As Head Winemaker Mariano and the equally indispensable Minister Without Portfolio, Carmen, drove me to one of Bodegas Castaño’s vineyards, there was a contagious and yet intangible air of excitement, tinged with a touch of anxiety. There is a chain of events that eventually leads to grape collection, and precisely when that occurs is on Mariano’s say-so alone.

The responsibility sits comfortably on his broad shoulders, however. This internationally respected oenologist is at the top of his profession, having worked for decades in the family owned, and indeed familial, bodega.

Fran, the bodega’s Head Agricultural Engineer and first link in the chain, had informed Mariano that in his opinion the vines of certain vineyards were reaching maturity. With grapes now in glorious dark purple colour the mother plant turns its attention to changing their acidity into sugar, a procedure achieved through the good offices of its leaves.

It was time for Mariano to make regular, twice daily visits to determine exactly when the itinerant pickers should descend on the vines and get to work on the grapes that have been so lovingly husbanded throughout the growing season. Vinos De España was invited along to learn how such important decisions are made, as well as observe the pre-harvest preparations back at base.

 Mariano relies on two aspects: the visual and the technical. The magnificently tailored vines looked in pristine condition as we made our way down one aisle and up another in the baking sunshine. Mariano moved stealthily, predator-like, from vine to vine firstly looking at the perfectly formed bunches of Cabernet Sauvignon and then plucking an occasional grape.

 Those bunches whose stems were approaching a brown colour leading to the first berry were inspected closely. A grape here and another there would be taken. If there was any flesh left where grape left stem, the time was not quite right. Further evidence was gleaned by taste and mouth-feel – Mariano tasted and felt the texture of the skins in his mouth. The flesh was sweet, but sweet enough? And the skins, too dense means – delay a little longer.

 Then, a further consideration. The seeds were inspected. Green pips indicate ‘not yet’, browning seeds suggest ‘nearly’. Then, by way of further confirmation, for the first time, Mariano turned to technology producing his trusty refractometer. This instrument measures the amount of sugar contained in the juice of the grapes (a delightful pale pink demonstrating how quickly maceration affects colour). The juice was attained simply by squeezing the grapes into a pleasingly low-tech plastic bag! Although he would ratify his findings in the laboratory later, his verdict was ‘not today’ for this parcela!

 In fact Bodegas Castaño’s harvest had started, in part, already. The Chardonnay used in their 50/50 blend with Macabeo had been harvested a few days before our visit and was fermenting by then. Also the black grapes used for their limited production, fruit-driven Carbonic Maceration red wine were being unloaded onto the selection table as we spoke. Furthermore the white wine grapes from their experimental vineyard were also undergoing fermentation, samples of which we tasted later.  

 Back at the bodega, the grape reception area was bright and exemplary in its cleanliness – a byword, once ignored in Spanish winemaking, but now a major focus since the era of the flying winemaker and the influence of the new generation of winemakers such as Mariano. Outside it was still and quiet, all was calm. Inside, it was a different story – a precursor mini-storm was in progress.

 The workers were in the last throws of the ultimate cleaning. This feverish activity misses no corner of the bodega. No pipe, no stainless steel fermentation vessel, no grape press, no selection table, no gently moving conveyor belt, no tool, nothing.

 To make medal-winning wines of the quality of Bodegas Castaño (whose exports amount to some 95% of the total production and whose points totals in the various guides, including Parker and La Guía De Oro, are invariably in the high 80’s and 90’s) no bucket shall be left unturned, every area and piece of equipment shall be cleaned, disinfected and sterilised!

 We next went to the huge stainless steel fermentation tanks where half of this year’s Chardonnay was already fermenting. Mariano drew off three glasses of cloudy, fermenting juice adorned with what looked like the head (froth) on a glass of beer! The aroma was stunning – paraguaya, that lovely peach-like fruit from South America. The flavour, sensational – sweet and frivolously full of tropical fruit, with a small amount of alcohol (5%) at that moment and of course a touch of effervescence.

 We next looked at the oak barrels, reposing in controlled chilled conditions, which contained the other 50% of the Chardonnay. This barrel fermentation adds different taste nuances and a certain creaminess to the finished wine. Here the taste was different, drier with an as yet faint oak influence, a more grown-up taste.

 Before a splendid lunch we tasted fermenting samples of mostly white wines made from grapes grown in Bodegas Castaño’s experimental vineyards but including early harvested Pinot Noir whose sombrero (‘hat’ of skins that have naturally floated to the surface) we had seen in the tank.

 It was clear that all was in hand, spotlessly clean, ready and waiting for the frenetic activity to come – the storm that is the harvest! 

 It is my sincere hope that, by writing the above title on the eve of the 2010 Vendimia, I am not precipitating the arrival of La Gota Fría, or indeed any other harvest-damaging storm. I’m not tempting providence!





 What do you get if you cross a Spaniard with a German? Well, if the Spaniard is a highly respected consultant oenologist crafting an impressive portfolio medal winning wines; and the German is a Master of Viticulture, Winemaking, Wine tasting and Marketing with thirty years experience as a sommelier, chef and officially recognised gastronome, you end up with a wine making philosophy and a super end product!

