Sometimes you just have to break the rules. Take Juan Magaña, for example. 30 years ago, he had a vision. After researching the best wines in the world, he decided that he wanted to grow Bordeaux in the Navarra region of Spain. He found a nursery that sold to St. Emilion and Pomerol, and most notably the auspicious Chateau Petrus. The nursery owner even hailed originally from Spain, and knew what climate and soil there would grow his vines best. So what was the problem? The Spanish government did not permit the planting of Bordeaux grapes in Navarra! The D.O. (Instituto Nacional de Denominaciones de Origen) mandated what it deemed the best grapes for each area, and vineyards were forced to comply. Magaña's most significant find, Petrus clone #181 class A Merlot, was not included in the government's choices. So he had to sneak the vines in. He smuggled them over the Pyrenees Mountains, managed to get them into Navarra without incident, and named the first plot after the nursery owner in France. Thus was created the first vineyard of Merlot in España. It took him seven years to plant the vines while enjoying the romantic experience of his dream coming to life. He also found, after 7 long years, that he was broke!
To make money while he was waiting to make his own wines, he sold clone #181 elsewhere, but he didn't just sell Merlot; anyone important in Spain bought their Cabernet, Malbec, and Sauvignon Blanc (as well as Syrah and Cabernet Franc) from Magaña's vineyards. Even today, any Merlot seen in the country is likely to have come from this original source, planted in 1975. It was not an easy journey. Juan would travel to France, buy the vines in Bordeaux, and then bring them across the Mountains. Then he would graft and grow the vines, make cuttings, and sell them to other wineries. Every time the D.O. made a visit to check on wineries, Magaña would claim all of their vines as Tempranillo to avoid questioning and stay within the law. So how did Merlot eventually become legal within the area? Years later, the D.O. came to Magaña to ask his advice! They explained that his "Tempranillo" was clearly superior to any other in the region, and, as they were looking to admit new clones, wanted him to let them in on his secret. He did. . . and the rest is history!
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