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José Tempranillo wine honours its namesake by helping fight cancer

Jose Rodrigo died before seeing the fruition of his Spanish Tempranillo grapes in Cowichan. -  courtesy Susan Yates
Jose Rodrigo died before seeing the fruition of his Spanish Tempranillo grapes in Cowichan.
— image credit: courtesy Susan Yates

José Rodrigo would likely be modestly tickled having his locally grown tempranillo grapes made into a rare Rocky Creek wine named after him.

Especially because $10 from every bottle of Jose Tempranillo sold will fund Tour de Rock toward research into curing cancer, the disease that claimed Jose in 2004.

"He would have loved it," wife Susan Yates said of the red variety Jose aimed who plant on his micro-vineyard off Glenora's Mountain Road.

But he died at age 72, before planting the vines from his native Spain.

So friends honoured the man from Madrid by sinking tempranillo vines into his two-acre spread, Yates explained.

It's believed Yate's tempranillo grapes are among the only ones produced on the island.

"When José died, friends put in the first seven rows of pinot noir, voignier in 2004," said Yates who got tempranillo from the states, and gained a special federal permit to plant the 500 tempranillo vines.

"José wanted a vineyard and make wine and sell it."

Then Rocky Creek Winery owners Linda and Mark Holford met Yates, and wanted to make some unique tempranillo, and help fight cancer.

"We knew Sue through the Wine Island Growers Association," said Linda. "She helped us plant at Rocky Creek and at wine-tasting events, so we helped her with her vineyard — but she doesn't want to go commercial."

"We believe in giving back what we get," Linda said. "We're so honoured Sue gave us her grapes."

Rocky Creek used Yates' grapes to make 130 bottles of José Tempranillo in 2009. It all sold.

"If customers love it, we'll make more — this year, we doubled our production from last year to 2011 José Tempranillo just released— it's a special story.

"We could have kept this wine to ourselves, but we want to develop this area as a wine region," said Linda, noting she and Mark never met José. "If you can do some special wines, it's fun to share: wine making is stories."

Those local viticultural tales now include making the wine from locally grown tempranillo grapes.

"(Tempranillo production) is very marginal. It grows in Spain from the centre to the north, but needs more heat than we get here," said Yates, noting José was determined to see if the variety could grow in the Warm Land.

Linda agreed growing the bold, red grapes on the island is the challenge.

"Our region is like Germany, or northern France, not Spain. (Tempranillo) doesn't ripen here every year — it's a rare wine."

Meanwhile, Yates was delighted her husband's vision was shared by the Holfords.

"José was an incredibly enthusiastic person, but he probably wouldn't have had the conceit to name this wine after himself."

José Tempranillo can only be purchased through the winery. It sells for $50 for a 500-millilitre bottle.

There's also a Dec. 1 Tempranillo tasting at Rocky Creek.

Reserve through the winery, or book online where orders carry a minimum purchase order of six bottles, which can also be a mixed variety. Visit rockycreekwinery.ca, or call 250-748-5622.

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