The book that serves today as a pretext for these letters, which are always intended to be about wine, is EL BOUQUET DEL MIEDO (The Bouquet of Fear). Its author: XABIER GUTIÉRREZ. Published by Planeta in 2016, 2017, in its ‘Crime and Mystery’ collection.

It is ‘The second case of Deputy Commissioner Vicente Parra’, who belongs to the Ertzaintza (Basque police force) and is recognised in the typological category of fictional detectives for his attendance at wine tasting courses.

With this background, he is confronted with the murder of a female winemaker, ritually carried out with a ‘corquete’. According to Cesáreo Goicoechea’s Vocabulario Riojano (Rioja Lexicon), the ‘corquete’ is “the tool used by the grape pickers to cut the bunches of grapes”, to which is added, to show off occasional culture, the rhyming saying: ‘Marcos Marquete, vendimiador sin corquete’ (Marcos Marquete, grape harvester without grape hook); which means that “when it freezes for San Marcos – on 25 April – the grape harvest is lost”.

The plot takes place between San Sebastián (particularly the Antiguo district) and Laguardia in Álava. It is a to and fro along the road that joins them, of which the local road that begins when you leave the annoyingly busy highway Nacional I at Briñas and runs through the Sonsierra of La Rioja to the capital of La Rioja in Alava is of particular interest. This road zigzags in parallel, with sacred respect for the vineyards, between the river Ebro to the south and the Cantabria mountain range to the north. Its magic and beauty is such that it attracts even the most regular users, who, in their rapture, neglect the traffic with potentially fatal results.

The winery where the female winemaker used to work is located in Laguardia, and plays a leading role in the work, from the very fiction of the possible existence of such a hundred-hectare vineyard that supports the mansion, on the hillside of the mountain range that looks towards the walls of the illustrious town.

In the book we find many references to wine, its production and tasting, but, in our view, they would not add anything particularly evocative to our conversation to be dealt with here. Thus, little can be said about our subject, which is wine, and less should be said about the plot. In fact, the story could have been played out in a similar way in a hardware store, simply by exchanging the shears for a spanner. What the bouquet of the wine essentially provides is verisimilitude. It is the glamour of the cellar that explains and gives meaning to the storm of passions that is drunk inside it. Hardly the hardware or any other gadgetry would be able to generate such feelings.

Let us talk then about wineries, but only about family wineries. Legal experts, always eager to specify concepts from which to draw conclusions that can be manipulated, describe a family business as one that belongs entirely to a single family, which manages it directly and with the intention that in the future it will continue to belong to the same family. In practice, this family business seems to sell as an example of intimate and dedicated good practice (I have just read that the Bank of Santander belongs to the so-called Instituto de la Empresa Familiar, that is, Family Business Institute). That is why not a few wineries are joining the bandwagon, even though many people, and therefore ‘their families’, are part of it, and certainly not all of them hold the power of management or can even aspire to hold it. However, without the smell of power there is no scent of family in the winery.

It is commonplace to say that, despite the deluded dreams of the founders, the family wineries, and in general any business with such a surname, remain in the family for a maximum of two generations. The first one promotes it and the second one expands it (this is an assumption). The third liquidates and exploits it. However, this statement is contradicted by statistics which show that only 30% of family businesses are passed on to the second generation, and only 15% benefit the third generation, which receives the fruits of the liquidation. No statistics can be found on the percentage that overcomes the monetary temptation of the last generation.

This is the best-case scenario. Any collective enterprise runs the risk of disagreements among the partners. This risk is inevitably more pronounced when you add the weight of family history, with its grievances, misunderstandings, jealousies and unresolved wounds. Not to mention when politicians, so concerned only with their own private gain, are added to the fray. Moreover, the founders, who are also parents, tend not to help, with wrong decisions and preferences, even aspiring to reign after death, leaving everything “tied up and well tied up”, as was said in that famous will the validity of which lasted only a few months.

There are, once again, lawyers and their concepts, what are known as “family protocols”,  whereby the family establishes rules to regulate how changes can take place in the family structure (transmission by the partners of their position either among the living or inheritance by death), how quotas of power are distributed among the different members, or how the publicity of conflicts is covered by the confidentiality of arbitration. But when the ‘blood’ starts to ferment, irrationality overflows and there is no protocol that can channel it. “Knives out”.

Our family winery was founded in 2022, under the name of Laventura, because “quién no se aventura no ha ventura” [1] . From the beginning we did well to take note of this, which is no guarantee of success. A few years later we changed the name to “MacRobert & Canals S.L.”, because we thought it was more honest to present ourselves with our surnames, as atypical in Rioja as our way of making wine. The third generation, the one that unites these surnames and to which our efforts are dedicated, already exists and is already helping us in our endeavours.

[1] This old Spanish saying rhymes, very much the same way it would do in English if we said whoever does not venture will have no adventure. But the real meaning of the saying is: Whoever does not venture will never be fortunate, although the rhyme is lost in translation!

Today we are going to talk about the book by CARLOS CLAVIJO, entitled “The son of the vine”, published by Planeta in 2010. It tells the story of the adventure of a family winery that, after various misfortunes, achieves the fortune of an award-winning international recognition. Whoever does not venture will never be fortunate.

Do not be discouraged by the sentence on the cover that says “The most beautiful story ever told about the land of wine”. Although such a claim does not bode well, you will have a good time reading it, and you will also learn interesting things about the history of our wine, which is no mean feat.

The starting point is the year 1863, the year in which Rioja wine took off, due to the arrival of the oidium and especially phylloxera in France and the subsequent need to supply the French market. From this point onwards, the author interweaves the story with the everyday life of a winery in a very nice way. We witness the loss of the colonial empire, previous wars that emptied villages and vineyards, from which the young men who could not afford the exemption from military service fled. We witness caciquismo [1] in its crude local form. We witness the disaffection with the monarchy and the winds from the east that brought revolt in 1933. We witness the civil war and its odious chance of assigning sides to the good people – who walk in a Machadian manner, unconcerned with anything but their own walk, and who “where there is wine, they drink wine; where this is none, fresh water” [2]-; we witness also the post-war period with its physical and mental closure; the second world war in which wine also played the role of spy; the recreation of Europe and its market…

The geographical setting in which the winery and vineyards are located is that part of the Rioja region, known as the Sonsierra, on the banks of the river Ebro, where the villages of Alava and La Rioja coexist. The village is called San Esteban. From its description, one could have taken it to be San Vicente, until the latter is thrown into disarray by appearing in the story. The action is naturally slow, as befits the means of transport. This explains why Rivas de Tereso, which today is almost seamlessly linked to San Vicente (or San Esteban), was at that time a place of exile for presumably ungrateful settlers of the latter. Or that reaching nearby Briones in a cart pulled by oxen could turn the freshly harvested grapes sour.

The link between the region and the port of Bilbao in the mid 1850’s thanks to the railway was crucial for the marketing and take-off of fine Rioja wine. (It is still bearing fruit today, as the Rioja Academy of Gastronomy recognised by awarding one of its first prizes to the Haro Barrio de la Estación [3] Winery Association).

[1] The rule of local chiefs or bosses (caciques)leading to abusive political bossism.

[2] Famous line from the poem Soledades II by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado who ranks among Spain’s greatest 20th-century poets.

[3] Haro’s railway station district.

barrio de la estacion

The book talks a lot about wine and gives us plenty to talk about. There is no aspect that does not merit a word, from the soil and its faint white stains revealing possible saltpetre, to the counterfeits that are perpetrated on it. Particularly interesting are the paragraphs sprinkled throughout the narrative that give an account of the care of the vineyard; he spares no labour or advice, including the modern bio-dynamic ones – such as the famous burying of a bull’s horn filled with manure. The advice to the woman not to go to the grape harvest if she has her period, as the grapes could turn sour, seems to underestimate its reasonable scientific value.

