With a modern highway nearing completion, San Martín de Valdeiglesias lies a mere 75 minutes from Madrid and its three million inhabitants. Yet, the journey feels much longer, both in distance and in time. As one drives west from the capital city, the terrain quickly becomes rugged and mountainous, the air cooler, and one begins to see signs of an earlier era.
Here, on the eastern edge of Spain's Sierra de Gredos mountains, a renowned Madrid doctor named Vincente Alvarez-Villamil purchased land in 1923. The site, which at that time was a full day's travel from Madrid, spoke of its Celtic past, with ancient bears carved from boulders to mark forests dedicated to the hunt goddess. But the estate, which Vincente named Bernabeleva ("the bear's forest"), held more than just an ancient history—it was, he believed, a special place to plant the noble Garnacha (Grenache)—a place whose wines might exhibit profound character. But the next decade brought increased political instability to Spain, and the Civil War that erupted in 1936 devastated the country. Though the family held onto the land, Vincente's dream of making wine ended ... for the time being.
But in 2006, two of Vincente's great-grandchildren, Juan Diez Bulnes and Santiago Matallana Bulnes, vowed to fulfill their ancestor's dream. The estate's vineyards were now 80-years-old, and there were Granacha vineyards to purchase from neighboring properties as well. Rejecting current fashions in Spanish wine, the cousins resolved to make wines of purity and expressiveness that were in harmony with the beauty of their ancestral land.
Juan and Santiago's ambitions were well supported by the terroir. The vineyards are more than a half mile above sea level, with warm days but cool nights, and with poor, sandy soils. The resulting wines have ample ripeness, but also astounding bouyancy and freshness. A Dream Realized. The cousins wanted, above all, to protect the unique personality of their estate, and they hired consultant Raúl Pérez, a master of cool-climate winemaking, to help them develop the project. Just as important, they hired as full-time manager a young Catalan named Marc Isart Pinos. Marc's devotion to demanding viticulture and to non-interventionist winemaking have served the cousins' vision well.
Their regime emphasizes long fermentation and minimal handling. Wines are aged in barrels of different sizes, but very little new wood is used so as not to mask the glorious aromatics.
"This bodega, established in 1923, is today one of Spain’s most dynamic producers. Winemaker Marc Isart produces a range of complex, highly perfumed wines that smoothly play power off finesse, in a style that’s reminiscent of the best producers of France’s southern Rhône valley. Isart focuses squarely on Grenache for reds, with a handful of intriguing whites thrown into the mix. Minimal intervention is the byword here, using grapes sourced from the estate’s 35 hectares of organically and biodynamically farmed, low-yielding bush vines. Fermentations and aging take place in used oak, concrete and stainless steel vessels, followed by bottling without fining or filtration. There’s often an intriguing wildness to these wines, but never any sense of rusticity, and their tannic structures are on the delicate side, making them enjoyable soon after release, at the top level as well as at the entry level of the range."