Rodolfo Valiente Garcia is a passionate man, passionate about his bodega, his vineyards and the wines he makes!
We recently visited his bodega, situated on the Vega close to the Rio Magro on the outskirts of Requena, and for those who know the old road from El Ponton to Utiel, the entrance to the bodega is under a stand of pine trees directly opposite Torre Oria in the hamlet of El Azagador.
Here the vineyards surround the bodega which sits on a small mound, Tempranillo, Merlot, Bobal, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and a little Macabeo (for the Bodegas Cava) are the varieties which are grown here on one of the other parcels (Los Balagueses) which is situated in the Hoces de Cabriel Natural Park
We started in the Bodega’s visitor centre and Rodolfo explained how 2014 was turning into an interesting year for a number of reasons.
He is not far from commencing his harvest with the Sauvignon Blanc, traditionally an early picked variety in the zone. This year picking will be nearly three weeks earlier than usual, the long hot dry summer having played its part in ripening the grapes quickly. But not everything is ripening evenly. Nor is all well.
Much of the Bobal harvest could be written off as there was insufficient rain. Given that this is a variety that is generally resistant to drought this comes perhaps as a bit of a surprise, but the reality is there was no rain before the budding commenced, nor indeed until after flowering and the growth simply has not been there. Other producers in the area have also expressed their concern that older vines — those that produce the best, most concentrated grape juice — are actually dying.
The Balagueses plots have Pago status and the bodega’s flagship wines are produced there. Other parts of the vineyards could also have Pago status but Rodolfo dismisses the idea because of the quality differences in the wines which are almost entirely down to the different soil types. The vineyards surrounding the bodega are generally rich red soil, with plenty of river stones mixed in and free draining.
Over in the Natural Park the soils are chalky and white. The bodega possesses its own water supply from a natural source meaning the grapes can be irrigated when necessary, water which is not treated with or polluted by chemicals which fits well with the ecological status the vineyards enjoy, reflected by governments certificate displayed on the back labels of the bottles of wine.
However the irrigation pipes bring their own problems… or at least make a solution to another problem difficult to achieve. As we walked down to look at the plots of Merlot and Bobal at the base of the mound rabbit droppings were very evident. This year, the plague of rabbits which has affected the area for some years has worsened. Normally rabbits take the young growth and bottom bunches of grapes, but this year they have been burrowing down and attacking the root systems of the vines. It is hunting land but they cannot shoot in the vineyards due to the danger of rupturing the irrigation system!
The Merlot is also not ripening evenly, in one plot the sugar levels are 1.5º lower than others within a kilometer and a half from the bodega.
Even the older Bobal vines with around 40 years age are showing differences. First we had looked at a plot of Bobal vines with just 6 years of age with their bunches of tightly compact grapes which normally Rodolfo would use for his rosado. The older vines had some compact bunches but also some of the looser smaller berried bunches which you would expect from vines of this age…all on the same vine. In a good year these would be harvested separately, the bigger bunches going into young or ‘joven‘ styles of wine and the looser bunches being selected carefully for the top wines.
We walked back up the hill and looked around the bodega. Starting with the de-stalker Rodolfo explained that the grapes were passed by pump through underground pipes to the deposits after tests for sugar content and health. The deposits themselves are computer controlled so that temperature and alcohol contents can be continually monitored and adjusted as necessary without the need for further human intervention, which for example saves a lot of work just in the process of pumping over allowing the small number of bodega workers to sleep normally.
The white grapes will be harvested mechanically at night and processed at the bodega from 6am in the morning, all arriving in 25kg boxes to avoid the grapes breaking under their own weight and the juice oxidising.
We moved on and looked into the two barrel stores, (Rodolfo keeps his new barrels and his old barrels separately) before looking at the bottling plant and the storage areas where the cava was resting during its 3o months ‘en rima‘. The bodega makes around 7-8 thousand bottles of their Brut Nature annually.
As we moved back to the visitor centre for a tasting of the bodega’s range of wines, Rodolfo told us about his marketing strategy which is very much aimed at export to countries such as Poland, Germany, Sweden and Denmark where Ecological wines are much better appreciated and understood. Spain has many ecological bodegas but despite the long time and effort required to achieve it the Spanish have not generally embraced the concept.
He will also expand into the growing Asian market having a toehold currently in Taiwan. When asked about the UK he was not the first to express a widely held view that it is a ‘difficult market’ but he was the first to explain in some detail how the UK Government tax take and the need to have an importer in place before you show your wines is seen as a major stumbling block for would be exporters. And he was brutally honest enough to say that wines from Valencia are generally not known in the UK because of the wine-buyers blind spots: generally they stick with Rioja, regardless of the better price-to-quality comparison which Valencian wines offer.
Our tasting commenced with the Vegalfaro Brut Nature Reserva 2009 (11.5% ABV).
