A Visit To Bodega Flors.

2011 and the round of new visits has commenced. Yesterday I followed a well beaten path to the Bodega of Vicente Flors Marti near the small town of Les Useres in Castellon Province. I had  tasted his 2007 Clotàs at a Vino-Valencia event last April ( now sold out) and a couple of friends had told me about his devotion to recovering old vineyards, bringing them back into production and making great wines as well.

Bodega Flors


   The vineyard parcels, and there are several adding up in total to 10 Hectares are spread around the Rambla de la Viuda between the towns of La Barona and Les Useres near to Vall d´Alba . Vicente himself has not made wine all his life. A banker by profession he took over some parcels and his grandfathers old bodega just a few years back. His grandfather had worked the land and made wine all of which had been sold to bulk wine buyers. The wines produced were high in alcohol and used to reinforce lesser wines elsewhere.

The bodega itself dates back to the 18th century and is undergoing restoration. Vicente hopes in time to restore it fully and to extend into the burnt out portion at the back, creating a wine-making area and visitor centre. At present apart from a small barrel store in the old bodega the whole production process after picking takes place in a new facility shared with two other small bodegas.

In this respect Vicente is no different to the growing number of small producers in Castellon, struggling to revive a wine growing tradition. It is hardly credible that just 100 years ago Castellon sent record amounts of wine abroad. Then came phylloxera, the authorities only allowed replanting with new and noble varieties and scores of vineyards simply went out of production, the vines abandoned to their fate.

New Garnacha plantings.

As we arrived Vicente offered to take us around these parcels to show us the different varieties he currently has. It immediately became obvious just how much abandoned land there was interspersed with Vicente´s freshly ploughed parcels of neat vines. Many ramshackle small buildings in various stages of decay, some with their old troughs for treading the grapes, dotted the landscape.

Vicente´s 10 hectares are comprised currently of Tempranillo (8) Cabernet Sauvignon and Monastrell (1 each) plus the new small plantings of Garnacha. The soil is poor and stony consisting of rich red sand and river gravel, the latter reaching a somwhat larger size the closer to the edge of the Rambla that the vineyard is located. In some places the vineyards almost appear white because of the concentration of stone. This does make the land free draining.

I asked Vicente if the stone helped the maturing  of the fruit towards harvest time as they retained the sun’s heat releasing it at night. He said that over time he and other local growers had come to the conclusion that the local micro climate was more effective. It is better for the vines to cool at night in the sea breezes but of course, as a result, he is for ever clearing stone from the parcels.

His vines have some age, the Monastrell being up to 70 years old, the Tempranillo 30 years old and the Cabernet Sauvignon only around 6 years old. However  the Monastrell is difficult to harvest as it either over-produces or the rain comes at the wrong time. Some also are weak. However as we went around the plots Vicente showed us a parcel he had bought where the original vines were all but dead, abandoned some time ago. He had brought them back into production over three to four years and this year they had produced grapes again. 

Cabernet Sauvignon trained `en espalda´.

These were Monastrell and Vicente explained how they were treated during the year. He only allows the vine to produce between 1-2 kilos of grapes each, small tight bunches. So they are pruned `en vaso.´ This allows the top growth to turn over on itself to provide shade. The East and South facing sides of the plants are left alone, whilst the North side of the plant has more of the leaves removed. The reason for this is twofold, firstly it allows the breezes to penetrate the plant allowing cooling at night and protecting in part against mildew. But , secondly if the mildew attacks, then he can spray directly into the plant with copper or sulphur.

The entire vineyard is ecologically managed and Vicente is one of a growing number employing the lunar calendar to dictate what happens and when.  Even the manure from local cattle is ecological with their feed being chemical free. Otherwise Vicente uses natural vegetation and waste from the winemaking process to feed his vines.

The Cabernet Sauvignon was planted about 6 years ago and was harvested for the first time this year. The wine is currently in barrel and Vicente is watching it´s progress  with interest. His CS vines were the first planted in the area and the first to be planted `en espalda´.

