A Visit To Bodega Mas de Rander, Benlloch, Castellon.

The Finca in its surroundings.

Bodega Mas de Rander is one of a crop of new Bodegas in the Castellon province where younger generations are taking over from or reviving wine-growing from their grandparents. Juan Domingo Tárrega Casañ has taken some old family plots in the hills above Torreblanca, at the very point where the boundaries of Torreblanca, Vilanova d´Alcolea and Benlloch meet. This is a natural amphitheatre, a bowl set into the hills with natural woodlands, orange groves and where the vines meet ancient arabic period terraces with their steep stone walls and thin tracts of poor soil, today supporting scrub as they are disused. His grandfather used to export moscatel to Liverpool for use on the intercontinental trains a hundred years ago!

There is very little ancient about this property though. Yes, like so many they practice ecological agriculture, at this stage integrated production…the ecological  labels for the wine will come later. There is no use of chemicals other than the natural copper sulphate and sulphur.  The old masia is still there juxtaposed perfectly with its ultra modern counterpart, the new bodega, open only since Christmas 2011!

The work platform, above the deposits.

The chosen grape varieties are Syrah, Merlot,  Cabernet Sauvignon and Garnacha Tintorera for the red wines. They also have three varieties of Moscatel, ( Alexandria, Hamburg and Grano Menudo )  for the mistelas which the bodega produces and have a small experimental plot of white grape varieties ( Viognier, Chardonnay and Macabeo) for  future evaluation.

In total the finca comprises of 1 million, 200 hundred thousand m2 and is close to the new Castellon airport. Nature is key here and apart from the fact that partridge, wild boar and rabbits are seen most days the night breezes from the nearby sea de-stress the grapes and keep all the oidium related diseases away. Any other treatment is down to using genetically produced pests which either prey on  each other or are themselves sterile and therefore a control in their own right. The property consists of former family plots and some bought from neighbours. There are olives, some of those nearest the finca being around 900 years old, gnarled and twisted but with a healthy covering  of new growth.

The property is split with the oranges being at the higher levels of the bowl, surrounding the finca some 400 hectares in all, with just 2 hectares of olives and 25 down to vineyard. The oranges consist of several varieties ensuring there is production from mid September to the end of May every year.

Group tasting/dining room.

The rest is frankly futuristic! The entire bodega is eco-sustainable. Built into the ground at the centre of the bowl, in modern concrete there is no need for air-conditioning or ventilation. Rainwater is collected in huge deposits under the loading bay as well as the waste from the finca. This is all filtered and returned to the land as natural manure or for watering when necessary. The roof above the property is planted with sedum, which does not need the water it receives and thus filters it to the containers below, but acting also as natural insulation. Above ground the stainless steel and glass of the offices and tasting room with its terrace shimmer in the sun, a massive contrast to the nearby original finca. Below ground the bodega itself with a warehouse for vinification, bottling room, store-rooms, barrel store, staff showers ( Nou Camp style!) and a tasting/ dining room for group visits are all separate built around natural light wells which obviate the need for electric light, and appear to be at ground level.

Much of this was the genius of the architect José Paredes Mazon who followed his brief with input from the enologist and Juan Domingo and is resposible for the gravity feed winemaking concept. I had seen nothing quite like this before although  perhaps there is  just a coincidental hint of the style of the modern facility at Chozas Carrascal. Indeed , there is a link because the enologist is none other than Michel Poudou who was also responsible originally for setting up and planting Chozas Carrascal.

It is Michels concepts that are followed in the winemaking in the vinification room and thereafter. The grapes after sorting are not touched again by hand until after the entire vinification process is complete. The grapes, whole, are passed to stainless steel deposits where they successively undergo alcoholic fermentation, maloactic fermentation  before pressing and stabilisation. There are no pumps to be seen,( a result of the architects concept )  the wine is passed from deposit to deposit in small quantities by use of overhead crane and you will see no pipes on the floor, they are all buried underground  to ensure the facility remains spotlessly clean. Once stabilised the wine passes to the bottling room , where , after a final filtering it enters the state of the art bottling plant from which it emerges to rest in a designated bottle store. Each of the main rooms is off a central corridor, forming an oblong with  separate storage rooms off the bottling plant for lables, corks etc and  from the bottle storage room for packaging, new bottles etc.

With Juan Domingo.

Some two thousand bottles an hour can be handled and this investment is used to help other bodegas in the immediate area.

On our visit we saw a couple of deposits containing wines for  Agrotaula, the Bocoi co-operative whose enologist uses the facilities here to make two wines. Bottles of Baranc Magro had recently been packaged and were awaiting collection and Vicente Flors and Clos d´esgarracordes also use the bottling line which saves the investment for smaller bodegas.

Mas de Rander will bottle in whatever size bottle and with whatever lable the client prefers. For example they have a half litre format for 5-6 restaurants in the Castellon area who use own lable wine although this is produced from Mas de Randers vineyards. The corks are all naturally produced as well, many coming from the nearby Serra d´Espadan.

Around 95% of the production is sold within the three provinces making up the Valencian Community and in Valencia for example are available in Las Añadas de España and shortly should be available in El Corte Ingles. Makro have also shown an interest.

Old and new!

Following our tour of the bodega we retired to the tasting room and terrace to enjoy first the spectacular views of the location and then three of the wines.

First was the Syrah 2010, An intense cherry red colour, with long legs, the nose was full of red and black fruits of the forest and liquorice with just a hint of smoke and spice. In the mouth these flavours are magnified, the wine has nice acidity is balanced but is still young and opens out in the mouth with a long finish. 13.5%ABV.

Second was the Temps 2008. This is a crianza with seven months in French oak and is a blend of 70% Cabernet sauvignon, the balance being Syrah and Merlot. Reflecting its age and time in wood the wine had a softer colour, less intense but with 14%ABV showed long glycerinous slow legs. On the nose blackcurrants, blackberries, and after a while jam ( wood fruits) . In the mouth full, soft almost velevety with plenty of fruit…..a very nice wine!

Finally we tasted the first of the bodegas mistelas ( wines made from Moscatel grapes and stopped with alcohol ) a red mistela at that, taking its colour from the blend of the three varieties which make it. This is sweet without being cloying, a perfect accompaniment for blue cheeses.

Wines from Mas de Rander at Benlloch.

Mas de Rander also have a second mistela which is the same wine with some wood ageing but Juan Domingo thinks this still needs longer in bottle before it will be ready. He would like to use an alcohol made only from Moscatel to stop the fermentation but has yet to find a distillery which uses only that variety to make a base.

This was a very comprehensive visit, an eye-opener full of surprises in many ways but Mas de Rander is a bodega at the beginning of its trajectory. With its modern practices and ability to produce other products as well as provide a service to other bodegas it seems to have a solid business plan going forward. In anycase the wines are excellent, should be looked for  to try and the bodega is well worth a visit!

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