Two issues in particular have marked the history of Rioja wine, and are the subject of many pages. The first is its ‘madeirisation’ [1]: “To make good wine you need good grapes and good wood”. “Money can be saved on everything except these”. Indeed, the wood, or rather a specific barrel, soon became an element of typification of Rioja wine. It is no coincidence that the book begins precisely with the rescue of the protagonist in the shipwreck –“on 9 October 1895, four miles from Veracruz” – of a cargo ship that was transporting those very barrels, thanks precisely to floating in one of them. It also tells us of our protagonist’s determination to obtain good quality oak at a good price, embarking, overland, by railway from Paris to a Bosnia permanently bleeding to death, in a non-fictional adventure that would have merited the black and white colours of an epic film by John Ford. It was the 1930s and Europe was licking its wounds from the recent Great War, nursing grudges about to explode in the next one. There is no doubt that the ‘cask’ has played a major role in the development of Rioja wine, but it is worth asking today whether it has not generated tiredness and sterilising typification.

The second issue that has decisively marked the history of the Rioja is actually a very small one: phylloxera.

[1] Wine character typical for the Portuguese Madeira, which is created by the deliberate oxidative ageing and the heating or warming of the wine.

The phylloxera is an insect belonging to the order of the Hemiptera, whose existence goes through up to 18 different stages, living both above and below ground. In the former, it reproduces sexually by laying its eggs in the leaves; in the latter, when it settles parasitically in the roots, sucking the sap with its beak, it does so by parthenogenesis, i.e. without any need for stimulating males. The plant, as a means of self-protection, generates knotholes and tuberosities in the plant, which open the door to infection and eventually rot the host.

It was in 1863 when the plague arrived in France from the American continent. The period of bonanza for Spanish wine ended with the arrival of the insect in Spain; our protagonist detects it precisely on 12 July 1901. After the recent pandemic we have experienced, it is not so amazing that the invasion and spread of the disease came as such a surprise. Winegrowers had to face moments of absolute bewilderment, in which methods as esoteric as irrigation with human urine were considered; there were also witch hunts, traps and hoarding of plants, collective use of machinery…

In the end, no solution was found other than the use of American vines, planted as rootstocks, onto which the native vines were grafted, already on their aerial part.  On this continent, the insect had ceased to be lethal after millions of years of parasitic coexistence, which taught the vines to defend themselves without having to immolate themselves, by producing a special sap which, by clogging the phylloxera’s chewing apparatus, prevented it from biting again.

As with any ‘scientific’ solution, this can lead to unforeseen evils if circumstances change; the claim of productivity has generalised the use of very specific genetic types of grafts and rootstocks, with a serious loss of vineyard diversity. But this is another story.

Paraphrasing Antonio Muñoz Molina, although transferring his words aimed at the bookish world to our wine world, mutatis mutandis, it is appropriate to say: “The word «prescriber» has an imposing resonance that makes me dislike it; but we need people with knowledge and expert taste to guide us in our wine inclinations, and who are not mercenary or cynical or want to give us a cat for the hare of an ideological catechism, disguised as oenology. Then everyone chooses or finds what they like best and what satisfies them. We don’t need prescribers to give us instructions and dictate slogans, but drinkers (bon vivants?) like us who will hint at clues to the unexpected and the unknown”.

This quote comes as a perfect fit to suggest that you read the book we are going to talk about today. The author is JANCIS ROBINSON, recognised worldwide as one of the most knowledgeable wine experts in the world.

We have already heard of Jancis Robinson through the comments made about her by Ferrán Centelles in his book ¿Qué vino con este pato? (that is, which wine with this duck?) That first contact between the two of them at the restaurant elBully has turned over the years into a special collaboration. In fact, our sommelier has been in charge of the technical review of the book we are commenting on and of writing a prologue that honours the book itself: “This book is a generous exercise in style and wisdom, because it synthesises the basic knowledge -developed after more than forty years of work-, necessary to take the first firm and solid steps into the world of wine”.

One day, perhaps with more time, we will dedicate one of these newsletters to the immense “World Atlas of Wine” that Jancis wrote with Hugh Johnson, now in its eighth edition. (Since we are referring to the latter, it is worth mentioning the guide that he has been publishing every year for almost fifty years, with references to thousands of wines from all over the world, suitably tasted and assessed. As a pocket book, it is the most convenient thing to have at hand when making a purchase decision in the face of the immense unknown).

There are no equivalent paronymous terms for ‘bebedor’ and ‘vividor’ in English.



We will not deal here with any of the author’s monumental works, but with the simplest of them all: THE 24-HOUR WINE EXPERT, published in Spanish by Planeta in January 2018. In this case, the cover does not use empty words to try to sell itself, but rather elegantly expresses the content that we are going to be able to read, and with a fine and skilful sense of humour it underlines the dimension of being an expert to which we can aspire with its reading (and practice): “TO MAKE A GOOD IMPRESSION”.  No more can be claimed. There is no shortcut without work.



The author immediately confirms how right we were with the choice of the opening paragraph: “When I write, my role is to provide wine consumers with sufficient information to enable them to make informed choices”. From this follows its reversible character: “When I am asked how to choose wine, I always suggest establishing a relationship with the specialised wine shop in your neighbourhood. There are great parallels between wine shops and bookshops. In the same way that we can explain to a bookseller what we like and what we don’t like so that he can make us a personalised recommendation, a good strategy consists of explaining to a wine professional what we like and asking him to recommend us something similar but better, more daring or at a better price”. Wine and letters go naturally hand in hand.

As I said, the content of the book is indicated on the suggestive and promising cover. In addition, it is printed with letters in relief, which beg to be caressed in such a way that they anticipate the stimulation of all our sensory perceptions, which we will find inside. Because in the end that is what it is all about, to give guidelines to wine lovers so that they can know more and understand better, feel more and enjoy better. The aim of the book is the quintessence of education: to help in the formation of personal criteria.

It goes without saying that this is a handbook aimed primarily at those who are new to the culture of wine, but even the most experienced connoisseurs will find pleasure in reading it, in corroborating the simple explanation of what they already know, or in remembering forgotten details. All the topics of interest related to wine deserve your clear and unprejudiced attention: its production, its types, its tasting, its moment…; the bottle and other containers, its information, its conservation, its price…; the grapes, their varieties – the proposals for comparative tastings (my subconscious naturally wrote “shared”[1], I had to correct) are most stimulating -; the wine regions to know (basic guide) ….

And as far as the writing is concerned, it is an amiable book, easy to savour like a good open wine. It contains no literary pretensions, but it does contain images and touches of humour that are literature at its best.

In 1939, John Steinbeck wrote “The Grapes of Wrath” – Las uvas de la ira, according to the most widespread Spanish translation-. It won the Pulitzer Prize the following year, and was undoubtedly instrumental in winning the Nobel Prize in 1962. I handle an undoubtedly South American edition, so fashionable at the time, with a translation by Hernán Guerra Canevaro, dated June 1968, i.e., six months before the writer’s death.

It was an immediate sales success, aided, of course, by the film version made by John Ford in 1940, starring Henry Fonda, with his incredible blue eyes, also in black and white.

The relationship between literature and cinema could be the subject of an interesting viticulture discussion, because it is a matter of taste and not of canons. Written and audiovisual language do not share parameters that allow their comparison, so there will always be prejudices of predilection for one or the other. Suffice it to say that both works are an absolute must, and that the author of the novel gave his approval to the film, even though the script betrayed the former whenever Hollywood’s marketing requirements demanded it.

Pictured: a farmer and his children walking through a dust storm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma, USA. Photograph by Arthur Rothstein  in the public domain. Source: Library of Congress.

Steinbeck narrates the emigration of a family from Oklahoma -motivated by the loss of their land and their home, all ruined by a stormy dusty climate that makes them unable first to pay their debts and then to survive-, westward to California, in search of a future. The years of the Great Depression. A collective and initiatory journey along Route 66 that not all of them will complete, nor will they be the same people at the end as those who started it.

