Delfino Winery owners announce retirement after 20 years

Craig Reed for The News-Review, Jun 19, 2022

Photo courtesy of News Review

As Jim and Terri Delfino celebrate their 20th year in the vineyard and wine business, they recently announced they are retiring and will be closing their operations around Oct. 1. This will be their final summer of playing host in their tasting room and offering Saturday music events.

“It certainly comes with mixed emotions,” Terri Delfino said.

When the Delfinos began their search for property to retire to, growing wine grapes was not part of their future plan. They wanted to escape the hectic environment of the San Francisco Bay Area and find a much quieter lifestyle.

They looked at properties in Oregon and Nevada before finding a small cattle ranch for sale in the hill country near Lookingglass. The couple purchased 160 acres of pasture land, oak habitat and Douglas fir timber in 2000, moving north in 2001.

“Neither of us had any experience in agriculture,” said Terri Delfino. “We just wanted to have a little farm and be a little self-sufficient. Grapes never entered our minds at the time.”

The Delfinos described themselves as casual wine drinkers, enjoying wines from the Napa Valley while living and working in the Bay Area. Terri worked in marketing, sales and event planning. Jim was a property manager for commercial and residential properties.

After settling on their property and getting to know the area better, they couldn’t help but notice wine grape vineyards in Douglas County. They also met some of the area’s wine growers, including Earl and Hilda Jones of Abacela Winery near Winston, Wayne Parker of Melrose Vineyards west of Roseburg and Scott Henry of Henry Estate Winery in the Umpqua area.

It was Jim who decided some of the hillside pasture land could be turned into vineyards.

“Jim wanted to plant some grapes and I said, ‘Hey, go for it,’” Terri recalled of the start of Delfino Vineyards. “We were actually told we couldn’t grow grapes on this land.”

But the couple worked hard to prep the ground. In June 2002, after discing a southwest-facing slope, picking up and removing rocks, the Delfinos planted 8 acres with mostly Tempranillo cuttings they obtained from Abacela Winery’s vineyard. Over the next year, they planted another 6 acres.

In 2009, they planted 4 more acres, completing the 18-acre vineyard. In addition to the Tempranillo, other varietals including Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Dolcetto, Zinfandel, Merlot, Muller Thurgau and Mourvedre were planted.

“We have hillside property that provides quality grapes, but not the quantity you might find on a valley floor,” Jim said.

The vineyard’s first significant harvest was in 2006. The Delfinos didn’t have a winery to make wine so they shipped their grapes to winemaker Terry Brandborg in Elkton. The 2007 Syrah red wine made from Delfino grapes by Brandborg won the People’s Choice Award at the Greatest of the Grape event in 2018.

“It was so exciting for us, so amazing,” Terri said of that honor.

While their grapes continued to be made into wine elsewhere, the Delfinos built a wine tasting room in 2009 in order to share the wine when it came back to them in bottles. Their wine club membership grew to about 300.

Through the years, winemakers Scott Henry, Linda Donovan at Pallet Crush in Medford, Denise Aaron and Debra McKinney, graduates of the Umpqua Community College wine program, and presently Leon Glaser at JosephJane Winery in Garden Valley have made wine from the Delfino grapes. Jim Delfino has assisted each winemaker, learning the skill through those experiences.

“The only wine we have made every single year since we started is Tempranillo, our signature wine,” said Terri. “Those wines win awards every year, at least a couple platinum medals and also double golds.”

Several other Delfino wines have also won awards, including a platinum from SIP Magazine’s Best of the Northwest for the 2020 Schamwein, a sparkling wine, a platinum from the Greatest of the Grape judges for the 2015 Forza, a Tempranillo dessert wine, a gold from Sunset Magazine for the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon and Sunset’s Best of Class for the 2011 Rose Zinfandel.

“Despite the ups and downs, that’s all part of the journey, we’ve loved it,” Jim said. “If you have success constantly, then you don’t know what success is. If you don’t have some setbacks, you can’t really appreciate success.”

To diversify their operation, the Delfinos added a bed and breakfast cottage in 2002, the same year they started the vineyard. In 2009 when they opened the tasting room, they added music events on Saturdays through the summer. A venue overlooking a large pond can accommodate up to 700 people. A smaller venue closer to the tasting room is also used.

