Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wines of Jumilla: Bodegas Viña Campanero

On the very edge of the Jumilla’s industrial zone, tucked among fields of grapevines and almond trees, is Bodegas Viña Campanero, a tiny, artisanal winery.

Winemakers, regardless of the size of their operation, are passionate about their vines and their wine. Perhaps it is because there are so many variables – the weather, the grapes, the many different choices of timing and methodology.

The link between the winemaker and his wine is particularly strong at Viña Campanero where a father and son team share responsibility for every phase of the winemaking process.

Viña Campanero is a family winery that was founded in 2002 by Pedro Cutillas Jimenez and his father. They produce 20,000 bottles of wine a year from grapes grown on their own property.

Hands-on operation
All the work is done by hand by Pedro and his father. Because they only have a small acreage, they are able to tightly control the harvest, harvesting each parcel individually when the grapes are ripe.

The grapes are collected by hand in 15-kilometre fruit baskets so that the grapes are not crushed and fermentation doesn’t start prematurely.

The fruit is fermented in containers ranging in size from 500 to 2000 litres (tiny compared to the larger wineries). The grape skins and seeds form a cap on top of the juice that is called a “sombrero” in Spanish. The sombrero on the highest-quality grapes is stirred by hand, while the fruit for young wine that will not be aged is stirred by machine.

The fermenting wine is maintained at an even temperature by inserting a cooling device inside the containers. This is very different from the other wineries I visited, which had cold water circulating around the outside of the containers, and is perhaps indicative of the extra attention that can be paid to small quantities of wine. Pedro believes it is more efficient as the cooling element is located at the core of the container where the heat is greatest and where it can cool the wine, not the external environment.

The wine is initially stored in large subterranean containers. It is later transferred to steel containers in order to remove the solids through natural precipitation. In November, it undergoes a second malo-lactic fermentation.

In December, the wine is tested by the Denominacion de Jumilla to see if it meets their standards. Pedro and his father also conduct their own taste tests. Depending on the quality of the individual containers, the wine will either be aged in barrels (crianza) or bottled as a young (joven) wine.

The winery has only very recently invested in a small bottling machine. They seal all their bottles with natural cork, which seemed to be the most popular choice in all the wineries that I visited in Jumilla. Some of them sealed their young white wines with screw caps, but this was the exception to the rule.

Choice of barrels
Viña Campanero uses barrels made from French and American oak. They are also experimenting with some barrels from Bulgaria and Portugal.

The cost of barrels is very high – 1000-1200 euros for French oak, 300-600 euros for American oak – and they must be replaced every 5 years. Bulgarian oak is much less expensive at 200 euros a barrel, so I could understand its appeal, and the need to explore all the possible options.

Pie franco
60% of Viña Campanero’s vines are Monastrell Pie Franco (ungrafted root stock). The remainder are younger Monastrell and a small amount of Tempranillo. The majority of their wines, particularly the ones that have been aged, are 100% Pie Franco.

A sense of history
Pedro’s uncle was known as El Campanero, and there is a long family history of growing grapes and making wine on the family’s land in the Ardal area to the west of Jumilla.

The wines are named for the region of Ardal and for the old stone wine shelter (un cuco) resembling a beehive that was built to protect the vineyard workers in the 19th century – hence the names of the wine – Vegardal and El Cuco del Ardal.

Viña Campanero has just started to export wine to Mexico and they are exploring another possibility in Japan, but most of their wine is sold regionally and in Barcelona, Valencia and Asturias.

The Spanish wine guide, Guia Peñin, (the Spanish equivalent of Robert Parker’s Wine Buyer’s Guide) has awarded high marks to Viña Campañero’s wine.

The Cuco del Ardal Semicrianza 2006 received 90 points in 2009. In 2010, the Cuco del Ardal Seleccion 2008 Barrica received 88 points, while the Vegardal Cepas Viejas 2008 received 87 points and the Vegardal Monastrell-Tempranillo 2006 Barrica received 85 points.

Wine tourism
This is a wonderful winery to visit as it’s small and personal – we sampled the wines while enjoying almonds that Pedro’s mother had picked and prepared from trees on their property.

There is a fascinating collection of old winemaking equipment at the front of the winery and next door is a restaurant offering a panoramic view of the surrounding vineyards and hills.

A short video, in Spanish, with excellent photographs of the winery:

Jumilla, Spain: 5,000 years of growing grapes and making wine

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