Earl Jones of Abacela Winery
Was there a specific wine, moment or place that unlocked your passion?

Earl Jones: My interest in wine surged in 1988 when I tasted Alejandro Fernández’s 1982 Tinto Pesquera Janus Reserva Tempranillo. It was a wonderful wine with great fruit and structure that compared favorably to a Chateau Petrus. And no one in USA was bottling a varietal wine from Tempranillo. That one bottle changed my life– I became determined to make fine Tempranillo in America. 

What did you study in school and what were you doing before you started in the wine industry?

EJ: I majored in chemistry, math and biology in college. I obtained an MD degree and trained to be an immunologist and studied host defense mechanisms against pathogenic organisms. After a 29-year career in university-based research, teaching, patient care and administration I exited the ivory tower to focus on growing and producing Tempranillo. 

How has being in the wine industry changed you?

EJ: Perhaps it hasn’t. To me, it seems I have only refocused my scientific thought process on grape vine biology and the extreme importance of harmony between the grape and its terroir. These 25 years of winegrowing has taught me that the soil in which the vine grows is much less critical to wine quality than is the site-climate where the variety is planted. 

What’s your favorite part of being in the wine industry?

EJ: Experimentation and how often we can learn from our own mistakes. To not learn is very expensive! Scouting the vineyard can be boring but by paying attention and catching the novelty early, it becomes exciting and dealing with the issue(s) is a rewarding feeling. 

The same is true in the winery. Learning to identify differences in fermentation aromas, tastes, kinetics, etc. and reacting to make the best wine generates feelings of accomplishment. Tasting cellared wines also offers a chance to gain new knowledge. That is an accomplishment in itself that is useful in future winegrowing. The winegrowing team brings all of this together creating a great feeling of comradery and shared accomplishment that is the pinnacle of the good life.

Looking back, was there something in your past that led you to wine?

EJ: I grew up in a farming community in the middle of America where wine was not a part of the culture. I didn’t like the taste of whisky; beer was just ok. . . and if Mogen David was wine, I wasn’t interested. 

Mike Bosco, owner of Lucca Delicatessen, introduced me to both California and European wine while I was a resident physician in San Francisco. Travels to Europe broadened my wine experience and stimulated my interest in winegrowing. My farm experience with tractors, and later research experience with chemistry, tissue culture, tanks of microbes etc., gave me confidence that I could farm the vine and ferment grapes to wine. 

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