“We love sharing this property,” Terri said. “We built it and Jim keeps it manicured.”

As Jim and Terri ease up on the work and responsibilities needed to keep the operation a success, they have sold 15 acres of their vineyard, but are continuing to manage those acres through this year. They’ve kept 3 acres of Tempranillo grapes so Jim can continue to enjoy some hobby winemaking.

“We are looking forward to our next adventure,” Terri said.


World-Renowned Viticulturist and Educator, Dr. Greg Jones Becomes CEO at Abacela, His Family Winery in Oregon

Abacela winery names Gregory Jones as its new CEO

OregonLive.com, by Michael Alberty, July 23, 2021

Who says you can’t go home again? Abacela winery in Roseburg has named former Linfield University director of wine studies Gregory V. Jones as its new CEO. Abacela’s owners, who also happen to be Jones’ parents, are pleased as punch.

Hilda and Earl Jones sit on Abacela’s Board of Directors with their five children; Hanna, Meredith, Gregory, Laronda, and Tamara. At a recent board meeting, they appointed Gregory as Abacela’s new CEO.

Hilda and I, as well as Greg’s sisters, are really happy that Greg is becoming CEO of Abacela. It has been a 30-year labor of love, and to see our legacy pass to the second generation is very satisfying,” Earl Jones said in an email.

Earl, Hilda, and Greg Jones with vineyard in background.

Gregory Jones, a world-renowned expert on the relationships between climate and viticulture, recently resigned as director of the Evenstad Center for Wine Education at Linfield University in McMinnville.

“I’m proud of what I accomplished, but it was time to move on. This will be the first fall since 1990 where I haven’t been in a classroom, either as a student or a teacher,” Jones said.

In the same way pinot noir’s potential lured David Lett to the Willamette Valley, the Joneses moved to the Umpqua Valley to champion the tempranillo grape. The Jones family planted 12 acres of vines, including Oregon’s first tempranillo, on their 463-acre property in 1995. The Abacela estate now includes 76 acres planted to tempranillo, albariño, syrah, malbec, and 11 other grape varieties.

Starting Aug. 1, Gregory Jones will take charge of Abacela while his parents lead a wine cruise to Portugal. Earl Jones will return to manage the vineyard through harvest with assistant viticulturist Justin Archibald. “This vintage is my responsibility, and it wouldn’t be wise to walk away. Greg’s in charge, and I’ll fade away to retirement,” Jones said.

Gregory Jones said his first priority is meeting with Abacela’s employees. “This may seem odd, but I need to meet and get to know every employee so they can train me. If you are going to be governor of the state, you’d better visit all 36 counties,” Jones said.

Jones also plans to work closely with general manager Gavin Joll and assistant viticulturist Archibald. Jones said he wants to help Joll manage the operation while assisting Archibald with his viticulture work.

Greg Jones in the vineyard overlooking Abacela Winery, holding a laptop and downloading data

Jones is looking forward to getting his boots dirty in Abacela’s vineyards. “You know a vineyard by being there, and that’s what I need to. I helped map the vineyards, and I’ve worked them, but I don’t know as much about the plants as dad does. I need to learn how to think about the vineyard the way my dad has all these years, Jones said.

Soon, Jones will have more plants to think about, some new, some very old. The new plants will take root in a 10-20 acre area of open landscape that Jones describes as well-suited to planting new vines. The old plant involves a detective story.

Several years back, Earl Jones discovered a series of thick, gnarled grapevines hidden by blackberry bushes in an old orchard on his property. He believes the orchard and vineyard were planted by the family of homesteaders James and Elizabeth Cox at some point between 1849 and 1871.

When Jones had one of the vines tested, it turned out to be listan prieto, a Spanish native known in 1800s California as the Mission grape. The best guess is a settler, priest, or nurseryman brought the vine cuttings up from the vineyards of one of California’s Spanish missions.

Gregory Jones is excited to announce that this fall, they may finally be able to harvest enough listan prieto grapes to make one barrel of wine. Perhaps visitors to Abacela will one day be able to sip this bit of history under the new pavilion Jones plans to build near the Cox homestead site.

