Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Castaño (D.O. Yecla) enters Alicante and Jumilla

By Emilio Saez van Eerd

Castaño probably is the first winery that has given monastrell its deserved place in the wine world as a quality wine. They pionered in the 80´s of the past century, applying new vinification techniques in Yecla, until then a region known as a bulk wine area only. The family has a clear personal challenge: “to make monastrell one of the favourite wines in Spain and on the international market”. They started to upgrade monastell through consistency, hard work, experimentation and the peruit of quality. As they struggled to compete with the better known Spanish wines, Castaño managed to introduce the monastrell into the export markets as a varietal wine and as a basis for blended wines. Step by step their monastrell broke with the heavy oxidative bulk image, showing the world its potential of a fruity, structured and easy to drink red wine with a clear own personality. At the same time the prices are very competitive.

Castaño kept improving the quality of their wines and invested heavily in export and sales. The export department created a strong relationship with an increasing network of fine wine distributors. These clients were infected by the monastrell virus that Castaño spreaded around. At that time it took a lot of courage for the importers and resellers as well to promote Yecla´s monastrell in stead of Rioja or Ribera del Duero. Especially in Europe the image of East Spain as a bulk wine region still dominated the minds of the wine buyers. Therefore Castaño needed the right people to defend their wines. Wines like Pozuelo, Dominio Espinal, Castaño Colección, and Hécula are well positioned in the market. Outside of Europe, where nobody knew about the bulk wine history, it was a lot easier to introduce the new style Mediteranean wine as a different Spanish wine. Especially when Robert Parker started to recommend several of Castaño´s wines as best buys, like the Castaño 2002 Monastrell, for 90 points for 7 euro. Loads of fruit, structure and soft tannins became a synonime for monastrell wines from Yecla.

Sierra Salinas D.O. Alicante

Castaño understands the necessity to improve the quality continuously. No other company in the region has done that much for monastrell as the Castaño family. Although the winery has no foreign investors, it approved a joint venture with the Suisse family Niehus to create a wine called Mira, made of old monastrell vineyards in the valley of Sierra Salinas. The project started in 2000. The aim was to make a high quality wine with great potential for the international market. The synergy of the Castaño family and the two brothers Philippe and Alain, both with a broad experience in wine making and distribution of wines from all over the world, resulted in a big export succes for Mira. As the project became more serious, a new winery was built in the same valley.

The bodega is named after the mountain Sierra de Salinas that seperates D.O. Yecla´s border from the D.O. of Alicante. Oficially the area where Bodegas Sierra Salinas is located is D.O. Alicante, although the town of Yecla in the province of Murcia is the nearest town.
The Sierra Salinas estate lies at 600 to 700 meters above sea level, and has 35 hectares of vineyard and 80 hectares of almond and olive trees. The natural scenery is unique. I fact the whole bodega is built in such a way that you can enjoy the vineyards, olive and almond trees that surround the winery. The architect has intergrated glass walls and big terrasses in the modern and hyperfunctional winery. Seen from the road the winery lies several meters higher. This gives it even more importance than it already has.

The local architect Jose Maria Abellán based his construction on two concepts. Termical isolation and gravity, avoiding the pumping around of the wines in the several phases of the wine making process. The barrels are kept under the ground, protected from the huge differenes in temperature. The production zone of the winery is faced north to avoid high temperatures as much as possible. The second objective is the use of gravity. The winery is built on three levels. The first level is the vinification level. The whole winery has 14 stainless steel deposits of 80 hectoliters, equiped with German pigeage techniques for a careful maceration. The second level is used for pressing the wine, and the third and lowest level under the ground is used for ageing and bottling. All the wines from this winery undergo an ageing in Frecnh oak barrels. 50% new and 50% one year old. The wine spends 20 months in oak before the are bottles at the same level.

As Ramon Castaño shows us around in the winery he explains that he is extremely proud to have these vineyards on this spot. It was not a goal on itself to produce an Alicante wine. Can you see the path coming down from the hill just a few meters away from the winery, that´s the path that seperates the Valencian comunity from the Murcian”. But for Castaño the choice to make Sierra Salinas a Alicante wine, is a strategical decission. In that way Sierra Salinas will not compete directly with the wines from Yecla. The microclimate here is unique. Thanks to the mountains the vineyards are protected ftom the extreme climate conditions. Although the winery is already producing wine, several parts of the winery are still under construction. 90% of all monastrell in the area are old vines.

In the cellar of the winery we taste the samples of wines that in the future will compose the 2005 Sierra Salinas. The 100% garnacha tintorera is loaded with fruit. The aok is completely integrated with the wine. A very friendly sample, almost a complete wine already. The 100% cabernet sauvignon of 5 year old vines is spicy in the nose. The young tannins are still very present but not unpleasant. Elegant cabernet style. We also taste the already bottled Mira 2003, a fruity nose with some oak. The explosive taste is impressive, fruity and well structured, round tannins and 20 months of perfectly integrated oak. Casa Cisca 2004 is a 100% monastrell, thick colour, ripened fruit, balsamic, round and powerful. The acidity is elegant. This wine still requieres a few years before reaching its peak.