The book really has nothing to do with the wine we drink; you might even think that this is not the place to talk about it. However, on a couple of occasions it does mention the existence, out there in the rich west, of beautiful, accessible, golden vineyards, but the search for them proves to be utopian. The only direct reference to the subject that brings us here is the juice in which one of the deluded dreamers of the future aspires to soak, dreaming of rubbing bunches of grapes on his face or lying in the vat with them. The golden vineyards are the image of a Land of Promise that is never reached, because the promise does not exist. Of course, in this case the promise does not come from the divine word but from sly brochures that sell it in full colour.

However, if you type on the Internet the words: “books (or also “novels”) about wine”, “The Grapes of Wrath” often comes up. Maybe it is the power of the title, maybe it is the intrinsic stupidity of the algorithm that does not understand metaphors. The grapes of our title are not the grapes of wine, but the image of the injustice and abandonment that will end up fermenting into anger. “In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”

It is the fermentation that interests the author.

The book is a scathing account of the cruelty of American society: lust for money and the power it brings. Cruelty diminishes in proportion to the amount of wealth one possesses, so that in the solemnly poor, generosity and self-giving are absolute. The book has been accused of Manichaeism. The bad guys are very bad and the good guys are very good. The dividing line is very clear: rich and poor. I have no doubt that it can be seen that way, but perhaps it can be said, to the author’s credit, that he was by no means the first to come up with this idea.

From the “harvest” of such grapes, from reaping what has been sown, it has followed that the author was announcing the arrival of “communism”. I am not saying that this could not be true. Of course, both the author and the director of the film were the object of attention of the committee of anti-American activities. And there are some words in the novel that are quite transparent: “And some day the armies of bitterness will all be going the same way. And they’ll all walk together, and there’ll be a dead terror from it”. “If you who own the things people must have could understand this, you might preserve yourself. If you could separate causes from results, if you could know that Paine, Marx, Jefferson, Lenin were results, not causes, you might survive. But that you cannot know. For the quality of owning freezes you forever into “I”, and cuts you off forever from the “we”.”

Needless to say, communism then enjoyed a mystified aura that denied the reality of its dictatorship and its nature as state capitalism, in which the means of production belong to the bureaucrats, now, after the fall of the system, turned into oligarchs, following Lampedusa’s maxim (in his famous novel The Leopard): “Everything must change for everything to remain the same.”

The third “…ism” of which the book has been labelled is feminism. The assessment is based on the fact that the character in the book who appears to be endowed with the greatest clairvoyance, capacity for suffering, improvisation and drive is that of the mother. Men attached to the land are disoriented by their loss, but the mother is attached to the family, she is the possessor of the fire of the household, and wherever she lights it, the family will continue to be there. Almost a century has passed, the socio-familial circumstances have changed radically, but the embers remain.

Of course, all the characters in the book are powerful and well-delineated. Many are perceived as familiar archetypes: the illiterate and therefore distrustful father Ever’ time Pa seen writin’, somebody took somepin away from ‘im -, sheriffs and policemen imbued with power, angel barmaids, drunken whisky drinkers, apostles of all prohibition…

The figure of the preacher is striking. He has the Unamunian air of Saint Manuel Bueno, martyr, who also exercised the faith of the priesthood even though he was incapable of believing in the mysteries he preached.

The doubt that assails the character in our novel is certainly more prosaic: the compatibility of his mission with his passion for women. This leads him to feel unworthy of his role as a preacher, but he cannot give it up because of pressure from his family, who at some point need consolation or someone who knows how to express himself with the appropriate gravity for the occasion. As when the grandfather is to be buried: “This here ol’ man jus’ lived a life an’ just died out of it. I don’t know whether he was good or bad, but that don’t matter much. He was alive, an’ that’s what matters. An’ now his dead, an’ that don’t matter. Heard a fella tell a poem one time, an’ he says ‘All that lives is holy.’ Got to thinkin’, an’ purty soon it means more than the words says. An’ I woundn’ pray for a ol’ fella that’s dead. He’s awright. He got a job to do, but it’s all laid out for’im an’ there’s on’y one way to do it. But us, we got a job to do, an’ they’s a thousan’ ways, an’ we don’ know which one to take. An’ if I was to pray, it’d be for the folks that don’ know which way to turn. Grampa here, he got the easy straight. An’ now cover ‘im up and let’im get to his work.”

He wants to stop preaching, but he cannot for the love of/to his faithful.

Bringing water to our mill, we might hear him say the same thing we heard Saint Manuel say, of course at a wedding: “Oh, if I could only change all the water in our lake to wine, to a wine that, no matter how much you drank you would be happy and never get drunk…, or at least, with a happy intoxication”! *

Reading this book is a spiritual exercise. Not in the style of those I had to practice in my adolescence, which, to put it in appropriate wine-making terms, had an excess of sulphur, but full of life.

“One must live”*, says the one. “All that lives is holy”, says the other.  Wine is life, let us drink with dignity.

* Miguel de Unamuno, Saint Manuel Bueno, martyr, translated by Armand F. Baker.

The book I am going to tell you about today is called “THE GENIE IN THE BOTTLE. A story that uncovers the secret of good wine”. The author is MIGUEL ÁNGEL AGUIRRE BORGALLO, published by “Lo Que No Existe”, 1st edition July 2013.

This is a panegyric dedicated to María, which is both the name of a wine and the person who bestows it. María del Yerro is the founder, together with her husband Javier Alonso, of Viñedos Alonso del Yerro, a winery and land located in Roa, in the Ribera del Duero denomination of origin. “To Javier and María, the genies who inspired this work”, reads the dedication.

I know them from the time when they lived in Logroño and worked at Bodegas Samaniego, an occupation they abandoned to take a chance on the adventure of a strictly family winery. Very similar to our, mutatis mutandis, Laventura (“Quien no se aventura no ha ventura”). Not only do I know them, but I have also been able to enjoy their hospitality and generosity both at their homes here and there. Thus, that they deserve a 189-page book comes as no surprise to me.

As to their project, we can rely on the explanation given by María herself. In truth, she could also have been included in the book “Tras las viñas” (On the trail of vineyards), which we have discussed in previous issues, but only thirteen winemakers were chosen. In the book that now concerns us, she has a slight presence, but her words here come from another book that in the future will be worthy of its corresponding review, which is, PALABRA DE VINO: El placer de una grata conversación hasta apurar la botella”, that is, WORD OF WINE: The pleasure of a pleasant conversation until the bottle -of wine, of course!- is empty, that the journalist MANUEL VILLANUEVA holds with a series of more or less famous or well-known personalities.

“We understand the winery and its activities as a development of the family environment”. This statement is the spiritual starting point that materialises with the birth of Viñedos Alonso del Yerro in 2002 through the acquisition of land near Roa de Duero. The vineyards will again be baptised with names that refer to their children. From the beginning, prestigious oenologists who share the family spirit – “wine is made in the vineyard” – were brought into the family circle: Gonzalo Iturriaga, Stéphane Derenoncourt, Lionel Gourgue….

Next came the construction of the winery and its adjoining house in the vineyards and then the expansion to Toro… However, “2011 was a particularly complicated year of crisis for us. I have no doubt that the stroke that Javier suffered the following year was a consequence of it”. This is the moment when María had to take the reins and show all the resilience and tenacity she has inside her. It was not luck, but foresight of the spirit, that she was then able to receive the invaluable support of her son Miguel, an agricultural engineer, who became the general manager of the project. Today, the project has become a consolidated project. Two thumbs up!

Let us return to the book before us. This is the fruit of the encounter between a genie, the wine genie Tempranillo, settled in a bottle of María 2006, and his lucky drinker, who happens to be a hopeful would-be writer. A hope that is fulfilled thanks to the help of Muse, of course, the genie of literature, conveniently stimulated by his cousin Tempranillo. The latter inspires the passion of wine, the former the art of transferring it to paper. Without narrative, nothing becomes history. And the story spreads through a thousand twists and turns, all of them related to the pleasure of wine, conversation, and friendship. Just reading it is enough to do us good; it is up to each reader, as well as each drinker, to appreciate the method and value the merits.