Another resurrection project involves the orchard itself. Jones will be working with a local horticulture group to use genetic material from the old pear and apple trees to try and bring the orchard back to life.

Does Jones plan to continue to find time for academic work? “I will finish up what’s on my plate in terms of sitting on Ph.D. and the like. I will continue to work on research projects I contribute to in Italy and Portugal. What I learn from top viticulturists in other parts of the world will always help me here at Abacela,” Jones said.

Jones will also keep up his famed monthly climate reports while starting a new blog on Abacela’s website. That’s great news for both Abacela and the wine world.

— Michael Alberty writes about wine for The Oregonian/OregonLive. He can be reached at malberty0@gmail.com. To read more of his coverage, go to oregonlive.com/wine.


Malbec: Southern Oregon’s Rising Star

wine-searcher.com | By W. Blake Gray | March 20, 2021

Oregon is famous for Pinot Noir, but US editor W. Blake Gray argues it has another strong suit, too.

Southern Oregon has been looking for a grape to call its own. That grape might be Malbec.

The quality of Malbec grown in the Rogue and Umpqua Valleys in the southern part of the state is high, leading to fruit-driven wines with soft tannins: an easy wine to like for fans of the Pinot Noir grown in the northern part of the state.

“Malbec is easy to grow here. It’s easy to grow quality here,” says Eric Weisinger, winemaker for Weisinger Family Winery. “Winemakers have found Malbec not as challenging to produce as other varieties. I think it’s forgiving.”

Southern Oregon Malbec hasn’t received a lot of attention, unlike Tempranillo, which has had as big a united front as any grape variety in the parts of Oregon that aren’t Pinot Noir country. There’s an Oregon Tempranillo Alliance, which has 25 members and has hosted large tastings. If you search for “Oregon Tempranillo” you’ll find a number of articles touting it as the next big thing. I didn’t find much at all about Oregon Malbec.

But there’s nearly as much Malbec in southern Oregon as Tempranillo: 167 harvested acres in Rogue and Umpqua Valleys combined in 2018, compared to 236 harvested acres of Tempranillo, according to the University of Oregon.

I am here to contend that southern Oregon Malbec is better than southern Oregon Tempranillo, both in the glass and potentially in the marketplace, and I will lay out my subjective arguments in a moment. But let’s start with something completely objective, via economist Adam Smith: the invisible hand of the market.

I’m a fan of Napa Valley Zinfandels, and I might want to argue that they are better than Napa Valley Cabernets, but I would be laughed out of the Clubhouse room because they can’t fetch the same price. Farming is a business like any other and writers shouldn’t tell farmers to plant grapes that make less money (though kvetching about the future under global warming is fair game.)

So let’s examine what Oregon wineries are willing to pay for different grape varieties. Pinot Noir is the driver of the Oregon wine industry, responsible for about 60 percent of all harvested acres statewide. Pinot Gris is a distant second at 14 percent. University of Oregon lists 15 more varieties and slots the rest as “other”.

Statewide, Pinot Noir is highly sought: its average price of $2301 per ton in 2018 was the fourth-highest for any variety. At the top of the list is Cabernet Sauvignon, at $2810 per ton; most of it is planted near the Washington border and goes into wines labeled with the two-state but Washington-centric AVAs Columbia Valley or Walla Walla Valley. Second, at $2483 per ton, was Malbec.

Malbec is the “Oregon” grape that Oregon wineries pay the most for.

Digging the dirt

Why does Malbec grow so well? Consider why Earl Jones, founder of Abacela winery in Umpqua Valley, moved to Oregon. A Tempranillo fan, Jones searched all over the west coast for a place to grow it that would have similar conditions to Rioja and Ribera del Duero: cool winters, a very hot and dry but short summer, and a cool fall.

That also works for Malbec, which needs the heat to ripen, and can do so faster than the other approved Bordeaux varieties when it gets it. Jones saw Roseburg, Oregon’s climate and thought it was similar to northern Spain, and it is – but it’s also like Argentina’s Uco Valley.

Geologically, southern Oregon is an underappreciated source of interesting soils.