At this moment the winery has 30 hectares of monastrell, 5,5, hectares of cabernet sauvignon, garnacha tintorera and petit verdot. Especially the garnacha tintorera has been rediscovered in the region of Almansa as agrape with a huge potential for blending, giving the wines not only colour but also structure. Petit verdot has shown its potential to create wines with great aromas and softness on the palate. The first wines that came from the vineyards that belong to the winery of Siera Salinas were bottles under the D.O. of Yecla. These wines can be found on the market under the names Mira Salinas 2000, 2001 or 2002. A special approval was necessary to get the wine from D.O. Alicante to become a D.O. Yecla. The wines from 2003 are the first to enter the market with the D.O. Alicante seal and are called Mira Salinas (20 months aok ageing) and Casa Salinas (8 months oak ageing).

Alicante is happy with the arrival of the Castaños to the region. Yecla showed a huge growth in sales of bottled D.O. quality wines since Castaño started there bottling activities in Yecla. Although Alicante has some great wineries like Enrique Mendoza, Poveda and several other smaller ones, Castaño will contribute without any doubt a lot to the prestige of Alicante as quality wine producing area of mainly monastrell.

Altos del Cuadrado D.O. Jumilla

Another completely new project Castaño is intoducing is the Altos del Cuadrado, a Jumilla wine. After the Alicante project became a fact, Castaño did not wait for another partner to invite them to participate in a joint venture. Castaño decided to buy two vineyards in Jumilla with a total of more than 8 hectares. The old vines, most of them planted in 1955 and some in 1968, provide grapes with great potential to make big wines. Under the control of the technical team of Castaño the grapes undergo their vinification in a Jumilla based winery. The wine is bottled under the name of Bodegas y Viñedos del Mediterraneo S.L., a comercial name that Castaño uses to avoid confusion among distributors ans consumers.

In a similar way as the mira project but on a smaller scale, several other importers have started their projects with Castaño. The Dutch importer Marco Meeuwsen, on photo right together with Ramon Castaño (left) and Pedro Albaladejo (middle), has created his own wine after 7 years of colaboration with Castaño. His project is called Mmmmm! with D.O. Yecla. And some international markets, other than the Dutch already showed their interest in the red, rosé and white Mmmmm! With Eric Solomon, Castaño has created Solonera, and in Germany and Switzerland together with Mövenpick, Castaño has introduced Seleccion Especial. But also within Spain the top wine specialist in Barcelona Quim Vila decided to create a own wine called Viña al lado de la casa, literally translated as "the vineyard alongside the house".

I have no doubt that these new projects will have the same potential as the classical Castaño wines from Yecla. The question is: with whom and where will the Castaño family stop creating more interesting wines? If their ambition is to make wine in all the monastrell areas then Bullas, Valencia, Almansa, several other areas of Spain and of course South of France and Australia could expect some day the arrival of Castaño.
For more information go to Bodegas Castaño on the and Bodegas Sierra Salinas on the

and click further to the corresponding websites which are extremely complete and useful.

Salvador Poveda´s revolutionary change to wine tourism

By Emilio Saez van Eerd

Signs are not necessary to find the winery of Salvador Poveda in Monóvar. Just ask the inhabitants of the town for “la bodega de Salvador Poveda”, and if you´re lucky you will have your personal guide guiding you through the small streets of Monóvar all the way up to the entrance of the winery. Salvador Poveda´s history goes a long way back in this medium sized town in the interior part of Alicante, where once a few hundred small family wineries used to make traditional monastrell wines. Salvador Poveda, one of the wineries that survived, is now one of the most important exporting producers of the Levante.
A public street separates the old winery from the newer one. As we wait a few minuts for Rafael Poveda to pick us up at the entrance of the winery we enjoy the chaos of all the activities at a small square, a kind of public patio that even serves as an improvised company parking space that is surrounded by low buildings of Poveda´s winery. In a few minutes time we see several tourists loading up their trunks with cases of wine. Buying directly from the winery, for many tourists is the ultimate form of wine tourism. At the old winery of Salvador Poveda people buy a little bit of nostalgy and.. wine, a lot of wine!

Time does not play a role of importance at this square, accept for Rafael Poveda, who´s dying to start his brand new project. Rafael who runs the company with his brother (who happens to be the maire of the town) and two nephews, welcomes us, and leads us directly to the winery at the other side of the street. He is very direct and has no intention to waste his and our time. No small talk, he shows us inmediately the architect plans of his lastest project, a brand new winery outside of Monóvar. With Rafael talking with passionate enthousiasm about his new winery it is not difficult to picture the idea. Clearly, it is not just a new winery, it includes a complete change of strategy towards wine tourism.

Wine tourism in Alicante

He tells about a trip to California some three years ago and he was amazed about the business behind the Californian wine tourism. And as time went by, the idea of wine tourism in Alicante got a hold of Rafael. “I surprised myself, because if somebody would have asked him five years ago if I would turn this family winery in a wine touristic project, I would have turned down the idea. Even worse, I allways thought that passing tourists were a burden, that stopped me from doing my job. But when I came back from California I analized the sales figures generated by tourists. I simply could not believe that all the passing tourists that visited Salvador Poveda created enough money to pay the people working in the company. I secretly started to think: “what if Salvador Poveda creates a wine touristic project and attracts tourists from the nearby Alicante and Murcia coast to Monóvar”. Both cities lies at just 80 km from Monóvar. Geografically it could be a kind of ultimate wine touristic triangle.

