18 Mar Las Laderas de Jose Luis: Stories of a singular vineyard
One day, my father said: “I have no money, but I’m going to buy land”. My grandfather had 9 children. My father, José Luis, was one of the youngest. In those years, the older children inherited almost everything. The younger ones, what they could. And what my father inherited was very little. But he was always very forward-looking.
Without money to buy land, José Luis took out loans to get the cheapest farms. The most coveted were those on the banks of the Ebro, as they were the most productive. The first vineyard he bought could not have been more unique. It was one that nobody wanted. They called it Las Escaleras, because of its steep slopes, although my father always called it Las Laderas. Nobody was sure that the land could be worked with a mule. They wouldn’t give a penny for it. My brothers watched their friends’ fathers buy productive plots of land. Ours, a vineyard on a slope. Even my mother tried to stop him. But he said: “You’re right, but I don’t have enough money for more”.
However, it turned out that that farm, the one nobody wanted, held a few surprises. Its altitude and orientation were very good. And the grapes that sprouted there were of very high quality, in good and not so good years. So much so that, in time, well into the new century, the Ministry of Agriculture finally recognised my father’s small vineyard with the distinction of “Singular Vineyard”. It was like when they give the Golden Ball to a footballer.
One afternoon, my brother José Luis was at Las Laderas with my father, working in the August heat. In the middle of the afternoon, the wind changed and began to blow from the north. My brother was only wearing a shirt. Seeing that he was cold, my father took off his shirt and put it on his son. Together, they took the mule and the cart back home.
When they reached the village, a lady came out and asked my father if he wasn’t cold in just his vest. My father, very proud, replied that he had put his shirt on his son so that he wouldn’t be cold. My brother José Luis was about 7 years old at the time.
Things to know
It was the month of June. I was about 14 years old. In those days, I only had school in the mornings, so some afternoons I helped my father in the fields. That afternoon, my father said to me: “Son, do me a favour and go to Las Laderas to work in the fields”.
It is worth knowing that, that June, there was a strong heat wave, which brought very high temperatures. Also, the work of pruning is done by cutting the upper part of the vine shoots, for example, with a sword. So off I went, with my bicycle and my sword, and in the heatwave I started to trim the shoots. First one vine shoot, and then another, and another, and by the time I realised I hadn’t brought any water, I was thirsty.
I thought that the work would take me a short time and that I would be able to get by without drinking. But after 20 minutes of blasting up and down the slopes, the heat and lack of hydration took their toll, and I started to get dizzy.
Luckily, my father and brother showed up, aware that I had gone up to the start without a drop of water. My father gave me a few drinks to quench my thirst and, by the way, a piece of advice for life: “Chiguito”, you have to take water, clothes and food to the countryside, because in the countryside nobody gives you anything”.
A Basque pact
My brother José Luis was the first to see my father’s efforts. To take out loans. Buying those plots of land. To cultivate the vineyard. Selling the wine. To negotiate. Make money. Or not make money. Once, my brother was present at a wine negotiation with a large winery. There, a “Basque” pact was agreed: the winery would buy the wine from my father, and they would establish a price. A handshake sealed the commitment.
But when it came time to pay, they subtracted one cent per litre. My father protested: “Well, hadn’t we agreed…?”, and the winemaker replied: “No, we hadn’t agreed”.
That pact stuck in my brother’s mind. When he came of age, he told my father: “From now on, I’m going to try to sell my wine on my own”. From that moment on, we started bottling our own wine. That’s how Dominio de Berzal was born.
Save me a couple
There it was. On the list. In the Official State Gazette. With the signature of the Minister. With the favourable report of the Regulatory Council. In the column “Paraje viícola identificado Viñedo Singular”. There it was: Las Laderas de José Luis.
It was a long road. Fulfilling all the requirements of the specifications. “Viñedo Singular” is not just any plot. Many things have to be demonstrated. The vineyard has to be more than 35 years old, the production per hectare must not exceed 5,000 kg… A Technical Report. Evaluation reports from the Regulatory Council. A long procedure before the Ministry.
But there it was.
We destemmed the grapes by hand. For fermentation, we used a concrete tank for one part, and used barrels for the other. We aged the wine for 6 to 7 months in used 500-litre barrels. Aiming for complexity. With very little wood. That’s why we don’t use new barrels.
The Control Board took some samples for analysis at the Casa del Vino. With the samples, they did a tasting. The score of that tasting should be “Excellent”. Otherwise, they would not give us the qualification of “Viñedo Singular”.
A few days later, a person from the Casa del Vino told us: “I tasted your wine from the Singular Vineyard. Save me a couple of bottles: it’s spectacular”.
Tim Atkin, the prestigious Master of Wine, awarded it 95 points and placed it among the wines of the year. And now we are going to present it at ProWein. The most important fair in the world.
The wine is going to be called after the plot. Las Laderas de José Luis. It is the best tribute we can pay to our father.