Here we are interested in what it teaches us about wine and in what ways it can enrich our conversation about it. Tempranillo, the genie, does not grant Aladdin wishes – nor does he offer sly temptations like “the devil in the bottle” -; he is something much greater, he is “a great storyteller”.

This genie has always been linked to the Ribera del Duero since his first work in the mosaic of Baños de Valdearados some 2,000 years ago.

(Let us digress for a moment: Baños de Valdearados is located in the part of Burgos that belongs to the Denomination of Origin Ribera del Duero. Whoever goes to the Roman Villa today to see the Mosaic of Bacchus, will see a replica made by high quality photographic printing on a paper-gel support, in a slightly darker tone than the original tesserae, as the original mosaic was looted in December 2011, the thieves taking, prior to its destruction, the main scene “The Triumph of Bacchus” and two minor hunting scenes depicting the gods Euros and Zephirus).

Our genie, by naturally ingenious methods, has been transferred, in step with the times, from one art to another, from one container to another, until it ended up in a succession of bottles, always filled with the best wine of its time. The last one of which the book gives an account is, of course, the above-mentioned María 2006. The second to last one he is proud of was a 1965 Vega Sicilia Único. (Perhaps the genie with all the hustle and bustle has lost his memory and does not remember that this bottle was a 1940 vintage, although bottled in 1965. The author of these lines was also able to benefit from it on a memorable occasion in 1978, of which he has an indelible memory, including the passage of time. It seems that Tempranillo also forgot to invite his cousin to the celebration).

The elegiac tone of the endeavour leads us to read, without even raising an eyebrow, that such a connection on the part of the genie is because it is the best wine-growing region in the world. If we limit ourselves here to Spain, it is of course true that until not too many years ago, Ribera and Rioja disputed the honour of being the best wine region, at least as far as red wines were concerned. A debate in which quality was obviously identified with the peculiar tastes of each. Today, this dichotomy has been overcome -happily, at least for consumers-, due to the pressure of the regional institutions, which have defined their own internal wine markets in the heat of “what is ours”. This proximity market has led to a notable increase in the quality of wines in all of them. This means an increase in the biodiversity of vineyards and wines from which we all benefit.

Of course, there is a danger in this and that is that diversity can be used as a factor of identification and, as a consequence, of differentiation. In our book there is a bus discussion about whether the “tinta de Toro” grape is an autochthonous varietal of that area or whether it is a variant of the tempranillo grape because of its adaptation to that region, unique and therefore diverse (although surely not for much more than reasons of soil and climate). Such a discussion of enormous insignificance ended as regrettably as all debates of identity affirmation tend to end, giving the finger or flipping the bird, while the injured party got off the bus, as an apparently irrefutable argument of the reality of their difference.

(*And to feed the discussion on “tinta de Toro” Bryan tells us that the vineyard he grows in Lanciego in the “Paraje de la Virgen” -a singular vineyard that gives its name to the wine that results from it-, “was planted just after the phylloxera (the official register indicates 1920, but it could have been earlier given the absence of a Regulatory Council at the time) and I think it could be one of the first to be planted after that. It is interesting because there is a mixture of varieties and even a mixture of clones within the same variety. Here, for example, I do not have the usual Tempranillo that is known in Rioja, but the one from Toro”. It seems that in certain areas of this denomination the sandy soil prevented the advance of the insect).

The book ends its celebration with a dinner party with friends at which three bottles of María 2009 were served. These were bought a few hours after the 2006 one in which the genie was travelling, and the difference in vintage is not very clear, except for the fact that the latter was to be the subject of a professional tasting in the same shop a few moments after the purchase, at which even María herself was present. I pass on to you the following details and tasting notes from their introductory brochure:

“2009 vintage: A vintage in pure riverside style.

A cold winter, a dry spring and a very hot and dry summer allowed a very healthy and non-interventionist viticulture.

From September onwards, cold temperatures at night optimised the ripening of the grapes at the tannic and aromatic levels.

A great vintage, ripe and complete, which allowed the grapes to fully express the virtues of our terroir.

“Tasting notes: Floral (violet), black fruit (black cherry, blackberry) with harmonious wood on the nose (marron glacé, caramelised nuts).

The powerful palate is tightened to the finish by the freshness of the limestone, with an almost salty touch on silky tannins reminiscent of the minerality of the plots of origin”.

In any case, this difference in vintages came in handy, as there were still a few bottles of María 2009 left at home, one of which we opened to toast, the whole family, to the success of the Alonso del Yerro family adventure, as well as to the success of our own Laventura.

Personally, I am more in the Machadian spirit of loving subtle worlds (“amar los mundos sutiles”), but I must add that at no previous time has this wine seemed to me as exceptional as in that toast, thirteen years after its bottling. Funny enough, the same length of time that passed for the Vega Sicilia tasting. Long life to wine and to all of us!

Our instalment today is a book published in 2018 (2nd edition, EYE Editorial) entitled DIARIO LÍQUIDO. EL VINO, EL AMOR Y TODO LO DEMÁS (Liquid Diary. Wine, Love and everything else), and it is signed by TERROARISTA (Terroirist). The book cover immediately explains that Terroirist is a blog and that the name means “defender of the land”.

Terroarista’s blog is followed by a large number of wine lovers: . It speaks for itself. Here we should recommend it most especially, as this particular book does not seem easy to find these days.

The blog is headed by a decalogue, the starting point of which is: TERROIRIST: A person who: 1. Accepts the expression of terroir as the highest quality mark of a wine. The atypical nature of MacRobert and Canals’ wine within the land of Rioja is also justified by means of a decalogue, the final point of which reads: Because we are not terroirists or marketeers, we are humanists; in wine, a large part depends on the attitude of the person who makes it and the instruments he or she uses.

There is no contradiction. Without the hand of man there is no wine on earth. The careless assertion that that hand always harms nature is a form of denialism, even if it is vaccine denialism. God save us from all fundamentalism, including that of its followers. And from self-serving polarisation. Either the bias: you are natural versus you are commercial, or its opposite, that is, the defect is intrinsic to natural wine. Wine is always an artifice. Its balance and goodness are in the man who loves nature and defends it.

Let us talk about the book, although I have already said that we must follow the blogger. Its review is a must, as is that of any book read with the aim of improving our knowledge of wine, or the stories to tell about it; at least as an anticipated form of redemption in case we claim to be our own any reflection or consideration we may have read, without remembering who it was who contributed to make it ours.

The book tells the story of a pilgrimage that Terroarista undertakes through Italy with a friend, An, also anonymous; she on foot, he on a bicycle. It takes place along part of the so-called Via Francigena. The Italian part runs from Gran San Bernardo (warning!, closed in winter) at the top of the Dolomites to Siena in the heart of Tuscany (it has a coda without a pilgrimage in the film Roma Città Aperta).

The Via Francigena guides pilgrims on their way from Canterbury Cathedral to St Peter’s Cathedral. As with all pilgrimages, however, the departure point must be the one closest to home. Its initial route of 1,760 kilometres was established in the year 990 by Sigerico -archbishop of the first mentioned cathedral known as “the Serious”, not to be confused with our Visigoth king-, eventually taking the name of Via Francigena, by which it is known today. However, our guide limits his route to the Italian part that, as we have already said, goes from the Gran San Bernardo to Siena. The pretence that drives them is not ecumenical, but the no less religious one, with the aid of monks, of demonstrating that all pilgrimage routes are wine routes. And it certainly gives good proof of it. The official website is: You can also check the website of the Association in Spain at:

Today the pilgrimage unites two Christian faiths that have not been at peace with each other throughout history, so it can have a much greater religious meaning. However, it is not this that encourages our protagonist, who confesses that he undertakes the journey with the aim of demonstrating that all pilgrimage routes are in fact wine routes. It was monks, however, who proved him right. This is corroborated by successive libations of which he gives a good account, although little by little the journey becomes an epiphany, a revelation that implies a vital change. As Paco Berciano says in the prologue, the “road movie” gradually changes into a “wine movie”; then the road and the wine fade away and the story remains.

All the paths that are trodden are initiatory. Some of them go even further and are true epiphanies. The one to Bethlehem undertaken by the three Magi, or wise men, is the one that gives the saga its title. It is followed shortly afterwards by the one to Damascus, where Saul saw the light that made him fall off his horse, and off his principles. Later, that of Santiago de Compostela, and also any of the “romeros” (pilgrims) that lead to Rome, according to the poem written by A. Machado.

“Pilgrim, to go to Rome,

what matters is to walk;

to Rome from everywhere,

from everywhere you go”.

As in the case of the Via Francigena, there are also other more interior paths: Machado’s path that is made by walking, Teresa of Avila’s path of perfection, or the quixotic path that undoes wrongs.

However, in no case are epiphanies exportable. They only manifest themselves in the one who experiences them. However careful, precise and heartfelt its telling may be, it will never effect any change in the reader, no matter how moved he may become. So let us leave the story of the terroirist in its privacy, for the one who confessedly wrote it, and let us entertain ourselves with what it brings us physically about the journey itself, especially about the wines that have summoned us here.

As for the general physical circumstances, it is fortunate that the sufferings of the pilgrims, whether on foot or on a bicycle, cannot be transferred, so we will not go into them either, although here, indeed, the experience of others can serve as a guide. What really is of interest to us is the description of what is seen and what is drunk. We remain thirsty for both. This frustration, however, hides a grudging praise.

He tells us many things about what he sees – roads, paths, trails, towns, villages, mountains, landscapes, monuments, hostels… -. Stages of the journey with names of Italian, or rather mythical, beauty: Aosta, Ivrea, Vercelli, Pavia, the Po, Piacenza, Findenza, Lucca, Pietrasanta, San Miniato, San Gimignano, Siena…

Regions that add to the mythical character of their wines: Piemonte, Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany… On these, the ones he finds, or could find, he expands. If he leaves us thirsty, it is because he also entrusts us with the search, the discovery. We already know the path from when we talked about pairing: trial and error. The risk is always rewarded, even if it is not always rewarded by the wine. We must reject the comfort of habit and the impoverishing advice of the algorithm.


Intercaladas entre las distintas etapas del trayecto se encuentran consideraciones escolásticas sobre la materia. Esparcidas aquí y allá entre las 381 páginas que componen el libro encontramos una treintena de interrupciones en el viaje para darnos un repaso enológico. Las lecciones duran menos de media docena de páginas, sin ninguna pretensión de ser magistrales, sino la de ayudarnos a formar nuestro propio criterio. Independiente, vale decir honesto. Las materias abarcan casi todo el temario: historia, miedos versus reglas, elección y pistas, denominaciones y su complejidad, variedades vitícolas, añadas, bodegas y hacedores, temperatura, gurús y otros animales (homenaje a Durrel, el naturalista), prescriptores y consejos, elaboración y vinificaciones general y especiales, la edad, las barricas, el cuidado de la tierra…

I particularly remember some of the lectures. For example, the one in which he places (in terms of merits and demerits) both Robert Parker and Alice Ferney in their proper place (the latter does not mince her words in proclaiming that she has saved the world from the former). Or the one in which he rejects the wines already abducted by the system, whether or not they are defined as natural, (down with single thinking! “Some wines are able to generate emotions, to excite you, to make you feel. If the emotion is surprising and profound, it is engraved in your memory and makes you happy. It does not matter the origin, or the ageing, or where the fermentation took place, or the colour, or the price…”). Or the one devoted to the fathers of biodynamics, Steiner and Joly: it is the love shown for the vineyard, regardless of esoteric practices of faith, that will be measurable in the results.

The Francigena project can undoubtedly be a good project, in terms of life and wine.

ELISABETTA FORADORI. Azienda Agricola Foradori. Mezzolombardo, Trentino Italy. “In the name of the father”.

The word Dolomites” has mythical resonances for all those who love nature and the mountains, let alone cyclists. The Dolomites are a mountain range with unique rocky towers named after their entirety, located in the north of Italy, bordering on and in communion with Austria, to whose imperial status it has intermittently belonged. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 2009.   It develops in the territories called: Trentino Alto Adige, Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.


Elisabetta Foradori leads us to this area of wonders. And within it to two specific areas that we can locate through the well-known villages of Mezzolombardo and Cognola.


The first area, north of Trento and south of the Tyrol, is an archetypal valley of the region as it is enclosed by a circle of bare stone mountains surrounding it. It is the Campo Rotaliano (or the Piana Rotaliana), a valley of some 400 hectares, formed by the channels of the rivers Noce and Adige, which open laboriously between the vertical walls. In it, the Azienda Foradori produces wines with the characteristic variety of the area, the teraldego, and with pinot grigio.

trentino-alto adigio


The second, east of Trento, is a villa, that is to say a palatial country residence, dating back to the beginning of the 19th century: Fontanasanta, which is located on the banks of the river Salùga (i.e. Santa Agua). In 2007, Elisabetta planted the manzoni and nosiola grape varieties, perfect for her white wines, in her land of white, clayey and calcareous rocks.


The latter is made by macerating the must with the grape skins for nine months in earthenware jars: “clay connects the energies of the earth and the sky… The clay allows the maximum possible nuances of the wine to be obtained”… “The jar is a sample of the complementarity of the four elements. The earth becomes fine powder, the air dries the layers of clay, the water allows the clay to be malleable and the fire bakes and hardens with the hand of man accompanying each gesture”. This hand is that of Juan Padilla, one of the very few remaining potters capable of this work. We have already seen his difficult survival in Miravet (Tarragona). In this case they come from the La Mancha village of Villarrobledo (Albacete, Spain).


I remember seeing many of those jars, or pieces of them, abandoned in the fields of Villarrobledo, where my wife’s in-laws had a house and a wine cellar, and where I spent many good days and my wife almost all the summers of her childhood. I also remember the large jars standing upright, lined up in that cellar. They were not of the amphora type, but had a flat bottom so that they could stand upright, helped by a scaffolding of planks at the height of the mouths, which also made it possible to go from one to another and manoeuvre inside them. My wife has other more vivid memories: the wellington boots they bought to help them tread the grapes, the story of the uncle’s brother who fell into one of the vats and died when he was rescued at the very moment when his breath passed the strip where the carbon dioxide accumulated… Today all those memories, house and cellar are dust, the latter buried under a pile of debts. Praise to the heroic winemakers and jar potters who give shape and life to the four elements with their hands!


Searching the internet for references with which to embellish the commentary, I immediately came across her website:  A first glance at it conveys the same first impression that Elisabetta made on our authors: “passion for authenticity, aesthetics and quality”. It then shows how her role today is that of “constant support” for her children Emilio, Theo and Myrtha, who are in charge of the Azienda. In our book, she had already anticipated that she was thinking of a change, of doing other things related to the land and agriculture:

“Life, like wine, if it is true, involves a continuous transformation”.

What is certain is that this new life will always and in any case be biodynamic. Biodynamics for her is not only a way of thinking and working, it is her way of being in the universe:

“The plant is not just matter; the plant world, the animal world and the human being are connected to an energy that falls on the material but comes from the cosmos, something that science denies.”

tinajas elizabetta foradori

The biodynamic “in” cultivation of vines, as a peculiar expression and militant will of ecological awareness in viniculture/viticulture, is the subject of many appreciations in different parts of the book, but perhaps nowhere more emphatically than in the present case. We find references to Rudolf Steiner‘s “anthroposophy”, to Nicolas Joly‘s winemaking and literary practice, to the relational and deeply rooted intelligence of plants as perceived by Stefano Mancuso….

“Science is very important, but we cannot be only science, there is a spiritual part of the human being that should not be ignored”.

In our case, we have also found in her the Italian translation of Laventura, which we have also undertaken. “Chi non risica non rosica” is equivalent to our, in Spanish, “quién no se aventura no ha ventura”. He who does not venture has no adventure,  that is, he who does not take risks achieves nothing.

JOHN WURDEMAN. Pheasant’s Tears, Kajetia (Georgia). “Georgia, God’s own homeland”



We reached the last stage of our journey. To the last character. We started in the technoemotion of California and conclude in the visceral, primal emotion of Georgia (nation, not the state that Ray Charles had on his mind). Back to the origins, to Mother Earth. It was naturally inevitable and we remember the various passages of the book as steps in the adventure -Laventura- of retracing our steps back to the essential beginning.

Georgia is in that undefined region where Europe and Asia blend together, as if it were a coupage.


The Italians say, at least I read it from one of them, that God created the most beautiful country on earth in Italy, and to compensate for such beauty he created the Italians. The Georgians say, at least I read it in this book, that they arrived late to the sharing out of the newly created world because they had been too busy drinking wine in honour of God the Creator, so that when they showed up it was all allocated. Then God, upon learning the reason for their delay, entrusted them with the piece of land He had reserved for Himself.

It can also be a matter of cunning. The cunning that comes from experience, and they certainly have plenty of it. John Wurdeman tells us that one day, without much ado, an unknown Georgian countryman offered him the gift of some vineyards and the teaching of wine making. Stunned, he turned down the Trojan-looking gift, until he realised that it was more of a barter. The countryman was asking him that in return he, who was a man of the world, should spread the wonders of Georgian wine throughout his area. No doubt he gave the gift to all of us.

This John Wurdeman is our latest winemaker. In one of the photos in the book he has too much shirt to be an isolated survivor of a remote shipwreck, in others he has too much shirt to be a bearded, trendy, postmodern hipster. I read printed on one of them: “You gotta fight for your wine” and continue writing more in tune.

One fine day, this film star-looking Virginian turned up in Georgia in pursuit of the Georgian songs that chance had placed in his adolescent hands. A copy of an edition of 300 CDs released in Germany, dedicated to such songs, mysteriously found its way to Richmond, where he grew up, and even more randomly to the shop where he bought them. Surely it was no longer chance but the song of the sirens that led him to his destiny of being something like the revealer of natural wine.

Enjoy a Georgian song from the very cellar. It is a pity that the pleasure and praise have to be imagined in the case of the lyrics.

Let’s see how this wine is made by following our book:

“Every Georgian farmer follows the wine-growing tradition by keeping indigenous vine varieties (520 are mentioned), as well as a home cellar for the preservation and fermentation of the wine called <marani>.

In autumn, the farmers put the trodden grapes into <kvevris>, cone-shaped earthenware jars with a capacity of up to 3,000 litres. All of them are buried up to the rim in the clay soil of this region, so that the numerous veins of groundwater cool them even more.

The wine ferments and macerates there until spring. Then the broth is extracted and transferred to other <kvevris>, which have been previously cleaned with pine branches and closed with a wooden lid. They are then sealed with mud. The wine still slumbers in the cool earth of the dark cellar. Some families own <kvevris> more than fifty years old.”

“When such a treasure is uncovered, the ritual begins…”.

John Wurdeman avoids the limelight even though it naturally exists:

“If the hand of man does not intervene, it leaves more room for nature”.

What nature brings to wine is life, so the more life there is in the vineyard, the richer the wine will be. But the terroir also brings spiritual life, the intangible: “the collective knowledge of its existence, the collective experience of a place, the tears, the laughter, the love and the fear”.

It reminds us of someone as far away as Scruton who, as we already know, perceived in the “terroir” of Burgundy Joan of Arc or the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Perhaps they are not so far apart: spirituality is as much in the way wine is made as in the way it is drunk: “to have a spiritual wine, there must first be a spiritual culture”. Culture is always a product of human beings, it is their form of redemption.

This concludes our review of the book. Our review of its more than 380 pages has naturally been brief. I trust it has served to encourage you to read it. If so, you will conclude it like us with the same emotion with which Inma Puig concludes it in her epilogue:

“If it happens to you as it did to me, from now on you will not only appreciate the flavours, but you will also be able to sense the emotions. There is a story resting inside each bottle, and it needs to be tasted so that it can be told”.

Forgive us therefore the vanity of feeling in writing these letters that we are part of that story in an infinitesimally minimal but no less authentic way, as well as the audacity of adding to the book a coda dedicated to the winemaker who is “behind our vines”: Bryan MacRobert. We believe that his words can be on the same level, although time will be the judge of that. Of course, this should be the subject of another chapter.

MARÍA JOSÉ LÓPEZ DE HEREDIA – Viña Tondonia. Haro, La Rioja (Spain) “The eternal return”.

Thus we return to Spain, now to “The land of Rioja”. One might think that this is a place and a winery the proximity and admiration of which would make us suspect of subjectivity, were it not for the fact that objectivity is guaranteed by the unanimous universal recognition.

Listening to María José López de Heredia in her long interview -there is more conversation in this chapter of the book than in any other, undoubtedly due to the magnetism that emanates from her person and the way of expressing herself-, it occurs to me that to explain Viña Tondonia would be to explain the life of a family, (including ‘their pets’), over four generations, who in a specific environment (the winery and vineyards), work together to achieve an immutable and universal goal (the personality and quality of their wines).

It is this aim that unifies all the lives into a coherent story. In fact, I do not think María José would agree very much with the subtitle of the chapter “The eternal return”, even if it is fair with each generational change. In her household, nothing has gone and nothing has come back, lives and principles link up endlessly.

“Now they say that the classics are coming back, but I don’t think the classics have ever been away for them to come back”.

The family story begins with the great-grandfather, Rafael López de Heredia, who after various vicissitudes worthy of a novel by Baroja or an episode by Galdós, settles in Haro, where he builds the winery in 1877, in what is now the mythical “Barrio de la Estación”, the Station district.

He started making wine in 1900, although he had to “replant, perhaps because of phylloxera, all the land between 1901 and 1907, so that in 2001 some of the vines were one hundred years old. Others are seventy years old because they were again attacked by phylloxera”.

The basis is thus established: the patriarch is followed by the grandfather, who lived through very difficult war times; then the father, Don Pedro, who has the honour of having made the project universal thanks to an overwhelming personality and firm convictions that led him to remain in the tradition and flee from modern typifications that proved to be ephemeral. Unfortunately, he did not get to know the book, which dedicates a moving In memoriam to him, as he died while still in the galley proofs.

Now the three siblings, Julio César, María José and Mercedes, maintain the same initial “aspiration to make Viña Tondonia a legend”, and they are indeed succeeding.

The family relies on the invaluable and indispensable help of those who are already ‘their pets’. An infinite number of living creatures have entered the winery and its history by different means: on the skins of the grapes or lodged in the rough poplar wood harvesting tubs –comportas, in Rioja- in which they are transported, through doors and windows opened in north-south west-east cross ventilation or by sporulation and spontaneous generation… Fungi, spores, yeasts, microorganisms, moulds, mites, bats… have settled there and collaborated for generations and generations side by side with the human family to give the wine the category of myth.

A complex universe:

“The wine depends on the vine, the winery, the facilities in which it is worked, the microflora, the hand that works it, (which is what marks a style…)”.

The environment in which this life in symbiosis develops is therefore the vineyards and the winery that looks out over them. Vineyards with mythical names that coincide with the wines: Tondonia, Bosconia, Gravonia, Cubillo… Two hundred hectares of goblet-trained vines in the meanders of the Ebro, “which girdles and ungirdles”, as we have already said elsewhere, the best wines in the world.

A winery designed from its birth for “bio-mimesis”, that is, the reproduction of living nature in an enclosed space. Natural ventilation and natural selection of very wild microbial flora that is able to ferment at high temperatures…

No need for artificial additives to the process.

This is aided by another material of enormous vitality: wood. But wood does not impose itself. Its personality must be adapted to the common purpose. To ensure its integration into the environment, a cooperage is set up in the winery itself. It is in any case a ‘hotel’ for the life and work of ‘the pets’: “the immense vats of hundred-year-old oak trees are encrusted with fossil life, grapes, grains, pips, tartaric crystals and yeast spores. Few wineries will have the same certainty about the natural onset of fermentation as Viña Tondonia. A great and inviolable microbial activity welcomes the new must to become broth”. Vats filled more than 10,000 times. There is a record of it all. It would be impolite not to mention the person who is giving anthropological meaning to all the documents. All the more so when we are talking of Luis Vicente Elías Pastor.

Nature and time simply go hand in hand to stabilise the wines physically and microbiologically: “micro-oxygenation” is a long process.

“Their wines sleep and, through the staves soaked and blackened by the humid environment, they transpire. When they come on the market, they will not have the reductions that are present in other wines. There in the underground cellars, they spend a minimum of six years in these ten, twenty or twenty five year old barrels. With hardly any racking and natural filtration cycles, they flow into the homogenisation vats, and from there, once in the bottle, they rest peacefully in natural stone niches, knowing how to slowly, peacefully, buy time for life. The mould becomes a shield, embedding itself in each bottle like a particular bodyguard and creating stalactites and stalagmites of tight dust”.

All in the service of the same goal: fine, personal, unique wines:

“Immortal gilded (white) wines, which tenderly soften where the light takes root, stubbornly aged rosés that inspire talented French vignerons, and reds adored by famed gourmets around the world, who idolise their fine, smooth rigidity.”

Bryan tells me that he does not think there is any similar winery in the world. None like this one that, by dint of maintaining its principles, has been able to create this microcosm in which the wines feel so comfortable that they withstand ageing, maintaining their vigour and fullness, inconceivable in any other environment. Obviously, the exquisite care of the vineyard goes without saying. Over a hundred years of doing things in the same way brings with it a unique personality, a personality that is naturally transferred to the wines.

SARA PÉREZ. La Universal. Partida Bellvisos Mas Martinet. Priorat-Montsant. Tarragona. Tarragona. Spain. The Venus of the vineyards.

We return to the Priorat, this time by the hand of a lady. The Priorat has a harsh and extreme beauty. “The Priorat,” she (Sara) tells us, “is like a circus of small hills and, orographically speaking, it is very dramatic. It has many slopes and, depending on where you are, the panoramic view is very different if you look up, down or both sides”.

We learn in the book that it was Sara Pérez’s drive, independence and vitality that led to the regeneration of the region’s wine, and therefore that of the whole region, from the 1990s onwards. They were supported, of course, by the efforts that the previous generation, her father Josep Lluis and a few others, had made a decade earlier.

Porrera, with its Cims de Porrera, was the starting point. Other villages followed: Torroja, Poboleda, Gratallops, Vilella Alta, Vilella Baixa, La Morera del Montsant, La Conreria d’Scala Dei, El Lloar, Bellmunt… Names that have in me the special resonance of what I experienced there (which was described in a previous letter).

I must mention one in particular where the regeneration was also collateral, as it not only affected the wine, but also its industry. I am referring to Miravet, a village bordering the Ebro from the shallows of its banks to the top of a ravine cut to the edge that looks down on it with fascination. A village where I spent many happy days with good friends and good wines of the area and some magical nights in its Templar castle. In this village Sara achieved the regeneration of the profession of “cantarero”, and had the jars – “amphorae”- made in which to apply all her inner vital energy to the wine with “botijo” kinetics, according to which the more external heat there is the cooler the interior is preserved.

The village of Miravet on the banks of the Ebro.

We learn other things from her.

For example, in the Priorat region, Garnacha suffered from the problems of its fragility, so that it was replaced by Carignan -like in the Rioja region, where Tempranillo was introduced massively-, although there, perhaps fortunately as we can see now, the lack of resources prevented the substitution from being as massive as it has been in this region. In addition, other varieties also entered: cabernet, syrah, merlot…

Sara tells us: “I want to make wines in which the first thing you say is that it is a Priorat and then you wonder what variety it is made from. It doesn’t matter if it has syrah or garnacha. If it’s a Priorat, it’s a Priorat”. And in the Priorat, (I naturally use Spanish when I speak and write but I reproduce her words as she naturally pronounced them), she wants to “make stone wines, because this region is made of stone”. Granite and charred slate (“sablón”) sustain some of her vines. And it seems that the cold weather comes to their aid.

Again, also ecological or preservation awareness. According to Lovelock, “as long as we do not intuitively perceive the Earth as a living system and realise that we are part of it, we will not be able to react in favour of its protection and, ultimately, our own”. In it, each generation leaves a legacy that is a point of reference on which the next must reaffirm its own and leave it improved for the next generation.

And many other things that are related in the book. I felt the impulse to return to the Priorat with nostalgia and a tango grip.

PIERRE OVERNOY. Maison Overnoy-Houillon. Pupillin, Jura, France. “The discreet visionary.”

Pierre Overnoy tasting with Emmanuel Houillon.

We are in France again: Jura. As this is a lesser-known region, it is perhaps appropriate to make a preliminary location. To the east, just beyond the Burgundy area, the Jura mountains form the region, which stretches to the Swiss border. Several villages punctuate its beauty and its appellations: Salin-les Bains, Arbois, Pupillin – where we will meet our protagonist -, Château Chalon, L’Etoile… A mountainous and isolated area where the vineyards are once again tied to the human will. They occupy the lower slopes (between 250 and 500 metres above sea level).

Jura Mountains, France.

Wines can therefore not be easy, just as life was not traditionally easy. The most characteristic grapes are the red Trousseau, sullen and difficult, the Poulsard, with a paler colour and less personality, and the white Savagnin, described as cruel and fascinating. The latter is used to make a very peculiar wine, the so-called “vin jaune”, which is very similar to sherry, as it must be aged for a legal minimum of six years and three months in casks, during which time it develops a film of yeast on the surface, resulting in a bright, acidic and matured white wine. The big difference with sherry is that it always remains in the same cask and is not made using the solera system.

It is the natural and coherent space for a personality as close to nature as Pierre Overnoy to emerge.

According to his own confession, Pierre should be around 84 years old today, so it is foreseeable that the vineyards and the winery will be managed entirely by Emmanuel and his wife Anne. The book also tells the story of Emmanuel, who started working the vineyards as a teenager and ended up being made an adopted son. The spirit of the father in the wines remains guaranteed.

Emmanuel with Pierre in the vineyard.

Here we are particularly interested in the personality of Pierre Overnoy. A surname which, by the way, is the frenchification of the original Irish O’Vernoy; I am intrigued to know how the Scottish MacRobert will eventually become Riojanised’.

The best way to do this is to transcribe what the authors observed about him:

“Pierre Overnoy follows an accessible philosophy that starts from simplicity as a rule, understood as respect for the life cycles of the soil and the plant, and the rule of being absolutely impeccable in the processes that take place from vinification to bottling, seeking freedom of expression in each of his wines, without added protection, authentic nudity; without heeding established codes, without waiting for the approval of the press or prescribers, searching in unexplored and at the same time ancestral paths. He seduces with his generosity, his character, with the strength of his resolve and his inspiring determination”.

Reading these lines, I could not help thinking of the infinite number of heroic “hidden lives” that perhaps only chance will make public. I was seized by images of one of them that took place in other Alpine mountains in terrible circumstances, which Pierre had also witnessed, according to what he tells us. It was precisely with that title –“A Hidden Life”-  that Terence Mallick portrayed it in a film in which the most rapturous beauty contrasted with the most chilling ugliness.

