IF IT'S FRIDAY AT NINE IT'S TIME FOR WINE!
Tony and The Guru leads you to the vineface
A NEW WAY TO VIEW THE WORLD OF WINE
Please remember to approach the world of wine responsibly
15 Questions for Clara Verheij and Bodegas Bentomiz
1: Despite these difficult times, how has the business of wine been progressing at Bodegas Bentomiz considering your efforts to encourage enotourism?
If you refer to the Covid-period since March and during the rest of this year 2020, the wine business has been very bad, both the sales of wines nationally and internationally, and the enotourism, as we have seen ourselves forced to remain closed in lock-down most of these months.
But apart from the pandemic, enotourism is a very important part of our business. We have always welcomed guests to come and see how we make our wines, we have always offered guided tours and tastings. But since we have finished our winery’s modern architectural building, and have opened our kitchen, many people come and keep coming back. From a business point of view, these visitors are very interesting, as they taste all our wines in the right conditions, pairing them with good food, and they always buy wines to take home. Varying from one or 2 bottles, to half a pallet to be delivered. Two third of our wine is sold direct from the bodega shop.
2: To those readers who are new to the wines of Bodegas Bentomiz, how would you sum up your unique style?
Bodegas Bentomiz is a family company and a ‘boutique’ winery. Our first concern is and has always been: deliver quality. Quality wines, a beautifully designed building, sustainably maintained vineyards, quality wine tourism offer, and a top restaurant where all dishes are created to match the bodega’s wines.
The unique style of the wines lies in a combination of factors:
-Nearness to the Mediterranean Sea: salty breezes refresh the vineyards all year through, also in the summer period
-Old vines of indigenous grapes: 80-100 years bush vines, of the white Moscatel de Alejandría and the local indigenous red variety ‘Romé’
-Altitude: 500-850 metres high, which also guarantees fresh temperatures
-Just enough rainfall (aprox. 500 mm); we don’t irrigate
-Slate soils: the salty breezes that rest on the slate soils give the wines a very characteristic minerality.
-Maintenance and harvest is all manual work; we can not use any machinery. The vineyards are very steep and terraced. We don’t use herbicides or insecticides, so all weeding and hoeing is done manually.
-The grapes are very carefully picked and selected.
-I am extremely careful in giving the entire process from the picking of the grapes to the bottling the required daily attention and care. I work as hygienically as possible and watch the musts with utmost care.
-My purpose is to make fresh and elegant wines. I use French oak barrels, but moderately; only when I think it adds interesting aspects or will help the wine develop. Not all wines get ageing on barrel. Several wines (white and rosé) get 8-9 months of ageing on the lees, which I think is a very useful and interesting natural process.
-My three ‘dessert’ wines are all unfortified. Instead of adding alcohol to stop fermentation at approximately 13% alcohol, I use a cooling system to bring temperature back to 3 or 4 degrees below 0ºCelsius. Again trying to achieve freshness, and not too much alcohol. The wines have only their natural sugar and alcohol.
3: You are based near to Malaga. Do a lot of the British who live there visit, or are their palates not straying beyond Cava and Rioja?
Oh yes, we get a lot of British people that are interested in getting to know new wines. It takes time, but bit I bit I think the Málaga wines, the more modern ones (dry and unfortified) as well as the more traditional range, are gaining a good reputation again.
(British) tourists and residents are always looking for interesting excursions. They easily find our winery on Internet. As we offer guides wines tours, followed by a lunch meal (short or long tasting menu), the excursion up into the mountains above the coast, is more than worth the while.
4: If I was visiting, where would be the best view and what might I see?
You get fabulous views from our terraces and from the tasting room in our restaurant that has huge glass sliding doors from left to right.
At one side you see the 2000 metres high mountain range (snow-capped in winter).
Straight ahead the Bentomiz peak where the remains of a Moorish castle are, from which the winery gets its name.
And to the south, and through the winding valley, we see the glistering Mediterranean Sea. On clear days the views reach as far as the African coast and we can see the Moroccan mountains.
5: The reputation of Spanish wines (and food) has grown in the last decade. Was there a moment when you realised this, or was it a case of strategic planning to achieve success?
We have always been trying to make the best use of the natural ‘raw’ materials that we encountered here. It was not a deliberate choice to settle in this specific area to produce wines. Making wines, in our case, started as a hobby once we realised the terrific quality of the grapes in this Axarquía area. And it grew into our profession with the success of the wines.
We have never made wines ‘following the trends of the market’. We have always produced wines to our taste.
We happen to be part of this very positive Spanish development in wine and gastronomy, where young producers try new styles, think ‘out of the box’ and look for authenticity in grape varieties. Also in Málaga there is an enormous lot of new initiatives and developments. Most of us new wineries consider ourselves more colleagues than competitors and we try to boost the area nationally and internationally all together.
6: For you, what is the hardest part of being a wine producer in Spain?
