June 12, 2013
Earl Jones was showing me around his Abacela vineyards in the Upmqua Valley of Southern Oregon, where he claims to have found a climate and soil propitious to growing the grapes of the Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions, Spain’s most important denominations. And it so happened that nearby there was one of those safari parks where all kinds of exotic animals are kept in a free-ranging habitat for the delight of visitors. He was answering a question about what fertilizer he used on his vines.
Elephant manure for the most part, something that neither Rioja nor Ribera del Duero can ever claim.
In Oregon, Jones, a retired research physician, and his wife Hilda realized the dream that was sparked when they fell in love with Spanish wines: to make them stateside. By serendipity, the land they bought happened to straddle two geological eras, which made it perfect for the finicky needs of different grapes. Today, the Abacela vineyards grow the Spanish tempranillo for which they are known, but also a range of other grapes, including Galicia’salbariňo, which produces the great whites of that region, so perfect for accompanying the legendary seafood of the Rias Gallegas.
Abacela’s tempranillo wine can be had young, which Earl claims is somewhere between Spain’s fruity robles and the more tempered crianzas. There’s an Estate wine that he places between crianza and reserva and can age from 6 to 8 years. And a reserva, which has an elegance that Earl says “leaps up at you.” There are no standards for making a reserva, Earl says, but it has to have “provenance”, meaning it has to come from a special place in the vineyard. It’s in the crush pad that the worker proclaims that this juice is good enough for a reserva. And in the past year Abacela has released its first gran reserva, which they call Paramour.
Jones learned this new trade, quite literally, by the book – reading about it. But his background as a biochemist helped. Now he hires Spanish winemakers to do the job he once learned from reading.
As Spanish flavors have become all the rage – thanks to chef FerránAdriá, I suppose – the wines of the country are sought after, and it seems that every day there’s a new denomination on the market. It was only a matter of time before Spanish grapes and winemaking crossed the oceans, and in Oregon alone there are several labels of locally made Spanish-style wine, Abacela being probably the best known.
The story repeats itself on various platforms. Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Albariňowines. Apple hard cider in the style of Asturias. And countless restaurants where if one walks in and inquires if there are Spaniards in the kitchen, one finds, instead, Americans who fell in love with Spain.
When some Latino pundits talk about “the Hispanization of America”, they mean from the ground – or from the barrio – up. The more Latinos, the more Latino culture influences the U.S. But I think there’s another wave and it comes from Anglo-America itself, as so called “Anglos” or americanos, as Latinos have always called them, are enthralled by some aspect of the culture of the Spanish-speaking world and embrace it. And for something new to be born, there first must be an embrace.