A Visit to Bodegas Viver Sanjuan, IGP Castellon.


Ismael Sanjuan.

Ismael Sanjuan.

In 1793, Cavanilles, who was undertaking a survey for the then Spanish crown on the state of agriculture in the Kingdom, famously wrote `In no other part of the Kingdom are there vines , such as those in Viver.´

Suitably inspired by these words Ismael Sanjuan and his family felt moved to try to revive the vines reputation in a village around 625m above sea level in the Alto Palancia and whose vineyards have views to the Pico de Penyagolosa and are situated in the Sierra de Espedan and the Sierra Calderona. This was 1991…..pioneering times in the region as , like most of Castellon, winemaking was dead and buried! Why should this stop anyone whose ambition is to try to revive the famous heritage of wine-making in this part of the Valencian Community! Well maybe just because there were no vines, no vineyards……

The very Old Press, Still in Use!

The very Old Press, Still in Use!

Formerly a Professor of Philosophy, Ismael and his family set about recovering a tradition in 1991 when the project began with the purchase of parcels of land, vines, their planting, and subsequently the production of the first wines about 8-9 years later. Today Ismael produces wines using  Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and experiments with Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Semillon as well as a touch of Sultanina. In reds Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon , Merlot and Syrah are the main varieties although he has some Mondragon, a local variety which I have so far failed to find any reference to.

His wines are produced ecologically, biodynamically and in very small quantities ( around 5-6 thousand bottles a year) and are sold locally and in restaurants in Castellon city. This traditional and ancient method is balanced with modern scientific techniques.

The wines are also unfiltered and produced from deposits which hold just 800 or 1000 litres. Each variety is vinified separately . For the Tinto Barrica French and American oak is used.

800 Litre Deposits.

800 Litre Deposits.

The soils are limestone, sandy and stony but given the hanging fog and cold morning we passed on the opportunity this time to go and visit the terraces and mountain slopes where they grow.

Today Ismael is also President of the IGP and  President of the village Co-op, (whose olive oil is marketed under the Lagrima lable and suitably is the best produced from the Serrano variety!)

Normally the bodega ( which is currently undergoing some reconstruction work ) offers five wines, whites from Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer, a rosado and a tinto joven and barrica. Certainly the shelves are bare at the bodega now and until the new vintages are bottled and ready!

Empty Shelves in the Shop!

Empty Shelves in the Shop!

As always, the purpose of the visit was to taste and evaluate what Ismael does have to hand! We were not to be disappointed!

We started with the 2013 Chardonnay from deposit.

Drawing Chardonnay From the Deposit.

Drawing Chardonnay From the Deposit.

At 13%ABV, pale gold in colour the wine is ready for bottling and will be in the next couple of weeks. It is clean and  bright with golden flashes. The nose is quite closed, not unusual in wines which are stabilising but green apple was evident. In the mouth the wine was initially green, but again the apple and then citrus notes began to develop. The wine needs bottling and  a period of rest but I would love to revisit in about three months time because the potential is evident!

Gewürztraminer in Glass!

Gewürztraminer in Glass!

The second white is a Gewürztraminer 2013, also from deposit and ready for bottling now. This had been picked a couple of weeks before the Chardonnay and its development was more marked. It is around 12.5%ABV. More golden in colour with green flashes, clean, bright and with long, slow legs. On the nose  it is very floral, with marked spiciness ( white pepper) , fruity ( I could detect weak apricot notes) . In the mouth, tropical fruits  ( lychees ) and rose petals were evident! The second mouthful was fuller and rounder as it opened in the glass, opulent, almost petrol, very nice and with massive potential. This is the second Gewürztraminer I have tried recently from deposit and it looks as though it may well have a future in Castellon!

The two reds we tried were both from bottle and earlier vintages.

Edición Limitada.

Edición Limitada.

First up was the 2009 Edición Limitada, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon 50%, Syrah 40% and Merlot making up the balance. This wine has 11 months in a mix of French and American oak, and is 12.5%ABV. Intense red cherry colour, good slow legs. On the nose ripe plums and blackcurrant, and in the mouth whilst the oak was notable it balanced the fruit which was quite jammy, the wine is round, balanced, velvety smooth. It fills the mouth and has a long persistent finish…for all that, it is an easy drinker normally selling for around 6€ a bottle ( the others are all around 4€ each when available).

Before We Began!

Before We Began!

Finally we tasted the 2012 Joven, a 100% Tempranillo. A vivid purple colour, very youthful looking still, and with good legs. On the nose red fruits, blueberries, strong varietal characteristics, floral ( violet) spicy, warm. In the mouth it is intensely fruity, almost to the point of boiled sweets, round, very full, well structured and very easy drinking with a long fruity finish.

The project is still very much in development and with such small production  is almost a hobby rather than an a going concern! But as we all know , these projects get a head of steam behind them and sometimes develop faster than expected. The wines are selling well as evidenced by the lack of availability….I suspect this is a family project with a long future ahead of it. Thank you Ismael for a fascinating visit!

Ismael Pours the Chardonnay!

Ismael Pours the Chardonnay!

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