NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
Although, to my uneducated eye, the verdant valley that separates the sleepy villages of Llíber and Jalón in the Alicante Province, looks as if it might have been created by a glacier, eons ago, I believe it was in fact the result of some even older catastrophic tectonic plate movements.
How different it must have looked then.
Nowadays, as many readers will know, it is home to acres of vineyards, not yet stirring from their winter slumber, though soon to do so. Indeed, these vineyards were home to the single vine that starred in my blog, A Season in the Life of a Vine, last vintage, the final part of which was published just recently (you can read the whole blog here www.colinharknessonwine.com Click Blog).
The vineyards also have an ancient history.
Like myself, you may have thought that the most important Caliphate operating in Spain during the time of the Moors (roughly 9th Century – 13th Century) was that in the region of Granada. Was it not there that the Christian Re-conquest, prosecuted by the Catholic Kings, was finally successful in taking back the country? Well, in fact, I am given to believe that, whilst Granada was indeed an important hub, it was the Caliphate of Denia that reigned supreme!
A huge swathe of land belonged to Denia at this time, with the port then being the largest in Spain, used for trade and military purposes. Like the Romans before them, the Moors brought first their armies, then their culture, their rulers, lawmakers etc, and then their people. This, of course, included their farmers. Oranges arrived, rice too – and yes, their vines!
At that time, and we are talking of hundreds of years, the Moors did drink alcohol, and certainly it was high on their list of trading items. Commercial vineyards were planted wherever the Moscatel grape variety could grow, for sweet wines were to their taste. This, of course, included the Llíber/Jalón valley, which is still today covered in Moscatel vines. However, they are not alone – there are also red wine grapes now, thousands of Giró/Garnacha, brought by settlers from other parts of Spain tempted to take over vineyards left by the Moors still living here when they were given just 15 days to lave the country!
This patchwork of vineyards has been owned for generations by families whose incumbents today farm them in very much the same way as they always have. Thousands of litres of red and white (and rosado) wines are produced here year in year out, with the same people driving their tractors to the Jalón cooperative each September and October.
Well, come the 2019 vintage, there’ll be a new kid on the block – and he won’t be going to the cooperative!
Enter, Señor Pepe Mendoza, Head Winemaker at the family winery in Alfaz del Pí, who this last couple of years has allotted himself a small corner of the Alfaz winery to start his new project, independently running alongside the simultaneous production of the world famous, Bodegas Enrique Mendoza. Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola wines were launched onto the market to considerable acclaim last year. You read it here folks!
Well, Pepe has moved out of the tiny corner in Alfaz and has opened the new bodega just off the Benissa/Jalón road, where the valley starts its gradual rise towards the mountains that surround the valley. It’s a work in progress and I was recently privileged to be able to tour it with the man himself!
It’s not yet open to the public – but soon will be and you have to go! Pepe is at pains to make sure that the ancient buildings are being restored sympathetically, whilst new buildings, for example toilet facilities for wine tourists (including handicapped toilets), are being built in keeping with the rest. And what about the ancient buildings?
Well, when I was there the old ‘riurau’ where grapes were dried into raisons, for the booming trade of the 19th Century, were being carefully prepared. In fact Pepe believes that these riuraus predate the trade boom and are probably 18th Century! But that’s not all!
Pepe’s clear excitement was contagious as we approached an outhouse area where he is preparing a wine school, to help local farmers, amongst other uses. Here in the tiles are Arabic signs and designs that go back centuries to when the Moors were actually here, including a handprint and a simple drawing of a worker dressed in Arab style, impressed into a brick tile!
Pepe also showed me where wine he made last year is maturing in large cement tanks underground, along with the ancient presses etc he’d used to craft it! I can’t wait to taste it, and taste history too!
Bodegas Pepe Mendoza Casa Agricola is as much a working museum as it is a bodega, and knowing Pepe’s ability as a wine maker (voted Spanish Winemaker of the Year, a few years ago!), it’s certain that the wines he will be making here will be outstanding! Watch this space!
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