They are;

1. Try to select a climate that is generally arid with little growing season rainfall and low relative humidity (see climate).
2. Try to select a vineyard site that it is relatively safe from winter deep-freeze vine kill (see climate).
3. Try to select a vineyard site that is relatively free of the risk of growing season frosts (see climate).
4. Try to select a site, in the northern hemisphere that affords south facing hillside topography (see landscape).
5. The reasons behind these last two considerations and their interrelationships requires further comment.


A hillside affords major advantages in viticulture. First cold air drainage down the slope mitigates the region’s risk of frost damage compared to what would otherwise be expected for vines on flat terrain. The slope also provides drainage for excessive ground water. These advantages are important. In the Northern hemisphere, a south facing hillside affords even further advantages. The hills tilt or angle to the sun results in more insulation which results in earlier warming of the soil and vine growth. The hillside is advantageous through the growing season and results in considerable more heat units being accumulated than would occur on otherwise equal but flat sites. Hillside soils are also typically thinner and poorer which naturally reduces the vines vigor and crop yield. These individual gains are cumulative and their sum is huge.

Furthermore, if irrigation water is available and the vineyard is so equipped there is an additional technique, Regulated deficit irrigation (RDI) that can be used to accelerate ripening and improve fruit flavors in a marginal cool climate. RDI is practiced after vines have reach their full size by irrigating with reduce volumes such that the soil water deficit accelerates vine and fruit maturity. This process works best on hillside vineyards with shallow soils. Thus in the pursuit of excellence in a marginally cool climate, RDI may be used when necessary to nudge your precious crop to within the safety brackets that are required.

Whether one thinks of this as a philosophic issue or not the most important decision in viticulture is varietal site matching. The fact we moved our family 2700 miles for the opportunity to grow Tempranillo at Abacela should suggest we would not be willing to plant other varietals that didn't appear likely to succeed in this climate. For that reason we don’t grow cool climate varietals like Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, etc for which the climate is excessively warm. Many people find the list of winegrapes we grow at Abacela unusual but we didn't follow fashion but rather selected the varietal based on their homes of origin sharing a similar climate to that at Abacela. Even after all this it’s not over when the plant is in the ground. We also remove from production varietals that do not produce fine wines consistent with being produced at or near their marginally cool limits. Already we have removed 6 experimental varietals and replaced them with others more suited to the site-climate at Abacela.

There are many other issues one might consider under vineyard pillows or principals. The most important, including perhaps a few practices are;

Vineyard design or layout, including aspect and row direction. In general most rows are oriented north/south but we have planted some varietals on east/west oriented rows to shade the fruit on the vine rows north side from the sun. There are some advantages for rotating the traditional north /south rows 18-20 degrees further west such that the canopy provides some shade to the fruit from the intense early afternoon sun.

There are of course many choices and decisions regarding clones and rootstocks. For example we cultivate 7 clones of Tempranillo, 4 clones of Grenache, 3 clones of Syrah, two clones of Albarino, etc. Approximately 90 percent of the vines in Fault line vineyards are grafted. The remaining ten percent are intentionally planted on their own roots. This allows one to appreciated the rootstocks effect on vine vigor etc, as well as gain some margin of safety against a sever winter deep-freeze killing the more susceptible grafted vines. We have tried many different rootstock but have settled on, in large part because of our distinctive soils 44-53, 101-14, 3309 and 420-A.

Row to row width has been largely determined by safety issues and tractor size. Plant to plant in row spacing has been carefully studied including the knowledge gained from trials ranging from 6” between plants, and at 1 foot intervals there on to 10 feet. The average spacing is 5’(1.5 meters).

We have experimented with four trellis types, including bush or goblet vines and have settled on vertical shoot positioning as the best choice. We have utilized balanced pruning knowledge to adjust vine size. We use both cane and spur on cordon pruning and have found that certain varietals do better on cane pruning and others vice versa.

We firmly believe in sustainable farming and fully recognize that if we did not we would have no future. We have never used an insecticide and have no intention of every doing so. We manage in-row weeds (a narrow strip beneath the vine) by either tillage, light herbicide spray or a combination of both measures. We spray for control of powdery mildew and botrytis. We have never used paraquat or any other restricted use spray material that is dangerous to humans and we have no plans to do so.

We may, if needed adjust canopy and fruit sun exposure by leaf pulling. Crop load is controlled by pruning, shoot thinning and fruit thinning to approximately 2.5 tons/acre or (5609 Kg/Hectare) which yields about 375 gallons of wine per acre or 35 hectoliter per hectare.

The Vineyards

The first modern winegrape planting on this property was in 1995. The name Fault Line Vineyards was derived in the years that followed by the discovery of an important geological fault on the property. This slowly moving thrust fault, albeit visible on the ground surface has existed for approximately 25 millions of years and is not predisposed to earthquakes or even mild tremors. The fault line partitions the property roughly along an east west line into an ancient southern and a youthful northern portion. Differences in bedrock geology and soils on the two sides are dramatic and dictate how the land can be utilized for vineyard layout and design. Abacela’s estate vineyards have been shaped by that fault into three distinct planting parcels that now total 60 acres.

