Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Wines of Jumilla: Bodegas Bleda

Bodegas Bleda – a fourth-generation family winery producing award-winning wines in a brand-new facility

I hadn’t intended to visit Bodegas Bleda. It was out of town and I had no car. But they had recently won 7 awards in the Certamen de Calidad de los Vinos de Jumilla (awards presented to the top wines in each category by the Designation of Jumilla), so I made sure that I tried their wines at the mini wine festival in Jumilla’s central park.

It’s no wonder that Bleda is winning awards, because their wines are great. I particularly enjoyed the Castillo de Jumilla White, but the rosado and the reds were lovely as well, and the Amatus (dulce or dessert wine) is a wonderful marriage of complex wine flavours with a sweet, spicy finish.

The wines were being served by Pascual Tomas Solax, Jefe de Bodega, and the care and attention he paid to serving the wines indicated the deep respect he has for his winery.

When he saw how interested I was in Bleda’s wines, Pascual went out of his way to offer me a tour, even though he had already put in a long, busy afternoon serving wine in the park.

Bodegas Bleda is a fourth-generation family winery that was founded in 1915 by Don Antonio Bleda. They are a small- to medium-sized winery. They export 90% of their wine through small distributors around the world, from Canada and the United States, to Japan and Australia.

(It’s worth noting that Spain’s economic crisis has forced most of the Jumilla wineries to look outside their national boundaries for sales, even those that relied primarily on a national trade in the past.)

Bleda’s first wine, Oro Viejo, won a gold medal in Barcelona in 1929. They continue to make a small quantity of Oro Viejo, but it’s very different from their other, more modern wines with 16% alcohol and a taste similar to Cognac.

Bodegas Bleda won seven awards at the Jumilla wine awards in April 2011. The Castillo de Jumilla Monastrell 2010 won a gold. The Castillo de Jumilla Monastrell-Tempranillo 2010 and the Castillo de Jumilla Reserva 2005 won silver medals; and the Blanco 2010, the Crianza 2007, the Divus 2009 and the Amatus 2009 were awarded bronze medals.

They also won three gold medals at the Premios de Cofradia del Vino Reino de la Monastrell in March 2011 for the Castillo de Jumilla Tempranillo-Monastrell 2010, the Divus 2009 and the Amatus Dulce 2009.

The winery was located inside the town of Jumilla until 2008 when they invested their savings in a new property in the Valley of Omblancas, just outside of Jumilla. It’s a spacious, elegant facility with a patio overlooking a terrace garden and a view of Jumilla’s Castillo in the distance.

As we admired the building, Pascual Tomas Solax, Jefe de Bodega, explained that the building was designed and built by the winery’s employees without the help of an outside architect or building contractor.

They have planned for the future with a second storey that is currently vacant but that will be available as office space and a large tasting room when they are ready to expand.

I think the entrance hall with its wood beams and a grand staircase leading up to the second-storey terrace would be perfect for weddings or anniversary celebrations.

The winery put a great deal of thought into designing its building to benefit both the wine-making process and visitor tours. As a result, you can take a circular tour through the production plant, to the barrels room and cellar, to the bottling plant and finally into the shipping area. One full wall of the tasting room is a window overlooking the barrels room.

Production Facilities
The bodega prides itself on being one of the most modern wineries in Jumilla. For example, only three people are required to run all the computerized equipment in the air-conditioned and humidity-controlled processing plant.

Some of the equipment was new to me. The grapes are delivered to the plant via a garage door leading to a shallow metal trough with two large screws which separate the grapes from the stems and move the grapes forward into the tanks. A vacuum sucks up the stems and takes them back outdoors where they are chopped into small pieces, again by machine, and recycled as either compost or animal feed.

The tanks, which vary in size from 23,000 to 100,000 litres, are made from stainless steel and are temperature controlled. The smaller containers are used for the more specialized wines.

The bottling line is completely automatic and two people can fill, label and pack 3,000 bottles an hour. The bottles are filled in a sealed compartment with filtered air to ensure cleanliness.

Grape Varieties
Bodegas Bleda cultivates 250 hectares of vines according to organic principles. The majority of this land is planted with Monastrell grapes. Additional red wine varieties include Tempranillo and Syrah. A field of Cabernet Sauvignon was just planted in March 2011. White wine varieties include Sauvignon Blanc, Macabeo and Airen.

Bleda ages some of their wines in French and American oak. They are also experimenting with Hungarian oak, which they expect will be similar to French oak as it is also from northern Europe.

Castillo de Jumilla White
My favourite wine was the Castillo de Jumilla White, which is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Macabeo and Airen.

I wasn’t familiar with Airen so I looked it up on the internet. The Catavino website says that Airen has been grown in Spain since the time of the Moors and is the single most planted vine in the world. Its durability under extreme temperatures and dry climates as well as a high yield has made it a popular Spanish choice. It was traditionally used for brandy and heavy, oxidised wines, but modern technology now permits the production of “crisp, slightly neutral dry wines marked for early consumption.”

Macabeo is another native Spanish grape that is grown in Spain and southern France. It is traditionally used to make cava (sparkling wine).

Small Quantities of Quality Wine
Bodegas Bleda’s goal is to produce small quantities of very high quality wine. They produce only 600-700,000 bottles a year and they will often run out of a specific variety before the next harvest is ready.

Production figures are based on demand – if they sell out of one variety, they will try and make more the following year, while they will decrease production of less-popular wines.

The Heart of the Winery
I was impressed by the quality of the wine but also by the generosity of the people.

At the end of a busy day, Pascual offered three foreigners a comprehensive one-and-a-half hour tour of his winery. Not easy considering Pascual speaks very little English and the other two visitors spoke very little Spanish, so I became de facto translator despite my limited abilities.

I believe this story illustrates the love of wine that is at the heart of the Bleda winery. Pascual says that they deliberately try to maintain a very high quality to price ratio. They make small quantities of wine and they try to keep the price as low as possible in order to reach a wider audience.

“We could sell our wine for more money,” Pascual explains, “but if we did, fewer people would be able to buy it and enjoy it. That is the difference between a family business and a large-scale enterprise.”

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