Altos de Montanchez
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Country of Origin: Spain
Location: Tierra de Barros, Ribera del Guadiana
People: Juan Sojo López & Ángel Luis González, Owners & Winemakers
Viticulture: Certified Biodynamic
Juan Sojo and Ángel Luis González met in oenology school and bonded over their desire to revive the reputation of their native Extremadura, in western Spain near the Portuguese border. While it’s history can be traced to 550 BCE, phylloxera and powdery mildew hit the region hard in the 19th century. Winemaking started a gradual revival after the Spanish Civil War and has been picking up steam ever since. The majority of the wine currently produced in the region is bulk Vino de Mesa (table wine).
Formerly known as "Cerro La Barca," Altos de Montanchez is in the Ribera del Guadiana region, which was awarded DO status in 1999. Extremadura (capitol Mérida) is broken up into two subregions, Càceres in the north and Badajoz in the south. The DO Ribera del Guadiana falls in both regions and is broken down into six heterogeneous subregions that vary in elevation from 250 to 800 meters above sea level. As a whole, the region has a dry continental climate with temperatures getting up to 100 degrees in the summer and down to freezing in the winter. With an average rainfall of 17 inches a year, summer drought is a challenge in the region, as is springtime frost.
With Juan’s background in agriculture, and Angel Luis’ focus on science, the two are committed to organic and biodynamic farming. They own 25 hectares of vineyards in the Tierra de Barros subregion of Ribera del Guadiana as well as source fruit from other organic growers in the region. With a focus on autochthonous grape varieties, and a handful of labels focusing on different subregions, the winery produces more than a half-dozen wines. They are the only winery in the region working solely with organic fruit.
Biodiversity in the vineyards is of particular importance at Altos de Montanchez. Grape varieties are selected for their natural adaptation to soil and climate. Cover crops are thoughtfully sown with site in mind. Manual harvest typically happens in mid-September during the cool night hours. Small boxes are used to avoid crushing the berries. Juan and Ángel Luis inspect each bunch before it enters the cellar, where natural fermentation takes place in stainless steel.
The Vegas Altas line of wines come from a range of vineyards just east of Mérida, located near the banks of the Guadiana River. The proximity to the river creates a special microclimate with humidity that decreases the irrigation needs and favors the elaboration of wines with excellent quality. Notably among the native grapes of the region that go into the various Vegas Altas wines is Eva de los Santos – a near-extinct variety that Juan and Ángel Luis are determined to rescue.