At Abacela, a fault line runs right through the vineyard. Abacela general manager Gavin Joll said that when Jones bought the 76-acre vineyard, in addition to planting Tempranillo he planted 25 other varieties. Some, including Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc, didn’t succeed. But Malbec did, and 10 years later Abacela added more acres of it – though it’s still only their fifth-most planted variety.

“There’s incredibly diverse soils in all corners of our vineyard,” Joll told Wine-Searcher. “Tempranillo thrives in some of the rolling gentle hills. Malbec thrives in some of the areas with a little more heat.”

Weisinger said that his family first planted Malbec to use as a blending grape.

“We produced our first varietal Malbec in 2012 and released it in 2014. It was a hit,” Weisinger told Wine-Searcher. “About three years ago we made the decision that it was going to be a major part of our red-wine portfolio. Malbec in my experience is better with French oak. We used American oak for probably 30 years. This year 50 percent of the new oak we’re using is from France. I think it’s a significant difference. It’s going to be an expensive change, but I think these Malbecs have the potential for aging.”

The diverse soils of the Umpqua and Rogue Valleys offer a happy home for Malbec.

© Southern Oregon Wineries | The diverse soils of the Umpqua and Rogue Valleys offer a happy home for Malbec.

Dyson Demara once owned a vineyard on Atlas Peak in Napa Valley, but he says he moved to southern Oregon and bought HillCrest Vineyard “because it has good dirt”.

“Douglas County has more soil types than any county in America,” DeMara told Wine-Searcher.

DeMara is one of southern Oregon’s biggest proponents of Malbec. He makes several, including a reserve wine from 2013 (highly recommended; see below) and a new Friuli-style wine that he picks earlier to make it more “aggressive”.

“It’s high acid, high tannin, almost grapey,” DeMara said. “This wine’s a little bit in your face. It’s not the kind of thing we do in America.”

I tried a pre-release version of the HillCrest Friuli-style Malbec, which doesn’t have a name yet, and it ended up as one of my favorites; it is one of the rare wines that is better the next day.

DeMara said something to me that struck home after I tasted several southern Oregon Malbecs. When I compare fine Argentine Malbecs to other wines, it’s always other Bordeaux varietals. But my favorite Oregon Malbecs actually reminded me more of Pinot Noir, because of their freshness and soft tannins.

“The shape of a wine has a lot to do with how you drink and what you drink often,” DeMara said. “I like wines that are tender and kind of transparent.”

That’s fair; I tried Malbecs from the Washington-bordering parts of the state and they were different: more brooding, bigger in body. The southern Oregon Malbecs were fresher and lighter: fruit-driven wines, some with noticeable hints of violet. They’re not awesome or overpowering: they’re what American consumers generally think of when they reach for Malbec.

And that matters. The reason I think Malbec should be southern Oregon’s signature grape is based partly on the quality of the wines. But I also think there’s more commercial potential. Malbec is more popular in the US than “varietal Tempranillo”, in large part because the word “Tempranillo” doesn’t appear on the labels of the top wines made from it, like Rioja, Toro, etc.

I don’t have to sell wine for a living so maybe I don’t know, but Malbec seems like an easier sell. I invite dissenters to this opinion to compare the prices paid per ton by wineries for Oregon fruit: $2483 for Malbec, $1996 for Tempranillo. The market has spoken. Maybe it’s time to start an Oregon Malbec Alliance. I hope I get invited to the tasting.

The wines

Here are some of my favorite Malbecs from southern Oregon.

2016 Abacela East Hill Block Umpqua Valley Reserve Malbec Dense black fruit aroma, but on the palate it’s lighter, with fruit I want to describe as purple: juicy, with light violet notes. A vibrant wine with nice freshness. I wonder if I robbed the cradle. Abacela produces this wine only in good vintages.

2017 Abacela Umpqua Valley Malbec Abacela’s entry-level Malbec is a light, juicy and cheeky quaffer, with good freshness. 

2017 2Hawk Rogue Valley Malbec 2Hawk makes a number of reserve Malbecs but I preferred the entry-level wines. This vintage has a nice character of black and red plum with some slate notes.

2013 HillCrest Old Stones Umpqua Valley Malbec Take my advice and snap this one up while it’s still for sale. The extra bottle aging has transformed this wine into a delightful, rich, dark fruit wine with chocolatey and floral notes, fine acidity and silky tannins. This is the wine that inspired me to look further into the topic.

2017 Weisinger Family Winery Gold Vineyard Rogue Valley Malbec Malbec from Argentina at its best is a very food-friendly wine; that’s how it got popular. This is in that style, with a nice aroma of red plum, earth and violet hints. Good freshness and balance and nice red plum fruit.

2017 Plaisance Ranch Applegate Valley Malbec This lovely wine takes a while to open, but it will deliver plenty of fresh cherry with good structure. Just 12.8 percent alcohol. On the day I tasted it, I had several wines I liked open but this became my favorite over the course of the evening. Plaisance Ranch is mostly a cattle ranch with an interesting backstory: the founder moved from Savoie, France, and planted a vineyard on the ranch in 1904. He had hoped to bring his fiancée back with the vine cuttings, but she refused to come, so he ordered a mail-order French-speaking bride from Quebec. They had two daughters who became nuns and a son who died young of cancer, but not before he and his wife had the children who run the farm today. 


Timber to Tempranillo

Father Of Tempranillo

By Noelle Laury, UrbanLink Magazine

When most experienced wine connoisseurs think Tempranillo, they think Spain – and rightly so! Wine makers had been struggling to create a delicious and competitive Tempranillo in the US for a hundred years before Earl Jones decided to get into the wine industry. But Mr. Jones realized that a critical detail was being overlooked by other vineyards, and he was sure that with his new insight, he could make a wine to compete with Spain’s lineage. That critical insight was planting on land in a very specific climate which matched the regions of Rioja and Ribera Del Duero, Spain. In our article we go on-location to meet with Earl Jones and find out how Abacela Winery’s success turned Umpqua Valley’s fame from timber to Tempranillo. See the full article and watch the video interview:


2020 Oregon Winery to Watch: Trella Vineyards

by Eric Degerman, Wine Press Northwest

ROSEBURG, ORE.

It was a triple at the 20th Platinum Judging for young Trella Vineyards, but considering who makes the wine for Umpqua Valley growers/doctors Stephen and Susan Williams, those three Platinum awards didn’t come as a surprise.

And while Terry Brandborg crafted those wines, which came into last fall’s competition riding a long trail of gold medals, the farming done by the Williams family along the base of the Callahan Mountains near Roseburg, Ore., shows foresight and skill with Tempranillo and Grüner Veltliner.

“If Terry decides at any point to retire, we’ll figure out some way for him to make our wines on the side,” Stephen said. “We think he’s a genius, and he’s really done fabulous work for us.”

The combination of Williams family grapes and Brandborg’s winemaking led Wine Press Northwest to select Trella Vineyards as the 2020 Oregon Winery to Watch. They teamed up for Platinums with a 2016 Tempranillo, 2016 Grüner Veltliner and 2016 Gewürztraminer, but it’s been a story in the making since 2007 when the Williamses arrived in Southern Oregon to practice medicine.

Stephen is an oncologist and hematologist from the University of Texas-San Antonio who completed residency at Johns Hopkins with a fellowship at Georgetown. Susan, an orthopedic surgeon and spine surgeon, graduated from Stanford, earned her doctorate at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and went on to George Washington University.

“Best-case scenario is that when you meet us it is in the tasting room,” Stephen quipped. “And Susan is clearly the brains of the operation. She has two degrees from Stanford and is a very talented surgeon.”

Soon after her fellowship at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, they set their sights on Oregon as the place to raise their family. They purchased 80 acres on the other side of the hill from historic HillCrest Vineyard, close enough to town that the commute to their separate practices is about 10 minutes.

“We started off the search in the Portland area, but a recruiter suggested we look here,” Susan said. “It is just so beautiful when you drive into Roseburg the way it is nestled in the mountains.”

Neither of them grew up in wine country — Stephen is from North Texas and Susan grew up in New Jersey — but they soon found themselves visiting tasting rooms throughout the Umpqua Valley.

“We would pass all these vineyards on our way to work and started getting interested,” Stephen said. “We went to them all and made friends. We have 500 bottles in our cellar, and they are all from a 10-mile radius of our house.”

They struck up relationships with Stephen Reustle of Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards, Earl Jones of Abacela and his son, famed climate researcher Greg Jones, who toured the future home of Trella Vineyards.

“He gave us the bad news on what we couldn’t do, and Sangiovese was among those,” Stephen said.

They established their vineyard in 2012, planting half of their 7 acres that first year.

“Our first real legitimate harvest was going to be in 2015, and it was that summer — with grapes on the vine — when we said to ourselves, ‘What are we going to do?’ ” Stephen said.

Brandborg’s reputation as a hired gun was attractive.

“One day on my lunch hour, I pulled into a parking lot and cold-called him,” Stephen said. “It was fortuitous for us because two years earlier he might have told us we were too small for him.”

Stephen tends the vineyard with his father. Their two daughters and son, ages 10, 12 and 13, help out during harvest. At this point, they don’t plan to grow beyond 1,000 cases, and Brandborg seems comfortable with the arrangement.

“Obviously, they are very sharp people,” Brandborg said. “I don’t have anything to do with their grape growing, but the fruit we get from them makes my job very easy. And they are very nice people as well.”

Trella Vineyards showcases the diversity of the Umpqua Valley in delicious fashion. They grow clone 1 and clone 2 Tempranillo, and their Pinot Noir is a 50/50 split with Pommard and Wädenswil. There’s also Malbec, Pinot Gris, and Grüner Veltliner.

Not from their estate is the award-winning Gewürztraminer. That is grown at historic Bradley Vineyard and Anindor Vineyard in the tiny town of Elkton, just around the corner from Brandborg’s winery, and his work with that aromatic grape earned praise from New York Times columnist Eric Asimov.

Gold medals for their 2016 Tempranillo included a best-of-class award at the Monterey (Calif.) International Wine Competition. The 2016 Grüner returned best of class at SavorNW Wine Awards, a double gold at East Meets West Wine Challenge in Sonoma and platinum at Monterey, while the 2016 Gewürz was gold at SavorNW and best white at the Astoria Seafood and Wine judging.

And rather than ask folks to drive out to their vineyard, the Williamses invested in historic downtown Roseburg for a tasting room on Jackson Street, which they opened in 2018. Along the way, they also purchased the shuttered Roseburg Beauty College, a 6,000-square-foot building that’s a couple of blocks away and near Paul O’Brien Winery.

“We have a great relationship with those guys, but that space is too big for a tasting room for us,” Stephen said. “But we would love to see that turn into a really nice restaurant or perhaps a brewpub. There’s no reason that Roseburg, Oregon, can’t be another Walla Walla where you walk from place to place, and the potential for that is really exciting. We’ve got our day jobs, so we can take a very long-term view and approach to this.”

In the meantime, Stephen and his father, Michael, remain hands-on with the vineyard.

“I’m spending most of my Fridays all year long doing farm work back at dawn on Saturday,” he said. “And it’s very therapeutic and invigorating to be out there every harvest.”

Brandborg points out, “Stephen’s mom and dad come out to deliver the grapes, and when Stephen and Susan come out to taste, they bring their kids with them, so it’s fun and a family situation.”

Stephen adds, “With the three kids, It’s going to be a battle royale for who is going to have the palate to take this over when I retire.”

In looking back, the 20th annual Platinum Judging proved to be another showcase for Brandborg at a variety of price points. In addition to the awards for Trella, his winemaking led to a Platinum for the Monte Ferro 2016 Pinot Noir, as well as the Brandborg Vineyards & Winery 2017 Coastal Cuvée, an aromatic white that leans Alsatian.

“I always want the customer to get the recognition,” said Brandborg, who received Wine Press Northwest’s Oregon Winery of the Year award in 2015. “It’s nice to see them doing well and know that you’ve had a hand in it, and it’s good for our region. By helping to build upon the reputation of the Umpqua, it benefits everybody.”

ERIC DEGERMAN is co-founder and CEO of Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at GreatNorthwestWine.com.

TRELLA VINEYARDS

642 SE Jackson St., Roseburg, OR 97470
TrellaVineyards.com
(541) 671-2018