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Tempranillo Label

Clos du Bois's first
Tempranillo label.

by Fred McMillin
for March 22, 2001


Stuck in the Jug



"Tempranillo is Spain's indigenous superstar...the principal grape of the Rioja reds."

...Stuart Walton, The Complete Guide to Wine


The Excitement

Imagine you are a Tempranillo vine (also called "Valdepenas"). It is 1905 and University of California Professor Fredrick Bioletti is leading the charge to bring you to California. You know you will knock the sox off the vintners there.


The Ultimate Humiliation

What developed? It now is 1975, and there are 2,500 acres of your progeny. But, they are all perspiring in the hot Central Valley. The resulting red wine is lost in blends sold in half-gallon containers with a single-finger handle. Tempranillo was stuck in the jug!


Clos du Bois to the Rescue

It was not lost on Clos du Bois that even in Spain, Tempranillo loses its charm when planted in the lower, warmer regions of Rioja. Why not give it a shot in cooler Sonoma County? So,in 1990 they purchased cuttings from U.C.-Davis and planted a four-acre block in their River Oaks Vineyard, Alexander Valley. The first bottling was released two years ago (see label). About the label, it shows a photo of my long-time friend, Inez Ferrari, who was retiring from du Bois at the time.


September 2000

Winemaker Margaret Davenport

Margaret Davenport.

When the vines reached their eighth year (1998), Winemaker Margaret Davenport had enough fruit to make her first vintage-dated Tempranillo, the 1998 Reserve. It was released last September. I let it settle down in my cellar for a few months. Then, in our last blind tasting we compared it with a Tempranillo-dominated Marques de Arienzo Rioja. They received identical ratings of 86. Clearly, Clos du Bois has helped the grape escape from the jug.

It is our...


Wine of the Week

1998 Tempranillo (tem-prah-nee-yoh)
River Oaks Vineyard, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County
Winemaker—Since 1990, Margaret Davenport
Winemaking—Spanish winemakers are experimenting with adding Cabernet Sauvignon to Temp. So is Margaret. She added 13% to this bottling. My panel liked the additional backbone.
Tasting Notes—The panel said "rich, fruity." It is not tannic, and ready to drink now. Veal, lamb, ham, char-grilled salmon.
Contact—Office of George Rose. Ph. (707) 473-2349, FAX (707) 433-3538
Price—$16 range



Last week I was talking with Monterey varietal pioneer Doug Meador (see WineWeek, Jan. 18, 2001). He told me his work indicated the next hot-button wine grape in California was going to be Tempranillo!

Note:—Another Exotic Grape

Wine historian Charles Sullivan says the Nègrette varietal came to California in 1882 from southwest France. The De Rose Vineyards have now turned out a modern model, which we'll taste shortly. If it's as good as their 100-year-old-vine Zinfandel, we're in for a treat. For all the scoop, contact Joe Gargiulo, phone (707) 762-2700, FAX (707) 658-0032,e-mail


About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.



This page created March 2001