 Bodegas Concepto Vinnó and Bodegas Úvula are the sister bodegas that grew from this philosophy. Pedro Cárcel from Requena and German born Miguel Matthes are our respective protagonists whose ideals ‘Vinos de España’ recently put to the test amidst the beautiful rolling hills and valleys of Requena, where La Communidad Valenciana abuts Castille La Mancha.

 After many years of listening to clients’ comments about their favourite styles and tastes in wine and then blending them with his own opinions, knowledge and philosophy, Miguel had a shrewd idea as to what the wine buying public enjoys in its wines. In the circles in which he moves it was a given that he would eventually meet a talented winemaker willing to take onboard his ideas and who shared his passion for the grapes and the vineyards from whence they came.

 You cannot make good wine from bad grapes and as it is Pedro who controls what goes on in many of Valencia’s vineyards, as well as sharing Miguel’s ideals, there was nobody better with whom to collaborate. A partnership was born.

 Bodegas Úvula makes Vino de la Mesa, Table Wine. But don’t let that confuse you – the fact that it has to be labelled as ‘Table Wine’ is certainly no reflection on its quality. Rather, it is confirmation of the company’s philosophy. Neither Miguel nor Pedro want to have their hands tied by the bureaucratic red-tape that governs all that bodegas do if they want to have the Denominación de Origen (D.O.) stamp of their labels.

 It is Miguel and Pedro’s desire to make their Úvula wines using the best grapes they can find from wherever they can be sourced – this may be a blend of grapes grown within, for example: DO Alicante, DO Valencia and DO Utiel-Requena. Also they want to use a blend of varieties that will best produce the aromas, flavours and styles they require. This may mean, for example: Bobal, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.

 Such peripateticism is simply not permitted by the Consejos Reguladores (the DO Regulating Committees) therefore the wines of Bodegas Úvula cannot carry the epithet, Denominación de Origen – nor do Miguel and Pedro want it! New World wine making comes to Old World Spain!

 Bodegas Concepto Vinnó however abides by the rules and makes wines with the blessing of the DO Valencia, therefore they sport the DO’s official stamp. So have our wine partners compromised their beliefs and bowed under the pressure? No, it is simply that the different styled wines of this newer bodega, whose guiding goal is to produce the best possible reflection of the varieties of the region, happen to comply with all the regulations. So why not make a DO Valencia wine?

 The two wines in their small portfolio have dual common denominators – the indigenous Bobal variety and a fascinating use of several different types of oak for their ageing. The younger, vivacious Vinnó has Bobal flirtatiously cavorting with Monastrell, on a bed of French, Hungarian and Caucasian oak; whilst its slightly older sister’s bedfellows are Bobal and Merlot using French, Hungarian, Russian and Balkan oak casks.

 The vineyards we toured with Pedro and Miguel were a picture of health, despite baking temperatures. The Cabernet Franc, Bobal, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Tempranillo vines have roots that search for water, and what little nutritious material they can find, several metres below the parched surface soils. Irrigation is only used if the plants’ vigorous growth starts to wilt, and the vines, accustomed to suffering already, start to demonstrate that enough is enough!

 And what of the wines? Vinnó 2005 is a sturdy wine that has aged gracefully. It is drinking well now and will last still (though the 2007 will be released soon). There are dark fruits from the Monastrell and a touch of minerality from the Bobal, its three months in oak have added depth and a slight roasted coffee bean flavour on the finish. As with all their wines, decanting is recommended.

 Concepto 2005 has had two more months in oak. It’s a, deeper and  richer, well-structured wine with the Merlot adding more concentrated fruit as well as delicate floral, perhaps violet, notes. Sweet, soft tannins and a touch of spice, it’s drinking perfectly now but has the capacity to age a further one or two years.

 Úvula Coupage 2006 has had three months in two different French oaks as well as Caucasian, the varieties are Merlot, Tempranillo and Petit Verdot. The Tempranillo and Merlot take the lion’s share so as you can imagine this is a fruit-driven wine with the Petit Verdot adding herbaceous notes. A wine for drinking on its own or for pasta, cheeses and lighter meats.

 Úvula Selección 2005 blends Bobal, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, a delightful mix of dark fruits, earthy vegetal notes and spices complemented by integrated oak which adds depth, complexity and subtle toasty flavours. It’s a super wine, still very much alive and pleading to be eaten with game, and other full-flavoured meat dishes.

 Finally Úvula Plattum 2005. Only made in very good years this wine is a blend of Bobal, Cabernet, Petit Verdot and Syrah. It’s 14% abv and fills the palate but it has an elegance about it with flavours of dark fruits, black pepper as well as vegetal green pepper, and a touch of liquorice. Nine months in various different oaks have added complexity as well as subtle toasted flavour notes. The finish is a lengthy blend of brambly fruit with earthy notes which speak of its terroir.

 All wines available through parent company: