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A day in central Rueda

A few weeks ago I spent a day in central Rueda. It was in full harvest time, but I never saw a grape picker, nor a harvesting machine. Why? Rueda is white wine land, and it may be well known that the modern “revolution” started in the 1980’s, when modern technology was introduced, and grapes was picked at night before the heat of the day became too annoying for grapes and people.

I was in search for good organic verdejos with a sense of place. And there was a wide variety of producers, big ones and small ones, privately owned and cooperatives. I appreciate the cooler style of the higher vineyards in the northern part of Segovia (villages like Nieva and Santiuste). This time I concentrated on the province of Valladolid, where the majority of bodegas are concentrated in and around the villages of La Seca, and Rueda itself.

I started on the other side of the bigger town of Medina de Campo though, in Rubí de Bracamonte, that is situated a bit higher (some places above 800 meters) and has a climate somewhere between the Rueda and the Segovia part. Bodegas Verderrubí was a nice surprise. They dispose of 27 hectars verdejo (4 different clones), all of it run organically and will be certified from the 2015 vintage on. The ground here has sand and stones with some clay (here more grey coloured compared to the more orange in Rueda/La Seca), which together with the high location gives the wines a good acidity.

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Emilio Pita Gil, winemaker and owner

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Each tank contains wine from one parcel

Emilio makes three distinctly different whites. First we tasted The basic Dominio de Verderrubí 2014, made solely in stainless steel with 4 months on fine lees. Really fresh and aromatic, with hints of apple and gooseberry, and a nice and supple acidity. The Atipyque 2013 had fermented and stayed on the total lees in fudres of 5.000 liters. This was clearly darker, and had a more marked lees character, more fruity than flowery, but with some hints of camomile, and some anis that in a way resembles a moscatel. Lastly the Pita 2013 was still darker, aged in wood. Vanilla and butter, a bit raisiny maybe, but the acidity of the high altitude does it good.

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A glimpse of amphoras before we leave. Interesting…

On to La Seca, the municipality with the largest area under vine in the whole of Spain, so you understand this is wine country. Bodegas Menade claims to be the first one to be organic both in vineyards and winery. And it’s a prime example, very pedagogic, as they use blackboards and other means. Patricia tells me about how they create their ecosystem, a story that includes serum of milk to deal with oïdium, cinnamon extract to strengthen the roots, lady bugs to eat spider eggs, and vinegar and garlic to get the same ladybugs out of the vineyards once the job is done. Next time around we will also find beehives here.

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Menade has 180 hectars of vineyards, 50 of them around the winery, where they cultivate sauvignon in addition to verdejo. According to Patricia they appreciate freshness before (over-) maturity, so in a hot year like 2015 they picked everything before 3rd September.

They use dry ice in-stead of sulphur, and to filter they use paper of cellulosis (with different levels of filtering), and everything can be re-cycled.

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After a nice salty-mineral sauvignon intro we tasted several verdejos. Their Menade 2014 was an exemplary, round wine with good acidity. The Nosso (meaning “our”, but also denotes “no sulphur”) is a white that has undergone malolactic fermentation. And as such it is rounder, quite full, and darker, with some honey, butter, nuts… The older people of the wine growers say that the smell of this one reminds them of the old days, when Rueda was famous for sherry style wines.

Then there is the V3 (verdejo viñas viejas) in 2012 vintage. This is a wine that is made from “pie franco”, ungrafted vines. Needless to say: Rich, extremely concentrated, and after a year in 20-30% new oak it shows notes of mature apple, nuts/almonds and some vanilla.

We also tasted their organic top-fermented beer from wheat and barley. I mentioned teaching… Menade also makes de-alcoholized must, for children and young people to learn to taste before they reach legal age.

Vidal Soblechero is located between 600-760 meters, also in the outskirts of La Seca. Alicia Vidal Soblechero and her family and other helpers determined from the first day to make not less than five verdejos from five plots, five distinctly different interpretations of the same grape. Three of them are treated with some kind of oak, which helps to accentuate the differences. So a visit here is strongly recommended to learn about the many possibilities.

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Alicia Vidal Soblechero

They have also done a great job to make their own ecosystem. Interestingly a hawk is on top of that pyramid, at least in terms of meters over grass level. I had heard about the hawk, but I had not imagined that I would get the chance to see it. I not only saw it, I got the chance to hold a hawk for the first time in my life. Alicia’s brother Vidal Vidal Soblechero (no misspelling here) takes care of it.

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Vidal and the hawk

I will not go into great detail here. In general the wines have a warmer and fuller style than those of Verderrubí. And they dispose of a variety of vineyards, some more than 100 years old. Alicia tells that the wine-making has always been organic here, never have they turned to what we tend to call “conventional”. So far no wine has been certified though, but she says she wants to do it, to give the customer some kind of warranty.

I like their basic, unoaked verdejo Viña El Clavidor (the one with 50% viura in it too, fairly much in the same style), that has no “inox-feeling” as can be found in strictly tank-made young whites (and that I imagine can happen due to some kind of reduction). This one hasn’t been fermented at those low temperatures either. Some of the finca wines come under the name Pagos de Villavendimia. Among these the Finca El Alto is, as the name suggests, the highest vineyard at 760 meters. There is limestone, and the pebbles retain energy from the sun, which is useful as there can be frost in august and september. The 2011 was concentrated and long due to a high level of acidity. Finca La Matea has 40 years old vines, and gives more mouthfeel, but the 2011 was rather oaky. Escribiente 2013, from arcilian soil, I really liked. This one has never seen oak, and is a concentrated, full, appley wine with some anis notes and integrated acidity. Nearby Finca Varastrojuelos is planted with viura. Only 700 bottles are made, the rest go into other wines, such as the verdejo-viura blend. They make red wines from tempranillo too. Of the more eccentric project is a verdejo eiswein that grows close to the bodega.

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Finca El Alto

I also popped into the cooperative Agrícola Castellana (nowadays better known as Cuatro Rayas) just down the road. Everything was correct, the wines too, but not much more than correct: I would say simple and rather dull. Bodegas Antaño (nowadays better known as Mocén) is oppsosite: They have an interesting collection of old wine artefacts, long labyrinthic underground paths, and the bodega is quite untidy. But their basic organic verdejo was surprisingly good.

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