VÍ Vid had met with Antonio Piqueras a couple of times in 2016 when we attended some training days or `Jornadas´ organised by DO Utiel-Requena. In conversation over lunch he had told us he was creating a new family bodega in the village of Campo Arcis. We were later introduced to his wife Amparo Garcia by Emilio Expósito, of Dominio de la Vega and Vice-President of the Ruta del Vino. `You must visit them´ said Emilio, `they are a very important part of the heritage of the area´.
The family hold a number of parcels of vines, typical of ‘cosecheros’ (growers who do not make their own wine) in the DO and were selling their grapes to the local San Isidro Coop, part of Coviñas. But, they had identified three special parcels of vines and created a new bodega, making and selling artisan wines from three different varieties Bobal, Chardonnay and Syrah.
Their son Juan is a qualified wine-maker, trained in the local Requena wine school. He had spent 8 years as ‘ tecnico’ at the prestigious Manuel Manzaneque bodega before returning the family bodega.
On our first visit we set off straight away to visit the three vineyards, first the Chardonnay , then the Bobal and finally the Syrah.
The Chardonnay vines are 9 years old and planted in trellis in single guyot pruning, ( that is one cordon and one spur) with occasional double guyot. The vines are not irrigated. The family is awaiting formal permission to plant a new plot nearby with Macabeo, with one eye on Cava production, but with irrigation as this part of the DO is susceptible to drought. The soils were very arid and sandy .
Next we drove back towards the village and visited the Bobal parcel, ‘La Serratilla’, the most picturesque of the parcels. Here the vines are also without irrigation and were planted in 1979. The vines are typically traditional in goblet planting. The soil is very stony with the limestone bedrock more evident.
Finally we drove towards Los Duques and the nearby Las Pilillas archeological site, home to Spain’s 2700 year old `Iberic period´ bodega.
Here the Syrah grows on a generally sandy, well-drained soil, also without irrigation and the vines are 20 years old. Nearby we passed some of the oldest vineyards in the DO with Bobal planted well over 100 years ago. Roman remains are regularly found in this district, testament to the continuous use of the land as vineyards.
Back in the family home we were shown the garage which forms the bodega. Yes, it is a garage, Amparo´s fathers vintage cars were expelled and replaced with a reception table for the grapes, hopper, de-stalker, a home-made press and four stainless steel deposits, three of 1000 liters and one of just 300 liters.
Everything is done by hand, bottling , corking and labeling included!
Fast forward to Monday 4 December this year and we paid our second visit to meet with Juan Antonio and to taste the new wines.
It would be an understatement to say that Juan is ‘driven’, totally passionate about his wines and very keen to learn what each variety can do. The family have recuperated some further plots since we last visited and have found that there are other, lost varieties such as Rosetti, Royale and Moscatel planted amongst some of the older vines.
So Juan has set about experimenting with some of these grapes and making ‘Natural Wines’. This includes an ‘orange wine’ where white wine is made the same way as red wine, involving a second or malolacatic fermentation after much longer maceration periods to extract all the colour and flavour from the skins and the pips. He has been collaborating with Mariano Taberner of nearby Bodegas Cueva who is now concentrating on this style of wines.
Two other changes were immediately obvious in the bodega. The first was the appearance of four terracotta tinajas in which some of the wine was fermented.
A second was the almost complete lack of chemicals in the process. Sulphur is usually added to the grapes on arrival and/ or before fermentation to keep the flavours fresh and avoid biological faults in the wine. However only an absolute minimum is necessary in natural wine because a lower pH and higher acidity (especially in Bobal) act as natural preservatives.
We started with the Chardonnay still in contact with its lees following fermentation. Still cloudy therefore it is grassy and herby on the nose, with good volume in the mouth, citric (grapefruit) and with a lot of brioche. Made in a style much more aligned with the original Burgundy way of making wines from Chardonnay all of the oxidable parts of the process are completed during the fermentation and naturally filtered by gravity in the deposits. The wine produced in the tinaja is Tardana, the local white grape with about 8% of added Moscatel. Pale amber, this too was on its lees undergoing battonage still. It has a very expressive nose, is very aromatic and hints of orange skins on the nose.
We moved on to the `Bobales perdidos´, from the old plots of recuperated vineyards which had not produced much fruit this year but which would do so again in the future. These old vines produce small looser bunches with concentrated fruit. The wine is bright purple in colour with very expressive nose and in the mouth liquorice, mature red fruits and very typical of ‘alta expression’ wines from the variety.
The bright pink wine in the bottles in the pictures is from the Royale variety which has nearly disappeared. Blended with a little Bobal to give it colour this is a traditional sparkling wine from the area with a single fermentation in bottle,
We descended into the old fermenting tanks (trullo) under the patio of the property which now holds barrels of Garnacha, Syrah and Bobal and tasted from these barricas. These are wines which will go on the market once bottled.
Pigar is a fascinating new project, experimental but making wines of such quality that apart from a couple of outlets locally the wine is sold in top restaurants in Sweden, Australia and Belgium. In Juan, who is just 30 years old, the bodega has one of the most promising young winemakers of his generation and one to watch just as the wines are not to be missed if you have the opportunity to taste them!