From a strict business point of view, Poveda will have to leave the town of Monóvar after 85 years. The actual buildings are to small, trucks have difficulties to enter the small streets, and the winery has no more possiblities to grow in the small streets. The need for a change a simple business decision. Although many will see the sales of 6500 square meters of wine history in the old town as a lost, Rafael is glad he can leave and build a new future for the next Poveda generation. The benefits that generate the sales of that many square meters in the center of Monóvar are important to finance the new winery. The new spot was bought just outside the town. The new 30.000 square meters estate, named Finca La Rejuela, with great views on the mountains and into the valley, lies at the road from Monóvar to Novelda. Rafael says “I must have a clear view about all this, because the future success of the family business depends on this new winery. We are not a construction company that invests for fun in the wine business, we have to continue a company that has been been around with succes since 1919”.

As Rafael investigated the wine tourism future of Alicante, he came to the conclusion that if there´s any place in the Europe, were wine tourism could really have an impact, then it must be at the Costa Blanca. Millions of tourists already visit Denia, Moraira, Altea, Benidorm, Campello, Alicante, Santa Pola, Torrevieja, just to name a few hot spots at the coast of Alicante. And if there´s is one winery that has the potential to attract those tourists, it must be Salvador Poveda. Convinced of the winery´s new strategy, he asked a local architect to draw what he had designed.

The new wineryRafael suggests that we follow him to see the construction site. I have to do my best not to loose the view of his silver Golf GTI during the 10 minuts drive. “The new winery is like two minimalistic white shoe boxes, placed in a L-form”. After many years adapting his work to the winery in the narrow streets of Monóvar, Rafael this time prefers to adapt the winery to his work. “It will be very functional. Tourists who will visit the winery will have a complete tour through the company. The center of the new winery wil be an underground museum”, explains Rafael as he proudly shows us around on a windy but sunny day in March. His idea is to rebuild the winery’s historical fondillon bodega, now named “la sacristía” and to expose the old equipment, old barrels and even a ancient XVII century olive oil press that was found some years ago after rebuilding one of the old wineries in Monóvar. Of course the underground museum will be connected to the Salvador Poveda wine shop. From there, the visitors can chose to have a picknick in the garden of the winery, facing to the South, protected from the Northern winds by the winery. Because the area where the winery is being built, is slightly higher than the rest of the area, the views from there are simply astonishing.

When this project is finished Spain and Alicante will position itself at the frontline of wine tourism. In a press note of 2004 placed at the Salvador Poveda´s website I read that the winery should have been ready at the end of 2005. Finally at the end of 2006 Salvador Poveda will leave the the small streets of Monóvar. Several five star hotels at the Costa Blanca are calling Rafael on a daily basis just to ask him if they can finally send that bus full of tourists to the winery. Rafael normally tells them that the winery is not yet ready for it, although he could beter tell them is already booked until the end of the year. After “sun & beach toursim”, the traditional tourism at the Costa Blanca, wine tourism has the best potential to be the second most interesting form of tourism in Spain. Only a few areas in Spain have organized their wine route, but that in itself is no garantee that the wineries are prepared to practice wine tourism. It is not a question of opening just a few bottles, pour the wine and present a price list. Rafael is aware of that situation. He will have to attract well skilled staff, oriented to service and tourism. It is a new type of industry in Spain, with new rules, where wine and pleasure still have to get used to each other.

It´s unbelievable that the authorities in Alicante have not invested before in wine tourism. I remember entering the tourism office some years ago in Alicante. I asked the lady for wine information, which wineries I could visit as a tourist. Exactly one winery had left some brochures, the same brochures you would receive on a internacional wine fair for profesionals. A year later I went back to the same office to ask about the posibilities to visit a winery. This time I receive the same brochure again and.. a real list of 7 wineries in the area, mentioning the name and phone number of the wineries. A real improvement, though! Forgive me for my enthousiasm about the Poveda project. I hope Alicante will wake up and attract tourists to the interior of Alicante, away from the crowdy beaches.

We end the trip to Monóvar with a classic alicantino meal, arroz, a typical rice dish from the interior part of Alicante. At the table we taste the Toscar Syrah, one of the new labels Rafael has added to his range of wines. Wine, food and tourism, Alicante has it all. And I wonder: "what if a leading and innovating winery like Poveda has discovered wine toursism as a very serious business model only three years ago, than just imagine how many other wineries in the area must be like".

Poveda´s new strategy again shows this family has the vision and the guts to pave the way for many other wineries. I have no doubt that Poveda will succeed in breaking open the wine tourism industry at the Costa Blanca, where million of tourist every year spend there holidays. Rafael should not forget to place enough signs from every busy coast town to Finca La Rejuela.
For more information about Emilio Saez van Eerd´s activities in Spain, click at and http://worldwinedatabase.comor contact directly