Pepe Mendoza is a person who does not leave you indifferent. From the very moment you meet him he is already smiling, and when he starts talking about his passion, not about his work, he is very contagious for the love about what he does. You can feel what the vineyards tell him, what the soil transmits to him, because he makes you feel the same way as he. The way in which he describes the origin of the vineyards, the history of Llibet, the small village in which he was born in the province of Alicante, the beginning of his career in the world of wine… everything is full of his passion for wine.
Pepe is member of the Mendoza family who runs Bodega Enrique Mendoza, located in L’Alfaz del Pi (Alicante), an emporium producing wine that is marketed worldwide. But today we are not going to talk about this winery but about a project that Pepe started a few years ago in the outskirts of his hometown. Here he owns 12 hectares of vineyard where he grows Monastrell, Garnacha, Syrah and Alicante Bouschét in the red varieties and Moscatel de Alejandría, Macabeo and Merseguera in the white ones going into the market under the label of Casa Agrícola.
Pepe is passionate about natural viticulture and this is how he works his vineyards. Things as they have been done forever, neither chemicals nor pesticides in the field or oenological preparations in the winery. The facilities he has in Llibet were used for decades to make wine. There is an old wood destemmer that he is more than tempted to use, though I think its prime is already in the past. He also has underground concrete tanks and an old horizontal press. Pepe wants all of this to be part of a future small wine museum. I think an idea lives somewhere in his mind for using part of this equipment to do some experimentation. It even has a well that collects rainwater.
Every day, Pepe is adding small plots to this project of Casa Agrícola, parcels that for the last thirty years are managed to the best of his abilities by Clemente, an old-school winegrower who, just as Pepe does, loves thing well made.
When you walk through the vineyard or taste the wines with Pepe, you will learn to distinguish characteristic aromas of this area. He is a countryside enthusiast and he explains where these aromas of jasmine, orange blossom, rose petals, and above all fennel, are present in his wines. These are the aromas that Pepe says are identified with Mediterranean wines. And you see in his eyes his passion for these wines.
Casa Agrícola started offering three wines in the 2016 vintage: two whites and one red. The first one is called Casa Agrícola Blanco and is made with Moscatel de Alejandría, Macabeo and Airén, from the parcels located in Benimei and Serra Forta, in the Marina Baja area and the Alto Vinalopó mountains. Casa Agrícola Tinto is a blend of Monastrell, Syrah and Alicante Bouschét. The wine is made in 10,000-liter tanks with whole grain and 20% of stems. Part of the wine is aged for one year in 500-liter French oak barrels.
Pureza is for me his star wine. Single-varietal Moscatel de Alejandría, macerated on the skins for 6 days and aged in clay amphoras made by the master tinajero Juan Padilla in Villarrobledo, Albacete. I had the chance to enjoy the 2016 and the 2017 vintages. The first is an incredible wine; with a power in the nose and palate that grabs you from the first moment you hold your glass. A true Spanish orange wine made the way I think it should be, full bodied band powerful yet elegant at the same time. 2017 shows on the nose much more power but in the palate is a bit shy, like a little brother. According to Pepe, the natural evolution of a wine like this will make him acquire the profile of his older brother in a short time. And above all, as he pretends, the wine will grow to be more radical. The two vintages are spectacular for those who love this style of wine. Something very important for me is that the period in an amphora, between 6 and 8 months, is not perceived in the wine.
To these wines he has added in the 2017 vintage four wines more under the label of Pequeñas Producciones Vinícolas. First a blend of Macabeo and Mersegura called Ánforas – Tinajas de Padilla, a wine that captured me for the very first sip. Very well produced and very enjoyable.
The second wine is Velo Flor Ánfora 2017, 95% Merseguera and 5% Moscatel whose name explains it all. Produced in clay amphoras, the wines developed a velo de flor, like the wines elaborated in Xerez. The aromas of this wine are really amazing.
El Veneno 2017 is his champion red wine. Monastrell through and through with an ageing of 12 months in 500-liter oak barrels. Red fruit all-around, El Venero is a wine far from the classic Mediterranean Monastrell where you could find lots of extraction, full body and oak. The balance here is perfect, with the right mix of body, fruit and extraction. A wine that you can finish the bottle before you say: ‘Vive le Mourvèdre!’
Sero-roSé Monastrell Clásico 2016 is a rosé wine. 14 months of ageing in French oak barrels and very light skin maceration, this wine goes into the market four years after its elaboration. Pepe wants it to be introduced in its fourth year, so it will be in 2020 when this wines sees the light.
There are not many bottles of these wines, and as Pepe told me, we’ll have to wait to get some more, since what’s left is all sold. It’s going to be a long wait.
Soon we will talk with Pepe Mendoza about his passion for wine and his winemaking philosophy.