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'Inside Look' at Bodegas Virgen de la Sierra
This week's "Inside Look" is on Bodegas Virgen de la Sierra in Calatayud, Spain. An amazing winery that represents all of the winemakers of a very small town. Check out this indepth view on this exciting winery!
Bodegas Virgen de la Sierra
THE HISTORY OF THE BODEGA & REGION
Bodegas Virgen de la Sierra sits within the walls of Villarroya de la Sierra, a small medieval town with a very rich history and culture. At the top of the hill in the center of this literally ‘walled’ village, sits a picturesque castle that served as a protective barrier when the town endured numerous battles in the 1300’s for ownership. The regions of Aragón & Castile were always looking to expand their territory, and this historic village sat on the edge of them both. When everything cleared by the 15th century, Villarroya was claimed by, and still sits today within the province of Zaragoza in Aragón, and is naturally quite close to the eastern border of Castilla y Leon. Still quite small, the town’s population is a mighty 3,000 people whose hearts and souls belong to this fertile area, which sits just down the road from Calatayud. In 1990, the entire surrounding region was named after the beautiful city of Calatayud as a wine D.O. for Spain. The name comes from an Arabic background, roughly translated as “the Castle of King Ayud,” as the area’s past has seen a variety of different rulers, long before it was a country called Spain.
The tradition of the Calatayud area is astonishing and admirable, as each and every spring, the local towns take a pilgrimage on foot to the peak of the Sierra de la Virgen mountains, to visit an old monastery named Virgen de la Sierra. Here a statue stands tall in honor of the Blessed Virgen. The town of Villarroya is very active in this journey, as their town’s only winery takes its name from this great site. Once they reach the monastery, all of the people young and old, pray for a fruitful harvest for all of their crops (grapes especially!) and ask for protection from the winds, dryness, sickness, hails, and freezes. All 400 hectares of grape vines that encompass the surrounding region known as the Camino de la Virgen (1 of 40 in the Calatayud D.O.), are under ownership of individual families within the village. Each year they commit to farming in an extremely traditional and natural way, in order to work with the landscape and to produce the very best grapes for the winery to use. They are paid for the quality of their grapes, not the quantity, in order to maintain an outstanding reputation for the bodega, as each year the wine is made from their hard-earned harvest. Once the fruit is processed and inside the bodega, Manuel Castro takes control.
Known across Spain for producing some of the greatest Garnacha one can find, Manuel Castro is truly a master of his craft. Specializing in exceptional values, he strives to make wines that are true to the region, and true to the people’s hard work and dedication. Manuel started as an agricultural engineer before he started on the production side, and began to make wine in different areas throughout Spain. Ten years ago, he landed in Calatayud and has been making wine for Bodegas Virgen de la Sierra ever since. His gentle and extremely warm demeanor is contagious, and his passion is obvious through his enthusiastic eyes which are always carrying a smile. During the growing season, he gets out to visit all of his friends and their vineyards as much as he can in order to ensure that the practices are natural, organic, sustainable, and in conjunction with the Bodega’s philosophy.
THE EARTH & WEATHER
Sitting in the shadow of the Sierra de la Virgen mountains, ranging between 700 and 1200 meters high (2900-4000ft) is where all of the beautiful vineyards grow for the ‘Lo Brujo’ line of wines. The constant rolling hills glow red from the clay rich soils that are covered with rocks of all shapes and sizes. Dotted amongst the vineyards are small groves of peach and almond trees along with age-old small huts carved into hillsides that gave protection from the hot sun only a few decades ago. A consistent afternoon wind graces the hillsides, providing an extra bit of cooling for the grapes during the hot afternoons (averaging at 91° F in the summer months). The evenings drop down into the mid 40’s, providing ample time for the grapes to relax before the next day’s heat. The overall climate is very continental, even though the Mediterranean Sea does shed some influence; the winters turn bitter cold in opposition to the heat of the summer, building strong vines that have lasted for over a century in some parts. The vines grown by the village of Villarroya consist predominately of Garnacha, a few plots of Macabeo, as well as some small amounts of interspersed Bobal (known locally as Provechon) and Monastrell. More than half of all planted vines are grown in bush fashion due to their strength and protection from the elements, as well as the depth that the roots grow to. The D.O. of Calatayud prohibits watering Garnacha vines, and since rain is very sparse during the growing season, it is important that the roots reach deep enough to attain water from the clay below. For all of the organic vines that Virgen de la Sierra collects grapes from, there are only two sulfur treatments allowed per year to stay in line with their ecological production.
Bodegas Virgen de la Sierra has been producing their local wines for over a century. They produce about 75,000 cases annually, as well as providing ‘bulk’ wine that is dispensed from taps coming out of the wall in the tasting room, for the town farmers when they bring in their jugs. Once the grapes have been accepted into the bodega, everything enters large stainless steel tanks to undergo alcoholic fermentation. All except for the youngest fruit from the fields (5-10 year old vines), start fermentation naturally from the native yeasts that are present on the grapes. Many pump-overs take place each day as the wine is developing. As malolactic conversion begins for the red wines, all juice is transferred to very large, underground cement deposits as the cold winter approaches. This placement happens because of the natural temperature held in these vats from the earth is actually warmer than the stainless tanks that sit above ground come December, January, and February. The majority of the wines settle during this time, losing any excess yeasts and other solids, and when the wine is pumped out of these containers, very little filtering is ever necessary. For all of the reds, no clarification takes place, and only a light bentonite addition is used for the white wines, keeping all production from Virgen de la Sierra animal-product free and vegan. To add to the minimalist approach, since the winery remains so cold throughout the winter months, it is not necessary for the wines to undergo any additional cold-stabilization before continuing their aging. Each wine is then moved to either bottle or cask for additional aging, and released to the market thereafter.
LOCAL CUISINE & FOOD PAIRINGS
Due to the freshness of Manuel Castro’s wines, food pairing can be an absolute delight. Local cuisine in Calatayud can range greatly due to its situation within Spain; not too far from the Mediterranean Sea for delicious sea fare, and inland far enough to be close to Spain’s famous lamb and pork regions. Here are some ideas for food pairings with the wines of Bodegas Virgen de la Sierra.
Lo Brujo Macabeo: The Macabeo has incredible acidity, a rich mouthfeel, as well as a delicious herbal zippiness that can pair with many foods such as tapas, salads, and seafood.
- Fresh caught Bacalao (unsalted cod) with prawns & cream sauce
- Seared Foie Gras on toast with marmalade
- Langostinos or prawns
- Green salad with citrus-herb dressing
Lo Brujo Rosado: The Rosado is made from 100% Garnacha, and although taken off of the skins quickly, still packs a lot of delicious fruit and spice. The fresh approach of this wine from its crisp acidity is ideal with a range of ‘pre-meat’ dishes.
- Grilled prawns
- Radicchio & endive salad with creamy white balsamic dressing
- Pan-seared Dorada & garlic
Lo Brujo Garnacha: This unoaked Garnacha has such freshness, but is backed with grips of fresh berry fruit and exciting spicy notes, that it can be quite versatile on the table. Try with everything from seafood to lighter meats.
- Fresh vegetable & tuna salad (drizzled with balsamic reduction)
- Seafood Paella
- Fried pork leg & aioli
Lo Brujo Viñas Viejas: A Garnacha with some time on oak, this wine shows richness on the palate in comparison to its unoaked sibling. Robust and juicy, this wine is fond of grilled meats and roasted dishes.
- Roasted pork loin & tomatoes
- Grilled lamb leg & herbed potatoes