BODEGAS TIERRA HERMOSA
SPANISH WINE WITH A BRITISH TWIST
HOW A CITY PR MANAGING DIRECTOR SWAPPED THE FRENETIC FAST-LANE OF UK BUISNESS FOR GRANADA’S VERTIGINOUS VINEYARDS – AND SURVIVED, TO DRINK THE STORY!
Harry Hunt won’t be the only business exec who has looked out of the rain spattered office window on a grey City of London and said, “Enough is enough!”. Neither is Harry unique in deciding to seek out a more rural, bucolic idyll, though not in convenient France, but over the Pyrenees in Spain.
But I wonder how many other over-stressed and under-satisfied colleagues have gone quite as far as to uproot their young family and relocate to vineyards sitting almost atop the majestic mountains of the Sierra Nevada? Well Harry did just that, and wife Katie and five years old son and 2 years old daughter couldn’t have been happier!
Of course it was a mutual decision that wasn’t taken lightly, nor without a great deal of planning. And yet it started surreptitiously and somewhat mystically during Harry and Katie’s first visit to Spain’s sun-baked Andalucia in the early 90s which was to sow the seeds of discontent with their working lives at the time, only to see further seeds flourish as a change in lifestyle suggested itself to them.
They had both loved wine which is of course an integral part of the life of a PR orientated existence. Harry had spent sixteen years fine wining and dining blue-chip clients at various functions around the world, though with more of an eye on the clock than the contents of the glass. At times his thoughts would take him back to Andalucia and the many and varied styles of wines he and Katie had enjoyed during their first and subsequent visits.
The opportunity to enrol in The University of Brighton’s Plumpton College, Viticulture and Oenology degree course presented itself and Harry took the first step towards realising the dream. However such a degree isn’t a given! A considerable amount of hard academic study with a biological and chemical emphasis, moreover undertaken several years after Harry had thought his exam days were over (and the more taxing for it), along with plenty of practise in the University’s vineyards were necessary before he received his coveted scroll.
But that wasn’t all – students and graduates of such courses are also expected to gain hands-on experience in the vineyards of proper working wineries, tending the vines, bringing in the harvest, making the wines, ageing and even bottling. All the better if such experience is realised in different countries, including in both hemispheres, where climates differ dramatically as well as wine-making techniques and traditions.
Harry’s CV boasts working stints at emerging UK vineyards as well as established Chateaux in Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley which, along with his technical and academic know-how, gave him the confidence to take the plunge. The dream of Bodegas Tierra Hermosa became a little closer to reality!
During their regular subsequent visits to Andalucia Harry had noticed the encouraging diversity of micro-climates and varied topography of the area with which they were slowly falling in love. The importance of altitude is crucial with wine making in hot climates, where continual heat, even after the scorching sun has gone down, can over-ripen the grapes leading ultimately to tired, flabby, high alcohol wines.
Grapes growing at altitude (some parts of Andalucia boast vineyards at between 1,200 and 1,500 metres above sea level!) enjoy the Spanish sunshine during the days of the growing season but also appreciate the dramatic drop in temperature over night – a fall which can be as great as 20ºC (hence the name one of Harry’s wines, Veinte Grados – 20º in Spanish). This diurnal fluctuation aids acidity, a crucial component in quality wines avoiding over-rich offerings, as well as assisting with the delightful colours, aromas and flavours of the finished product.
Of course in Andalucia, if one is looking for altitude one looks to the Sierra Nevada and in Harry’s case, specifically to the mountains above the emblematic, historical Spanish city of Granada! Here, with the assistance of his friend Alberto Villarraso Zafra (a rising talent in the world of Spanish fine wine making, who has one foot in the traditions of the past and the other in the forward thinking and modern techniques of the present, as well as the future), Harry discovered vineyards of 1,000+ meters above sea level with vines of approaching 100 years of age still steadily producing grapes of outstanding quality!
Bodegas Tierra Hermosa is a hands-on negociant style winery, fashioned after the classic French model. In collaboration with Alberto, Harry sources his grapes from plots of land belonging to other growers, using the wine-making facilities of these others to make his own wines. They are in total and direct control of the vines that are to be used for their wines – they decide when to spray, to prune, harvest et cetera, albeit including harnessing local knowledge with reference to advice from the growers, who let’s face it have had generations of experience in the area.
Then, once the must (grape juice) has fermented, a process also under the negociant’s control, they decide if it’s a young wine that is being sought or if ageing is required and if so which barrels are to be used, how long the ageing is to be and when to bottle. In short the wine of a negociant is entirely his, save for ownership of the actual vineyards.
Harry’s philosophy is to make approachable wines for the contemporary consumer. Fruit driven wines which enjoy that blend of tradition and modernity but which have an added depth of complexity. Wines true to the characteristics of the varieties used in the blends but which also speak of their terroir (that almost mystical French word which covers the micro-climate, the soils and even the tradition and history of the area in which the vines are grown), thus conveying a sense of place.