We were also shown a parcel of old Tempranillo vines where Vicente had experimented with `pasificacíon´or the natural drying of grapes on the vine to concentrate the juices which then make a sweet wine. Vicente is a sometime pupil at the wine school in Requena and was telling us how this year they had made a sweet red from Bobal as part of the course. These concentrated grapes (literally raisins ) need a very slow and careful pressing over 4-5 days. Sadly he does not possess such a press so making his own Vino Dulce is some way off, sadly as the flavour was intense and sweet with a Baum of 84 degrees.

Antique press in the old Bodega.

The harvest takes place in October when Vicente believes the fruit has reached optimum maturity. The grapes are collected in 12 kilo boxes, not filled to the top to prevent unwanted pressing during transport and oxidation. The grapes are also transported to the nearby bodega in a refrigerated lorry at 4 degrees. After an initial selection in the vineyard by manual picking, they undergo a second selection in the bodega before being stripped of the leaves and stalks and pumped into a deposit holding around 10k kilos  and maintained at 4 degrees until the harvest is complete.

Vicente has 3 deposits, two for Tempranillo and 1 for Cabernet sauvignon. First alcoholic fermentation takes place in these deposits before a gentle pressing takes place and the wine is pumped to a second deposit for the malolactic fermentation. We could feel the heat of this second fermentation on the walls of the deposit.

The wine is then transferred to wooden barrels, a mixture of French and American oak.

Vicentes 2007 Clotàs is now sold out although he has sensibly retained some for comparison over future years. His 2008 is currently on sale and the 2009 is in barrel. However this year sees the release of Vicentes second wine, Flor de Clotàs 2009, a younger style of wine which will be formally released at a prestigious launch next Wednesday in Valencia!

We moved from the new bodega back to the old one where Vicente has his tasting room to look at both wines.

We started with the new wine Flor de Clotàs, 2009. This is 95% Tempranillo and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon with 5 months in oak.

Flor de Clotàs and Clotàs in the tasting room.

At 13.5% ABV this was a light cherry red of medium density with good long legs. On the nose it was youthful, with cherry fruit and red currants, refreshing and light. It passed easily across the palate a nice fruity red with some depth and more body than the colour may have indicated. The wine was served chilled and we returned to it over lunch later. As it had warmed up so had it opened and filled out. In doing so it had turned into a much more full-bodied wine than expected and one which clearly will be versatile as a summer drinking red served cold but capable of standing up to some challenging food served at room temperature.

Vicente took us to CalParadis in nearby Vall dÀlba for lunch, who happened to have an artichoke themed menu this month. Now, normally artichokes and wine are not a match made in heaven. This wine stood up perfectly to a soup with artichoke and embutidos, a False Ravioli of artichoke and raw prawn and arroz meloso de galeras also containing artichokes.

The Clotàs 2008 also 13.5% ABV and pure Tempranillo is a powerhouse of a wine. Deep cherry red, opaque with long legs that colour the glass. It also has a violet edge. On the nose it is has immense potential, which you can smell as the cork is withdrawn. A touch vegetal then ripe fruit, red and black . The wine needs lots of air to release the scents and I would decant at least an hour before serving. As it opens you sense the spices emerging, cinnamon, vanilla and later cloves. Finally in the mouth the power of the fruit and tannins is softened by a milky smoothness as it passes over the tongue leaving a long full soft but satisfying finish. This is so much better than the 2007.

Vicente Flors Marti in the old bodega.

Both wines are testament to a dedication to winemaking, a willingness to learn and a passion for what Vicente is trying to acheive. There are only 5k bottles of the Flor and around 10k of the 2008 Clotàs so small production means expanding the vineyard, the range of wines and the further restoration projects sit very much in the lap of the gods and the weather and can only proceed a small bit at a time.

With a Cabernet Sauvignon in barrel and a Monastrell which may yet make it onto the market there is hope that the range of wines will soon expand. I cannot see the current small production being available for  long and thoroughly recommend you buy them at the first opportunity….it may be your only opprtunity!

It will be September before the 2009 Vintage of Clotàs is released.

Vicente showed us around, driving around the parcels in his four x four criss-crossing the dry riverbed and its banks so that we missed nothing of this exciting emerging property. As a result we had a thoroughly entertaining and informative visit! Thank you Vicente!.

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