Fall 2019

Mencia makes its mark in the Columbia Gorge

Mencia, considered to be the Spanish Pinot Noir, is gaining popularity in the Columbia River Gorge.
Mencia, considered to be the Spanish Pinot Noir, is gaining popularity in the Columbia River Gorge.

If you’re a fan of Spanish wines, you’re going to love this! And if you’re a fan of wineries that take risks to bring consumers something unique, you’re going to love it even more.

Experimentation is at the core of Oregon wine grape growing. After all, it’s what started the Pinot Noir movement in the Willamette Valley during the 1960s and ‘70s. And what could be more experimental than being the first domestic producer of a grape that’s primarily grown only in Spain?

The vineyards of Analemma Wines, in the heart of the Columbia Gorge AVA, are in, what’s by nature, a cool climate AVA. It’s this unique climate that has stirred Analemma Wine’s owners Steven Thompson and Kris Fade to plant and produce the very first Mencia (pronounced Men-THEE-a) grown in the United States.

“If Spain had a Pinot Noir, it would be this grape,” says Thompson of the Spanish grape. Like Pinot Noir, Mencia is a lighter-bodied red wine grape. It’s traditionally grown in the Galician region of northwest Spain, an area also known as Green Spain. Its siblings are Tempranillo and Grenache, so Mencia can be fairly dramatic. Typically, it falls somewhere between Pinot Noir and Syrah, exhibiting spicy, gamey and minerally-driven flavors. Thompson says he chooses to leave the bigger-style reds to Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon.

Thompson and Fade looked to the region of Galicia, Spain, for inspiration believing the growing climates to be unique and similar to that of the area of Mosier, Ore., where their vineyards are located. Both regions exist in the transitional zones between a maritime influence from the ocean and the hotter, drier desert growing conditions to the east.

Both regions also have large rivers and steep hillsides defining their landscape. Thompson says, “The growing climate in Mosier is similar to Bierzo, Spain, thus the vines’ physiological development mirrors one another in these regions. Meaning that bud break, bloom, veraison (color change) and harvest occur at very similar times in both regions.” Based upon the couple’s climatic observations, quantified growing degree days and heat unit data at their site, it seemed this varietal would feel at home and grow well at their site in Mosier.

The Columbia River creates a gap in the Cascade range, so the entire AVA is exposed to influences from of the Pacific Ocean. Mosier receives a cooling breeze daily during the summer months, tempering the warmth of the sunshine. It also lies just east of the mountains in a rain shadow area where the climate is quite arid but hasn’t totally transitioned into desert. These climate variables are what make Mosier ideal for growing mid-season ripening red and white varietals.

Aside from their belief the grape would grow well at Analemma, Thompson and Fade wanted to have a point of differentiation in the wine market. In such a competitive industry, it helps to produce wines made from unique varietals that can stand out in a crowded marketplace. And according to Thompson, “Today's wine consumers are eager to explore more esoteric varietals. That is part of the excitement the global wine industry offers and keeps us engaged for a lifetime of exploration and discovery of new wines.”

Analemma first began working with Mencia in their vineyards in 2014 with budwood purchased from University of California Davis. They field-grafted the first vines that spring, and for the past five years have continued to increase planted acreage, with four acres now planted. The clusters are larger than those of Pinot Noir, have been highly concentrated, and it’s the first red to ripen in their vineyard. Thompson says, “It’s a wine grape that we really enjoy growing, producing and consuming ourselves.

“We first tasted the wines from the 2014 vintage and were immediately taken by the quality and varietal typicity it exhibited,” he said. “We knew Mosier was a good match for Mencia. It maintains good varietal character with aromas of wet stone, violets, blue fruits and pomegranates. It has been a lighter-bodied red wine at our site with only 12% alcohol and lots of complexity.” They are now on their third vintage of what is quickly becoming a cult wine.

It fits well into Analemma’s overall philosophy. They also grow a few other Galician wines, such as Godello, Albariño, and Merenzau (which is known as Trousseau in the Jura). As growers and wine producers, their primary goal is to produce fruit of individuality reflecting the place where it’s grown. They place priority on soil and plant health by utilizing matured compost and beneficial sprays of nettle, seaweed, and ground silica to boost the plants’ immune systems.

Their vineyards are certified both organic and biodynamic by Demeter USA and their cherry orchards (the original crop of the estate) are farmed using sustainable methods, moving more toward organics with each season. They continue to experiment with different techniques in the vineyards, including trellising, rootstock, head training and soil types to find what works best for their wine grapes. They’ve also tried whole-cluster fermentation to capture the essence of their vineyards.

The Mosier Hills Estate Mencia is available at the tasting room as well as distributed nationally, particularly in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, all strong markets for Mencia. Visitors can taste it in the tasting room, while supplies last. Thompson recommends checking their website for hours and events, as they’re closed during October to focus on harvest.

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