It’s also important to Harry that the resulting wines have been made with an input from other winemakers who have a proven track record with international sales.
“We also make our wines in partnership with regional oenologists, who, importantly, have international experience, so as we can be sure to add a contemporary twist to a wine that is still very much a product of its terroir,” he explained.
Whilst Tierra Hermosa is a passion, something of a vocation in fact, Harry’s previous business experience is also lending a guiding hand. It would be wholly incorrect to say they are in it for the money, but clearly it’s sales that will drive the business onwards and allow their expansion and development plans to flourish.
And plans there certainly are, as Harry intimated:
“Our wines from Alhama de Granada are the first of what we intend to be a whole range of wines from right across Andalucía, all under our Tierra Hermosa brand. Indeed, we are soon to add a white wine to the range and more, exciting wines from other Andalucían regions are in the pipeline.
In the longer term, our plan is to develop and expand the Tierra Hermosa brand to incorporate a ‘vini-tourism’ side to the business, when we will also look to develop our own winery facilities. These should allow visitors to gain hands-on experience of the wine-making process, from vine to bottle, as well as offering wine tutoring/classes, vinous tours of Andalucía and much more besides.”
After a long metaphorical, and actual, journey, Harry’s first wines are now on the market with the next year’s batch undergoing bottle and/or oak ageing ready for a later release. Things are looking good for Tierra Hermosa, with this commentator’s approval for sure, and with the promise of added depth and nuances that will come with time in bottle.
Already there are distributors in the UK handling Harry’s wines and the Michelin Starred restaurant, Casamia in Bristol features Tierre Hermosa wines on the Fine Wine List!
Neblerío Tempranillo 2010, made under the auspices of the Denominación de Origen Protegida Vino de Calidad de Granada, is priced at 8·35€. Neblerío is the local name given to the early morning mists which provide the vines with welcome moisture and some respite from the glaring sun before they are eventually chased away by the rising sun and the forceful winds common to the vineyards here, lying as the do at an average altitude of 1,200 metres above sea level!
The wine has the unmistakeable soft red fruit combined with darker, brambly berries that are characteristic of wines made from 100% Tempranillo. As we’ve said the vineyards used for this wine are at a very high altitude where night time temperatures are dramatically lower that those of the daytime, when the sun beats down mercilessly. The sunshine and consequent high temperatures allow the grapes to ripen perfectly, but the significant heat loss of night time insures against a flabby wine, increasing the acidity so necessary in fine wine.
However Neblerío also has another advantage, indicated perhaps to those who have an understanding of Spanish, in the name. Neblerío is the local name for the mists that form in the early hours of dawn and beyond, until eventually chased away by the rising sun. This mist provides added moisture to help grape production as well as some respite from the sun.
The wine enjoys a short ageing period in small French oak barrels which gives it some added depth with vanilla, slight coffee and dark chocolate aromas and tastes. The oak is handled judiciously, an indication that Harry has not only learned his craft well, but that he is also aware that the modern wine drinker is not keen on wood hiding primary fruit flavours. This is a juicy wine with a mineral quality, drinking well now but with time on its side too. There’s mature tannin, acidity of course, plenty of fruit and a sufficiently high alcohol level making it a wine that can be aged to mellow further.
The name Veinte Grados (20º) 2010 VdlT Laderas del Genil, their other wine, is a reference to the 20ºC drop in temperature between night and day time. Harry has taken the decision to opt out of the DO for this wine’s production. Years ago this might have been considered brave, foolish or even suicidal as there was a time when DO approval was supposed to be the only mark of quality. This is no longer the case as there are many wines that are not DO approved but are often better than some which do carry the epithet Denominación de Origen!
Essentially, if a winemaker wants to have his wine listed under the DO he has to abide by their rules. These are many and can be tiresome. If a winemaker wants to make his wine in a way not approved by the DO he must have it listed by another name (smelling just as sweet!).
20º is made from three grape varieties – Tempranillo, Garnacha and Syrah, and it’s the Syrah that is the reason for opting out of the DO system. Veinte Grados is a 2010 vintage wine, but the 20% Syrah included in the blend is from the 2008 harvest which has subsequently been aged in small French oak barricas, adding to the complexity and structure of the finished product. Making wine using grapes from two different vintages is not permitted!
This super Priorat-esque wine, perhaps because of the similarities in soils and altitude between the hallowed Priorat vineyards and those above Granada, was made from vines that manage to grow at 1,200 metres above sea level, amongst the highest in Spain!
There’s an abundance of dark fruit with damsons particularly noticeable but that’s not all. Look for some spice and black pepper from the Syrah along with a faint black olive taste too; there’s a whiff of bay leaf and some pleasing, slatey mineral notes with a blackberry fruit, lengthy finish. Again this wine will also be suitable for ageing.
For sales and further information go to www.tierrahermosa.com and click Contact Us.