The wine is a blend of Chardonnay and Macabeo with 30 months in contact with the lees. The wine had been disgorged six-months previously and Rodolfo puts this date on the back label so that customers know when the wine was put into the market.
The wine showed a good mousse with fine persistent bubbles rising through a golden-coloured wine which was clear and very bright. On the nose the wine was fruity, with good hints of both patisserie (brioche) and citrus notes. In the mouth the wine is clean, the bubbles are well-integrated and the wine has good volume with an easy pass across the palate and a long finish. This is a wine to accompany good food.
Our second wine was the Vegalfaro Chardonnay 2013 (13% ABV) which spends 2.5 months in oak: pale-gold, clean and bright with long legs, the 2013 comes from a good year for white wines, in contrast to the Spring of last year which was wet. On the nose the wine was immediately right ‘in your face’ – a very expressive explosion of fruit with tropical notes, pineapple, passion fruit, banana. In the mouth the wine was clean and fresh, with good acidity, nicely balanced fruit and quite unctuous.
The Pasamonte 2013, Sauvignon Blanc (12.5% ABV) comes from a finca near to Balagueses. Pale gold in colour, clean, bright and with good legs. On the nose the wine is full of white flowers, creamy and with good fruit. In the mouth it is clean and fresh, well-balanced peach and apricot fruit and a long full finish with a dry, minerally touch.
The Vegalfaro Rosado 2013, Merlot/Bobal (13% ABV) is produced for export. It has an onion skin colour with long legs. It is made from the natural run off of juice without pressing and has a fresh, light mature red currant fruit nose, and is a little more acidic than a pure Bobal with its ripe strawberry fruit. In the mouth it is light, fresh, with a good touch of fruit.
Our next wine was the Pago los Balagueses Chardonnay 2012 (13% ABV) in which alcoholic and Malolactic fermentation take place in the barrel. The wine then sits in the lees for six months with daily batonnage (a stirring process during which the dead yeasts impart proteins into the wine). It is old gold in colour, is clean, bright and has very long slow developing legs. On the nose the citrus fruit is ripe, dried orange skin, almost marmalade, with hints of oak and patisserie. In the mouth it is very smooth on the pass across the palate, unctuous, very full and ripe, with vanilla and orange fruit and a very long finish. A truly wonderful wine.
Rebel.lia 2013 (14% ABV) is a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha Tintorera and Bobal. It is a young wine whose existence is owed very much to a change of label design. Bright cherry red with with a violet edge and long legs. On the nose mature red fruit, very expressive. In the mouth, very fruity, full of flavour, explosive red fruits, long round smooth finish and very easy to drink!
Next came the Caprasia Bobal 2012 (14% ABV) which is ready now but the label is undergoing a re-design before launch. Finca Los Balagueses is in the area near to Los Duques where the Las Pilillas archeological site can be found, home to the oldest (and the first truly commercial) bodega found in Spain. This dates back some 2,500 years and was part of the first settlements of the Iberian people who travelled from the coast at Cullera, the Phoenician base, up old-established paths by the river Jucar and ultimately the Cabriel and who formed the settlement of Kelin which is Requena’s original name. The name is taken partly from the Cabriel and partly from the native wild goats.
The wine is deep black cherry in colour, with a violet edge and multiple long slow legs which coloured the glass. On the nose it is concentrated, complex, with deep, mature fruit, cherry, blackcurrant, blueberry, with black pepper and chocolate. In the mouth this is meaty, full, concentrated with mature black cherry fruit and liquorice. A truly stunning Bobal… I can’t wait for it to be available!
The 9th wine in our tasting, the Pago Los Balagueses 2012 Syrah (14.5% ABV), is also a black wine with a violet edge and long legs. On the nose the wine is spiky with a raspberry peppery hit which, as always with good syrah, leaves you catching your breath! And what a good syrah it was, in the mouth, ripe, rich and full, with very good volume, sweet tannins, good acidity, and is well structured and balanced. Fresh and with a long finish.
Over lunch which followed in a nearby San Antonio bar/restaurant, we enjoyed a bottle of the 2010 Pago Los Balagueses Merlot (13.5% ABV). Garnet in colour, the wine had lots of black ripe fruits, plum and damson, on the nose. In the mouth a natural fruitiness was balanced with smooth tannins, a medium bodied red which is well-balanced and accompanied ribs cooked in honey. There was no hint of bitterness either in the finish, often a sign of over-ripe fruit. Excellent!
These are wines for food, and one place you will find them for sale around Valencia is in restaurants owned by the top chefs Raul Alexandre and Quique Dacosta.
Once again the visit turned out to be educational as well as interesting and an opportunity to discuss in-depth several issues facing the bodega and the DO in Utiel-Requena.
Thank you once again to Rodolfo!
For further information, visit http://www.vegalfaro.com