Pierre Overnoy has thus become, probably unwittingly, the myth of a new category of wines: “natural wines”. This question deserves the most profound reflection, which cannot be done here, although it is worth trying to define the terms.

When we jump from people to categorisations, we start to tread on slippery ground. The creation of the category of natural wine can be used to indicate that wines that do not fit this category are no longer natural, but artificial, an adjective that carries a negative connotation. Our authors try to defend them: “Are non-natural wines artificial wines? Certainly not”.

However, in all honesty, and with the DRAE (The Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy) in hand, the problem is not in the word, but in the prejudice. There are two definitions of “artificial” in the DRAE: 1st: “Made by the hand or art of man”. There is no doubt that this definition applies to wine, to all wine, even if it is described as natural. Previously, even Vitis viniferae itself is a human artifice created by the science that prehistoric man possessed. Wine is art, and therefore always human. 2nd: “Not natural, false”, (this is where the prejudice may lie, causing an inaccurate generalisation). All wines are artificial by humans, some people are artificial in themselves, because they do not respect the natural, and their wines will be fake.

On the other hand, it is also clear that the addition of any chemical product does not make the wine lose its “natural” category. Thus, as we read on, purists accept sulphites of around 25 mg/l and other winegrowers belonging to the movement go as high as 50 mg/l, although preferably not at the time of production. As soon as this approach is accepted for strictly sanitary reasons, doubts arise as to the non-acceptance of other products, when the reasons are strictly the same. The words attributed to Paracelsus, so often repeated here, always come to mind: “the poison is in the dose”.

Pierre himself rescues us from fundamentalist attitudes: “[Wine] is more than a drink and even more than a food. But above all it is a pleasure”.

So let us always come back to the person. As the book justifiably stresses:

“If the rise of the natural movement has served any purpose, it has been to raise awareness of the extent to which man is involved in the making of wine.”

In our Decalogue, which can be read elsewhere on this page, we said as a final point that we are not (we do not want to be) either “terroirists” or “marketeers”, but humanists. It is man – “and his circumstance”, attention must be paid to this – who is behind the vines. Today, in ecologism, in the pretence of naturalness, there can be as much marketing as in the adaptation to the fashion of consumers or prescribers.

RAÜL BOBET. Castell d’Encús, Talarn, Lleida Spain. “Nessun dorma”.

We return to Spain. Lleida.

Castell d’Encus is an estate, a wooded mass, of about 95 hectares, located at the kilometre 5 of the road from Tremp to Santa Engràcia, that is in the part of Pallars which is called Jussà, existing another one which is Sobirà. The first is below, i.e., the furthest from the Pyrenees, the second is naturally above. I remember the Yuso and Suso that we have in La Rioja and which refer to the Monastery (below) and the Hermitage (above) of San Millán de la Cogolla.

It is a game among monks, and even more so when it comes to wine.

It is part of the D.O. Costers del Segre.

It offers us the panoramic view that opens up to infinity from the place:

“That over there is Aigüestortes, further away is the Besiberri, Ordesa is there, the Aneto…, this opposite is the village of Santa Engracia.”

It seems that Raül Bobet arrived at this enchanted and enchanting setting – after his experience in the Priorat and perhaps tired of it – by mistake or perdition (in the sense of “being lost”), perhaps as if by magic, or perhaps by chance, although it is well known that to encounter chance you have to look for it.

There he was spellbound. 23 hectares of vines of the most diverse varieties (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, pinot noir, syrah, petit verdot, sauvignon blanc, riesling semillon and albariño) were planted on calcareous loamy soils, with low organic matter content, subjected to a continental climate, with high thermal contrast between night and day, cultivated according to the rules of organic agriculture.

A winery of modern design was built, prepared to operate by gravity in all processes, and equipped with the most advanced technology, which includes the use of geothermal energy, reducing energy costs and environmental impact.


The same work of art still preserves a hermitage, watchtower and fermentation vats dug out of the rock, which may date back to the 12th century, the work of hospitaller monks of the Order of Malta, whose former use has been restored or given new ones (such as a music room or a meditation centre).

With such a background we are able to glimpse the magic of the place and appreciate the words of Raül Bobet:

“Making wine is not laissez faire. To succeed you have to use your intuition and know how to interpret nature. You are the one who leads the way. And that’s what you put your soul into. Grapes are not natural, as almost nothing else is. It is a human invention derived from mixing the pollen of the Vitis vitaceae. Wine is created, it is not natural, its ‘raison d’être’ is one hundred percent anthropological. All important things are”.

We will understand them better if we accompany them with some of his wines. Very diverse as proof of the “heterogeneity” that he preaches and practices: “in the vineyard…, in the way of making wine…”. The brands sound all like Sanskrit, which is the sacred language: “Ekam”, “Taleia”, “Thalarn”, “Acusp”, “Majjan”, Taïka”. But not all the words sound like that, for instance, “Quest”, which naturally “has to do with asking questions”, and, may I add, multiplying the answers.

I believe that wine has a magical quality: it is preserved. If you go to the countryside and pick a flower, which also has a magical halo, the flower withers. But if you start from a vine and work the vine in a natural way, it absorbs part of that landscape. And this is magical because you can also take it from one place to another and that essence remains”.

We vow once again to try to go where the essence is born. May the wine also be a memory afterwards.

MATÍAS MICHELINI. Zorzal, Passionate Wines, SuperUco. Mendoza. Mendoza. Argentina. “In praise of madness”.

We cross the Atlantic again, although now in the opposite sense and in the opposite direction. Southern Hemisphere. Argentina. Mendoza: “One hundred and ninety thousand hectares of hydroponic vineyards, irrigated by drip or flood, a great peculiarity of Mendoza’s culture unthinkable in Europe”.

Everything here must therefore be big, and not least the Michelini family, which is devoted to winemaking. The reason for the trip could be Matias, who has earned worldwide renown. Once there, we learn that his three brothers, a sister-in-law and even his son since he was five years old are also involved.

And of course, the number of wines he makes is also disproportionate (geometric progression, since he also makes them blended in different family proportions). Twenty-two different wines, he tells us in the book, but today we can be sure that there are many more. As well as other collaborations in other countries, such as the one he maintains here with Zorzal wineries in Navarra, due to the fortuitous coincidence of their names. He can also be found in El Bierzo.

This is how the book defines Matías Michelini:

“His mission is linked to the revolutionary path: to change Argentinian wine through a contemplative look at the living soil and a freedom that he tirelessly proclaims. He seeks energy, water, freshness and the salt of life. He is non-conformist and curious. Although he defines himself as the anti-hero, he is a born leader who stays away from fashions”.

And this is how he defines his wines:

 “They are free, expressive wines, mountain wines, wines that speak of the mountain range. They are wines of altitude, of soil. They are wild wines that speak of the place where we are, where we live; and that convey the passion and energy that we employ to make them”.

The mountain range is obviously the Andes; the altitude of the vineyards is between 600 and 1500 metres, and the place where they live is Tupungato on the slopes of the volcano of the same name, which reaches an altitude of 6750 metres. It is natural that the name was given by the Huarpe ethnic group that lived there in the 16th century, as well as the fact that it means “viewpoint of the stars”.

In such an immense horizontal and vertical space, passion and energy are a must.

Most of the visit is dedicated to the tasting of many of these wines.

Any temptation to make a synthesis or any attempt to classify is impossible. In the most diverse soils, where up to nine different grape varieties can be counted; where fermentation and ageing take place in the most varied of containers – ovens, tanks, barrels – in the most diverse of materials – plastic, steel, cement, wood, clay – and with the most diverse of methods – from carbonic maceration to multi-fermentation. This is produced by successively incorporating into the vat grapes from four different plots harvested separately and progressively (over a period of about forty days), so that the addition of fresh grapes paralyses the fermentation of the previously deposited grapes, until the bubbling starts again…

“Demented” wine, that is how he calls the result of this process, because to conceive it you have to be very insane as well as have a great mind. In other words, a very well thought-out insanity. Like his whole project.