There is no hard part. I love being a part of all developments in Spain. I love travelling through the country to promote and sell my wines. And I love living and working in the privileged circumstances where I happen to be.
I could mention the problems we have encountered with bureaucracy. But I guess that is not a unique Spanish item.
7: In the last year or so, it seems that French producers, just across the border, have not taken kindly to imports from Spain. Is there a way that this problem can be solved, or do you feel that the French feel threatened by the quality of Spanish wines at such competitive prices?
I am afraid that France suffers from the ‘law of the inhibitory lead’. The French cuisine and wines have been ruling for so many years that they did not feel the need to renovate. With other countries, Spain especially, working hard in the vineyard, searching for new technologies (both in wine productions and gastronomy), producing great quality, and even reasonably priced, France must reconsider and they maybe will have to reinvent themselves. (And stop complaining).
8: What do you think is the greatest vintage of your wines and why?
Difficult to say as my range of wines goes from white, to rosé to red, and from dry to sweet. There is not one best vintage for all of them together.
Climate is quite stable here throughout the maturing period of the grapes (warm and dry). An important factor is rainfall throughout the autumn-spring period.
For my unfortified Moscatel dessert wines top vintages are: 2008, 2012 and 2018.
9: Is there a variety that you wished you could produce but location and climate make it difficult?
Yes, I guess the Pinot Noir. I love the great Bourgogne wines, but I consider our climate too hot and not suitable for this variety.
10: Is there an average day for you and what we it be like?
My days change with the seasons, as you can imagine.
Let’s take a day during the harvest period as an example:
I get up at 7.00 am. Have a coffee and walk down to the winery.
I check the cooling system. Then I check all tanks where the juices and musts are in different stages. My assistant/enologist student arrives and together we perform all necessary pump- overs, rackings, and cleaning activities. We prepare new tanks, for the new musts of that day.
Than the grapes arrive, either picked from our own vineyards, or from my team of local grape growers whose grapes I buy every year. The grapes are either processed in the pneumatic press or go straight into a refrigerated tank. We will be busy processing grapes all day, with a midday lunch break.
More cleaning. The whole production area is cleaned with water (pressure machine).
At the end of the day I note down in my ‘bible' everything we did that day, all regularities, all peculiarities, every detail. I have had these bibles from the beginning I started making wine. This way I can consult my notes the year after, in case I want to change or improve something, or repeat a process in the same way.
During the day the restaurant has been opened, so visitors will have come for a guided visit and they will have enjoyed their meal in our restaurant, prepared by my husband Andre Both who is the chef in our kitchen. It is always a special experience when guests can see (from above, the first floor) how the grapes arrive and are processed.
All visitors end up buying wine and leave happily.
At the end of the day Andre and I sit together on out terrace and share our experiences.
11: What was your first wine memory?
I remember that when I was a child wine was always served at family meetings, my mother's side of the family. It was usually Chablis and Sancerre.
My first important personal experience was when Andre and me, when we were students, chose a really fancy restaurant to have dinner together and we ordered half a bottle of Meursault to pair the food. Never had we spent so much money on a bottle and never have I enjoyed a wine so thoroughly, ever sip of it.
12: What was the last thing that made you laugh?
See the attached photo: harvest 2020.
13: Your Rosado is made from Rome’. To those people who have yet to come across this interesting variety, how would you describe it’s unique taste?
The Romé is planted in between the Moscatel de Alejandria vines in most of the Axarquía area. There are hardly any 100% Romé vineyards. The age of the vines is 80-90 years. The combination of the slate soil and salty breezes is very recognizable in the wines that are produced of these grapes.
It brings aromas of red fruit, lime or bitter orange, lychee and the zest of red grapefruit. Also white flowers, like orange blossoms. In the mouth it is smooth and mouth filling, the tannins are soft, it reminds you of rose petals, and at the end especially a minerality, a hint of pleasant bitterness and saltiness typical of our terroir.
14: Where next for the Spanish wine industry?
We need to continue the way we have chosen. The Spanish must focus more on marketing and strategies. Spain has all the best conditions and raw materials, we are renewing wine areas and boldly initiating many interesting experiments, focusing on natural and organic wines. Spain's weak point is selling its products and promoting its image worldwide. There is a lot to gain there. Fortunately we have great defenders like Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Sarah Jane Evans, to name some for the British market.
15: Which question do you wish I’d have asked you and how would you answer it?
Why should British wine enthusiasts come to Malaga?
Of course Andalusia and Malaga are fantastic surroundings to spend a holiday or a trip. But don’t just come for the sun and the coast. Come to visit some of the 45 wineries we have in Malaga province. You will find a surprising range of very good to excellent wines. Original wines you have never tasted before. You will find gorgeous places where you are received as kings and queens. In the bars and restaurants you visit, DON’T ASK FOR RIOJA OR RIBEIRO, ORDER LOCAL WINES! And you will be pleasantly surprised.
For all of you Winefullness readers: come to Bodegas Bentomiz . You are very welcome!
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