Some say that in Utiel-Requena, near the city of Valencia, they don’t make good wine. In addition, some others say that in Campo Arcís, a small village inn the area, they only produce bulk wines, but hey, as everything in life you have to try before making such statements. I had not tasted anything so far from this part of Spain, although traveling between Madrid and Valencia you cross this area and there are signposts of wineries and vineyards everywhere. Coincidences of life, and the things that the wine uniteth no one separateth, I recently made a visit to the area. The one-to-blame for this is Juan Piqueras, owner and winemaker of family-owned Bodegas Pigar, located in the aforementioned small village. I had been talking to Juan about these things related to the ageing of the wines that are so special to me, the amphorae, and in the summer arisen the possibility of meeting each other. Campo Arcís, here we go.
Usually, a visit to a winery usually starts in the vineyards, then you go to the cellar and finally you taste some wine. Here it was completely different. And it was very good indeed. Juan had previously told me: “When you get here, we’re going to have breakfast.” And we had set the appointment at noon! But hey, who am I to go against Juan’s will? So as soon as I arrived, we grabbed some nourishment and off we went to start with the cultural part of the visit. We went to Las Pilillas, an archeologic site in the outskirts of the village next to the mountains where recently a group of Tartessian field cellars dating back from the VII century BC has been discovered and excavated. In the attached photos you can see the small bed for putting the grapes to be pressed and the sockets through where the noble liquid flew into a small pool. The slopes of the mountain were full of several field cellars like this, so you could imagine what the harvest would have been 28 centuries ago. That’s not just a few years. I am Humanistic, not a numbers person but I think that’s a lot.
After acquiring some food for the brains, it was time for some food for the body, as nothing makes you hungrier than sports and culture. The Bollo Típico de Requena, a local cake not for those with high cholesterol levels and for the faint of heart. How could we say no? And it was not just tasty but also very good, partly sweet partly salty, and we paired it with the young Bobal 2016 Juan produces. Oh, pleasures of life: an ancient field cellar, a local Bollo and a young fresh wine, all combined in the arms of Mother Nature. The wine, as Juan said, had to be sipped straight from the bottle, as glasses are to taste wine in the cellar, not in the field. Enjoying life in its purest form.
From there we went to visit some of the family vineyards. The family tradition, both from the paternal and maternal side of the family, has always been to cultivate the vines for selling the grapes to the local wine cooperative and to keep a bunch of grapes every year for the family and friends wine consumption. Nowadays they own around 24 hectares distributed in the area. Out of them, they work three small plots for the wines they elaborate. These are the plots producing the better quality grapes and they strive for that, not for grapes grown in bulk as we could see in neighboring plots.
Juan started working in the enology team of Bodegas Manuel Manzaneque where he has sharpen his teeth from 2008 until 2016, when he decided to focus on Bodegas Pigar. In those plots we mentioned, Juan has planted Bobal, Syrah, Chardonnay, Tardana and some other varieties in smaller proportion. In his third harvest, Juan is taking baby steps with his project in the right direction, without rushing too much to get there before he is due and growing steadfastly. In 2016, he released three labels for barely 3,000 bottles with three single-varietal wines: Bobal, Syrah and Chardonnay. In 2017 the total will raise up to 6,000 bottles. The Chardonnay ages six months on its lees and it is amazing, one of the Spanish Chardonnays I have most enjoyed. The Bobal is a wine with a young and powerful character, yet very rich and fresh. And the Syrah hooked me from the very first sip. Really fruity and a sensational mouth. Fantastic wine.
But Juan already knew what to do to make me drool and lose my will. He only needed two words: Orange Wine. In 2016, Juan produced along with his father an experiment of 90 bottles employing 90% of Tardana and 10% of Moscatel. Maceration was on the skins and ageing was in amphorae. What else can I ask for? We opened a bottle of 0.75 liters (he also has a few bottles of half liter). At first, it is a wine that shows itself a bit shy, since the Tardana is a little aromatic variety that in this area was cultivated in small amounts for that reason. However, when this wine has been open for some time, it begins to grow. The Moscatel rises in the glass. The maceration has not made this a tiresome wine. On the contrary, it is a quite fine and delightful wine. Two days after its opening, it was a joy to finish what was left in the bottle, which was not too much, unfortunately. It’s a wine with a great evolution. And it was the first time they produced it.
In this 2017 vintage Juan will add new things to its portfolio, which are look too promising: a Royal-Bobal sparkling wine following the ancestral method of elaboration, another orange wine produced in tinaja and experiments that Juan’s creative mind goes around trying, which in my opinion, that’s what winemaking is about: experiment, trying new things, learn from experience and then being able to succeed with it. I’m sure by the time these lines are transformed into tiny pieces of digital information Juan will already have done something new.
Before digressing, we were talking about the vineyards. The typical soil here is clay, sandstone and stony. They are looking for low but quality yields, and they are trying to incorporate some abandoned plots that still can produce good wines. As it as happens elsewhere, there are landowners who prefer to own a dead vineyard rather than selling it or leasing it to others. The fieldwork is done looking for expressing the terroir and the variety. They don’t irrigate and that’s something important if you keep in mind the annual rainfall in this area is very low. Juan is an advocate for natural management, no using of chemicals or pesticides, no filtering or clarifications.
The cellar is located in the family house in the center of the village. We proceeded to taste the wines, but I have already talked about them. The truth is I liked them all very much. I could write tasting notes of all of them, express with poetic words the feelings and sensations and pleasures they created in me, but I think that would only cause queues to form at Juan’s door to buy his wines. And I’m sorry but I want them for me so I will not say anything about them. I will only say that the production is very small and it sells out pretty fast. I already have an appointment to enjoy that orange wine 2017, the ancestral and some others. You have to go before the wine vanishes in the wind. And if you have the opportunity to taste them and you like them, remember that you heard about them first here in Orange Wines.
Soon we will talk with Juan Piqueras about his wines and his winemaking philosophy.