Some say that Jumilla, a southern part of Spain, became a region of big, fruity bombs, similar to popular Australian Shiraz. Perhaps there are some Jumilla’s winemakers that recognized the increased demand for such wines and did step in, to satisfy the global thirst. Sadly, it would be at the expense of the unique characteristics of Monastrell which has the best conditions to grow just in Jumilla’s soils. I bet there are a few. But to refute that argument, I reminded myself of great Jumilla’s vintners, such as Jose Maria Vicente at Casa Castillo.
I was fortunate to meet the current head of this (family owned) wine estate during my Spanish visit, few years ago. His ancestor, Don Jose Sanchez-Cerezo originally acquired the property Casa Castillo (built in 1870), in 1941 to grow rosemary bushes.
But the second generation, Nemesio and his son Jose Maria Vicente, had a different idea. In 1985 they started restructuring of vineyards and planted new varieties in its difficult soil, that could be described as calcareous soil full of stones, stones and some more stones. In 1991 they reformed the winery building with the respect to the original structure. Finally in 1993, a first vintage of new wine, called Casa Castillo Crianza 1991, came to the world.
Jose Maria Vicente and his lovely wife were kind enough to welcome us at their estate the very first night of our trip. While Jose Maria walked the vineyards and winery with us, his wife worked hard in the winery’s kitchen to prepare all locally sourced, a full course dinner. Just 174 hectares of the whole property (total of 402 hectares) is devoted to vineyards. The most planted, native variety Monastrell is followed by Syrah, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon.The rest of the land is devoted to cultivation of almonds, olive and pine forest and conservation.
The current owner told us with a wink and a smile, how in order to keep his workers busy even off season, he asks them to build the entrance to the winery’s cellars with stones, removed from the vineyards. Looking around, it sounded a lot as Sisyphus journey. They can likely build thousands of such entries and keep busy for years.
As a sharp contrast to the original argument – if Jumilla is becoming a new mass production of Barossa, Casa Castillo winemaker aims to produce wines with personality, taste and character of each vineyard plot. Enhancing the quality and respecting the tradition of the area, they produce wines that express the characteristics of the soil and different microclimates of their vineyards. Located in the shade of the Sierra del Molar, spread on steep slopes at 760 meters above the sea level.
When we were finally seated in their beautiful tasting room, the dinner started with local bread dipped in winery’s own olive oil and sparkling wine, which name I really don’t remember anymore. I do remember it was a crisp and yummy cava, though. Plates of roasted peppers, eggplants, anchovy, jamon followed…. When we said goodbye four hours later, it was hard to recall all those delicious courses, served to us, to compliment a line of Jose Maria’s exquisite wines.
Each Casa Castillo wine have its own, distinguished character. Jose Maria makes sure of it. He is a devoted vintner, who respects the tradition of the region, soil, quality of local fruit, while aiming to constantly improve it all, and preserve it for the future generation. He spoke of his wines with such a passion, it was admirable. So for anybody, who believes that Monastrell is just another big, fruity bomb, I dare you to taste Casa Castillo’s wines! You will be very, very surprised…
Casa Castillo’s wine portfolio:
CASA CASTILLO: 100% Monastrell, fermented in stainless steel tanks with a short aging in French and American oak, to highlight the freshness and aromas of the Monastrell.
VALTOSCA: 100% syrah from the Valtosca vineyard macerated for 5 days in underground vats, end of fermentation in large 500 L French oak barrels. Wine then aged in French oak barrels for about a year. Valtosca was bottled unfiltered.
LAS GRAVAS: A blend from Las Gravas vineyard, a selection of Monastrell, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Percentage vary each vintage – usually the Monastrell makes at least 50%. Each variety was macerated separately in small vats underground (6,000 liters). Aging still separately for about 16 to 20 months (depending on the vintage). After barrel aging varieties are blended and bottled unfiltered.
PIE FRANCO: Fruit from Solana vineyard where Monastrell plantation rootstock were originally planted in 1941. Fruit macerated in vats underground, where it underwent the alcoholic fermentation. After 10 days it was transformed into New French oak barrels for full malolactic fermentation on its lees Wine then aged for a minimum of 22 months, unfiltered. Due to a poor performance of this plot, Pie Franco is very limited, based on the production of each vintage.