by Fred McMillin
for October 1, 1999

 

Winery of the Week

From Goat to Oak

 

Prologue

oak Wine Barrels "In Spain wine skin made of goat's hide is dressed with the hair inwards, and [coated with] pitch. It is more convenient for carrying on the back of a mule, and cheaper than a cask." Winemaking is haphazard and unscientific.

...Cyrus Redding, London journalist Description of Modern Wines, 1851

In Spain the Martinez Bujanda family stores their wine in 12,000 French and American oak barrels. (see photo)

...from winery brochure


The Rest of the Story

How did the Bujanda's go from goat to oak? Here are some highlights.

1889—A lot was going on. The 1,056' Eiffel Tower was completed. Charlie Chaplin was born. Walter Lennox, 30, created a new china. One third of the Napa Valley grape crop was destroyed by heavy October rains...AND in the phylloxera-free Rioja district of Spain, Joaquin Martinez Bujanda built a winery (which still stands today as a handsome museum in his memory).

From the 1880s, let's leap forward a century to the 1980s. Robert Parker Jr. puts four different Conde wines on his list of "the world's best wine bargains." The Wine Spectator gives Conde similar accolades. Rising sales permit fourth- generation Jesus Martinez Bujanda, Jr. to design and have built what critic Tony Lord called a "brilliant" plant with the most modern technology.

Did it work out? By 1993 both Wine & Spirits Magazine and Groupo Gourmets (Spain) select Jesus' plant as SPANISH WINERY OF THE YEAR. The The Spectator agree in its large Rioja review. So, which Conde wine(s) should you try?

Conde de Valdemar If you like full-bodied but gentle reds, my panel would say, buy the:

1994 Conde de Valdemar RESERVA Rioja, $17
Another suggestion...the best Garnacha (Grenache) I have EVER tasted was a Martinez Bujanda Reserva Garnacha...lighter than a Rioja, but a serious wine reminding me of some of the more stern wines I've tasted in Beaujolais cellars. (I couldn't help but wince when the cellarmaster would rinse my glass with the next vintage and toss that marvelous wine onto the sawdust-covered floor.) And speaking of Beaujolais, Jesus installed stainless-steel, carbonic maceration facilities to produce an incredibly fruity Valdemar Tinto that rivals its Beaujolais neighbor to the north. For much more, contact Vince Friend, (800) 669-1972, FAX (916)368-8932, Sacramento, CA.


Postscript

The most exciting food I've had with the Conde Rioja were tasty TAPAS (Spanish appetizers) made by none other than Pilar Martinez Bujanda, Jesus Sr.'s daughter!

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 

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