The Oregon Tempranillo Alliance staged its first-ever Oregon Tempranillo Celebration Thursday and Friday, Jan. 21 and 22, in Ashland. The event kicked off Thursday evening with a tempranillo and tapas reception at Belle Fiore Winery, followed by a full day of seminars and three analytical tempranillo tastings on Friday at the Ashland Hills Hotel.

The Alliance, with a core membership of 35 tempranillo growers and winemakers, incorporated last year to promote the growing and sale of tempranillo grapes in Oregon and the production and sale of tempranillo wine both in Oregon and other wine markets. The Alliance’s inaugural event attracted 75 Oregon wine industry attendees and out-of-state wine experts.

Tempranillo refers to a wine grape and its red wine varietal produced principally in the Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions of northern Spain. Tempranillo has the fourth largest planted acreage among wine grapes world-wide. From 2000 to 2010 Tempranillo acreage expanded faster than any other variety.

The grape was introduced into California in the late 19th century. Earl Jones, founder of Abacela Winery in the Umpqua Valley, pioneered tempranillo production in Oregon, planting his original four-acre vineyard in 1995. By 2014, Jones reported, there were 57 tempranillo producers in Oregon and planted area had expanded to 344 acres producing a harvest of 839 tons and an economic impact of $9 million.

It may seem fortuitous that that Jones chose to try growing Tempranillo in the Umpqua Valley, but happenstance had no place in this decision. Noting that wines made from California fruit were disappointing compared to the best Spanish vintages, Jones collected data on conditions in the Spanish regions that produced top quality Tempranillo. He then prevailed on his son Greg Jones, a Ph.D. candidate in atmospheric science at the time, to find a key regional factor that made for superior wine.

It turned out to be climate: a short growing season with a cool spring and hot, dry summer cut short by autumn. The Jones team then searched the United States for a spot with similar growing season temperature range, rainfall and elevation. The result: Earl Jones found his ideal spot outside Roseburg, and Greg Jones, now a professor in Environmental Science and Policy at Southern Oregon University, forged a career researching viticultural climatology that has made him famous throughout the world.

Speaking of Dr. Jones, he was present on the second day of the celebration to give a talk on the climate of Iberia versus Oregon and the effects of these differences on tempranillo growth characteristics. Portland State University Professor Emeritus of Geology Dr. Scott Burns followed with a discussion of the comparative geology and soils of these same regions, and the essential elements of terroir: grape stock/clone, geology and soils, climate, soil hydrology, physiography, winemaking practices and vineyard management.

Nationally renowned wine experts Randy Caparoso, Eric Degerman and Richard Jennings offered comments about the general characteristics of Spanish versus Oregon tempranillo, and presided over wine analysis and description during three afternoon rounds of tastings. The tastings highlighted differences in tempranillo wines from seven different Oregon viticultural areas ranging from the Rogue Valley to the Columbia Valley, effects of soil types on wine character, and effects of barrel/bottle aging.

Paraphrasing Randy Caparoso, Oregon Tempranillo Alliance Vice President Eric Weisinger of Weisinger Family Winery in Ashland, summarized the take-away from the celebration: that Oregon has the opportunity to become known as the premier tempranillo producing region of North America.

Ashland freelance writer MJ Daspit is co-author of "Rogue Valley Wine."