When it comes to winemaking evolution in D.O.P. Cariñena, Bodegas San Valero, Technical Director, Javier Domeque Sanz says of the wines he makes: It’s a question not of change but of continuous improvement in both cellar and vineyard. In this hot, dry, slow-rivered valley 200 miles inland from northern Spain’s port city of Barcelona, Garnacha and the eponymous Cariñena grape reign as they have for centuries, in head-trained bush vines fruiting inches from the Miocene-era clay soils in which they grow.
The cooperative winery Bodegas San Valero (BSV) was formed in 1944 by 60 local winegrowers. Today it covers 3,800 acres of vines and more than 700 members — almost half of the 1,500 growers associated with co-ops in D.O.P. Cariñena. Through them, BSV has brought the area’s traditional tastes into the 21st century, protected and restored rather than retouched. The mission of Domeque Sanz is to safeguard the denomination’s heritage.
During his 37 years making wine for BSV, Domeque Sanz has seen large shifts in technology from temperature control to recent work replacing pesticides with pest-controlling techniques such as pheromone-based sexual confusion. The winery works with decades-old vines to increase both quality and quantity of the region’s historically powerful, structured wines. Locally they are known as el vino de las piedras (the wine of the stones) and have impressed European drinkers in the know for centuries, counting philosophers like Voltaire and Spanish kings like Philip II and Alfonso XIII among their historical fans. While international varieties like Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc have found a home here, innovation has been concentrated on improving traditional approaches and fixing past problems of less than optimum ripeness at harvest time and spoilage in the final product: “The profiles of the most classic wines are already well defined,” says Domeque Sanz. “Many have now been rejuvenated by our ability to use technological advances.”
In 1962, when Bodegas San Valero introduced industrial bottling it was the second winery in Spain to do so, and the area’s first. It could now move greater quantities of wine farther afield, keeping it fresh along the way. In the winery’s ongoing efforts, Domeque Sanz points out “an upward trend resulting from the effort and daily dedication above all from the farmers.” Under BSV’s guidance, and with a goal of sustainability in both health and finances, 330 hectares of vineyards have been converted to organic — making them the largest holding of certified vineyards in D.O.P. Cariñena. “By directing our efforts towards this market, we open Bodegas San Valero’s range of possibilities,” says Domeque Sanz. As the producer of almost 30 percent of the D.O.P.’s wines, BSV is an important economic and cultural presence with the ability to shape not only the local landscape but the perception of the region in both European markets and abroad.
There’s also a new focus on traditions that were almost lost: the BSV Particular line is based on the wines growers were making for themselves in the early 20th century and before, including old-vine monovarietal Garnacha, a Moscatel de Alejandria blend, and as a link to modern times, a violet-hued Garnacha rosé. With greater knowledge and winemaking means, BSV is making it easier for the world to taste this historical area’s arrival to the 21st century with a strengthened and consistent link to its long past. “The styles of wine have not changed,” says Domeque Sanz. The most important part of this modernizing D.O.P. has, and will, stay the same.