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TAPAS – Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society – is a nonprofit trade association of over one hundred wineries, growers, and amigos, whose mission is to promote Tempranillo and other varietal wine grapes native to the Iberian Peninsula, and wines produced from them in North America.
Tempranillo is the sixth most widely planted grape in the world, and the foundation of the red wines from Rioja and Ribera del Duero in Spain. Over the last twenty years, a number of American growers and producers have discovered or re-discovered Tempranillo, along with other Spanish and Portuguese varieties like Albariño, Graciano, Garnacha and Verdelho, as well as the grapes used in Port, such as Touriga Naçional. During the same period, Spanish culture and cuisine have become more familiar to the public. Through tastings, seminars, press coverage, and the Internet, TAPAS aims to capitalize on this trend, raising consumer awareness of the food-friendly wines made from Iberian varieties, and providing broader exposure for the typically smaller, limited-production wineries making them.
America’s interest in Spanish wine grapes surged 25 years ago with the dawning of what TAPAS’ first President, Earl Jones, calls the “Golden Age of Spanish Food and Wine.” In 1986 Robert Parker rated the 1982 Pesquera highly, comparing Alejandro Fernández wine from the Ribera Del Duero with Chateau Petrus. Such words from Robert Parker about a wine made in a remote region from an obscure grape excited growers and producers the world over.
Soon the possibility of making fine wine from this grape enticed Americans to try growing Tempranillo outside of California’s Central Valley. The first small planting (one acre) was in Napa in 1992. Soon there were plantings in Oregon and other regions of California. The big question was: Could quality wine really be made from Tempranillo in America? The answer came quickly; Abacela’s 1998 Tempranillo won first place in the San Francisco International Wine Competition against 19 Spanish wines. With proof that American Tempranillo could make a fine wine, interest soared and plantings surged. In California alone, Tempranillo acreage grew from a Central Valley base of 533 acres in 1991 to 713 acres in 2000 (mostly young vines and not bearing of course) and most importantly this number represented a gain of 170 acres in promising new growing regions.
In 2002, Earl Jones discussed with his fellow growers in Oregon, and some growers he knew in California, the possibility of creating a Tempranillo trade organization. The next year, 2003, Earl traveled to several Tempranillo-producing wineries in Oregon and California that he was able to identify, exchanged wines, and discussed the trade organization idea. Discussions with Tim Spencer of St.Amant were particularly encouraging, as both men sensed there was a need and that the rapid growth of Iberian plantings made the time right.
By the fall of 2003 Earl had made plans to hold a “barometer” meeting concurrent with the 2004 Unified Symposium, and with financial support from Ramondin® it happened; Tempranillo growers and producers from California, Oregon, Washington, Texas and Arizona meet for the first time to discuss their avocation. That meeting and wine tasting was held in the Sacramento Hyatt Hotel. About 45 people crowded into a small room on the second floor of the Hyatt to attend this “first meeting.”
The barometer was rising, and the meeting included all persons who would go ahead to craft the organization’s name “Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society” (TAPAS), write its bylaws, and become the official founding fathers of TAPAS in January of 2006. They were Earl Jones, Jim Johnson, Stephen Reustle, Marty Meeker, Michael Barreto, Chuck Hovey, Jeff Stai, Bill Webster, and Neal Newsom.