They are:
Cox’s Rock Parcel This parcel contains our original plantings from 1995 and was named from the John Cox family who came by wagon train on the Oregon Trail in 1849 to file a donation land claim and become the first Europeans to own this land. Their name sake rock, visible from the winery, is a huge extrusion of blue schist which marks the vineyard’s western edge. This parcel, lying entirely south of the fault line and within the ancient boulder strewn Klamath terrain, has served as our mother block and source of scion wood for other plantings. Cox’ Rock presently comprises 19 acres and is further subdivided into six management blocks; North West, South West, South East, Jasper, Central, and Rocky Crest.

Cobblestone Hill Parcel This parcel was planted in 2000 and named for the numerous small to medium sized cobbles found on and around its chief feature–a very steep hill. The vineyard straddles a visible fault line and to the south of the fault line the soil, like that of Cox’s Rock vineyard, contains many boulders and large rocks. North of the fault line the soils contain only round rocks ranging in size from that of a golf ball to a basketball. The cobble soil has a texture of cracked rock and fine sand and is exceedingly porous. This parcel was largely planted as expansion blocks for varietals that had worked well in Cox’s Rock. Today this vineyard consists of 23 acres, subdivided by soil differences and topography into seven management blocks; North East, South Face, South Slope, West Slope, Angle, Cross, and North Slope.

Chaotic Ridge Parcel Planted most recently in 2004 and 2005, the vines in Chaotic Ridge were chosen to provide the acreage necessary to meet market demand for varietal wines for which grapes were otherwise in short supply both at our estate vineyards and in the region. The name Chaotic seems apropos given the fact the vineyard’s soil and bedrock geology are, in contrast to Cobblestone Hill, so tumultuous that the exact course of the fault remains obscured. Today, Chaotic Ridge comprises 18 acres and is subdivided into four management blocks, Knoll, East Hill, Tiny and West End.

Philosophy
The winemaking philosophy at Abacela begins in the vineyard. Our foremost goal is to preserve the fruit character and quality from the vineyard, to the winery, to the bottle, to the consumer. Secondly, we eagerly strive for consistent quality across varietals and vintages with a focus on the future. Third, we make every effort to be consistent in our stylistic goals of creating big, age worthy reds and crisp, refreshing whites.
Principles
Our philosophy shapes the five principles that guide our winemaking.

1. First and foremost, we only pick ripe fruit. Ripe, fully developed fruit makes fully expressive varietal correct wine.
2. We practice minimal handling in the vineyard and winery to preserve the integrity of the fruit and wine.
3. We want a gentle, thorough, and complete extraction of skin-bound compounds which contribute to aroma, flavor, color, texture, and mouthfeel.
4. We do not want to our barrel aging program to excessively influence the wine’s aromatic or flavor profile. The shrewd use of oak barrels, a vital component of our winemaking, imparts complexity without overwhelming the fruit’s essence with wood-based aromas and flavors.
5. We fine and filter our wines only when absolutely necessary. Again, we want to preserve, that is not remove any of the fundamental natural fruit flavors from vineyard to bottle.


Practices

Abacela’s winemaking practices started with the basic logistical issue that all wineries must tackle. That is, how to transport tons of grapes into, throughout, and around the winery until the desired end product (wine) is obtained. There are only two ways to accomplish this task: 1) Mechanically liquefy (crush) the fruit and pump the resulting must (crush and pump method), or 2) Move the intact berries with the aide of gravity and avoid pumping (Gravity Flow method). The processes are very different.
Crush and Pump Method

Following this technique the grapes are crushed into a must, i.e. liquefied and moved in the fluid state using a pump. While this method is efficient and economical it does pose two serious disadvantages. First, the crushing process smashes the skins, pulp, and most importantly the seeds, which when broken can release extremely bitter tasting chemical compounds into the liquid. Second, the pumping action causes further shearing and tearing of skins and seeds and most importantly compresses oxygen into the liquid thus facilitating potentially undesirable aerobic microbial activity and premature oxidative degradation. Almost all large commercial wineries use this method.
Gravity Flow Method

This technique requires harnessing the naturally occurring and ever present force of gravity to assist in processing and movement of the delicate fruit. With gravity, intact grapes are transferred from picking bin to destemmer, fermenter, and press by gently pouring the fruit from one container to another. The must is created naturally, albeit very slowly by using the yeast’s fermentative process to soften and eventually “liquefy” the fruit.

This method is very labor intensive as well as time consuming, but offers three significant major advantages. 1) Using gravity provides for incomparable flexibility in fermentation style (whole clusters, whole berries, partially crushed berries, or completely crushed berries and combinations thereof). 2) Whole berry fermentation (WBF) is practical. This complicated anaerobic fermentative process enhances certain fruit aromatics and creates a more supple texture by limiting extraction of seed-bound compounds both during and after fermentation. 3) Cold soaking (CS) becomes practical. This 4-7 day anaerobic process softens the intact grape skin and allows for a gentle, aqueous (alcohol-free) extraction and stabilization of skin-bound compounds that contribute to color, aroma, flavor and texture. Gravity flow wineries are often constructed as multiple-level buildings in which processing begins on the top level and concludes on the bottom level.

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