On the Trail

Frost/Burgos

Joe Manekin

"En Burgos hay dos estaciones, la estacion de trenes e invierno"

This Spanish joke is a play on words - estación means both station and season - and it is a reference to the occasionally frosty, blunt character of people from the city of Burgos. Given the cold of the winter and heat of the summer, I can’t say I can blame them. And for those whose livelihoods are earned cultivating vineyards and producing wines, I certainly can understand. Ribera del Duero is frost country, and a few nights of below freezing weather after bud break can have disastrous effects. Such was the case in 2017, a year of terrible late April frosts throughout much of Europe. And for some in Ribera del Duero, it appears as though a few consecutive freezing nights this past weekend have done some damage.

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Upon arriving to Lambuena early evening on Sunday, I noticed that even with a light vest over my t-shirt, it was cold. Winemaker and owner of Lambuena (whose wines we import) Pedro Cabestrero´s father was pointing out his now dead tomato plants --an authentically Castillian welcome yet certainly not a good early sign for vintage 2018. Turns out that there was indeed some frost damage, but nothing approaching the disaster of 2017, when Lambuena´s production was a mere 70% of the usual amount.

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Pedro, export director Noé "Talento" Pérez and I hopped into the sturdy Audi wagon to see some of the 70 hectares belonging to Lambuena. They are as large as a single 10 he plot, but as small as a 1/4 he. This degree of parcelization, small plots of 1/2 a hectare or smaller, is quite typical in the village of Roa as well as many others within the Burgos portion of Ribera del Duero, a contrast to the larger, flatter tracts of lands more common in the Valladolid area, perhaps the most famous of which lie on the so called "Golden Mile" where Vega Sicilia, Arzuaga, Finca Villacreces and others own vineyard land. Lambuena´s vineyards are predominantly on slopes, with varying exposures and soil types - an ideal education in the variety of dirt you see here: Beige, calcareous clay, more maroon, heavier clay, some containing lots of large stones and a bit of quartz, even at least one parcel that is on pure sand. There are pines, local oak trees called Encinas, and walnut trees. Not surprisingly, the oldest vines and best sites go towards Reserva and Gran Reserva wines, though the crianza vineyards, many of which are in an old, privileged zone known as "Cara Quintana" (because if faces the village of Quintanilla de Onésimo) are typically fully mature and impressive in their own right.

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Lambuena´s new facility is simple, straightforward and functional, same as the winemaking. Grapes come in, are de-stemmed and crushed, racked into stainless steel tanks where they are fermented and undergo malolactic fermentation, then are racked again to barrels. Amongst the 500 or so barrels (four year barrel rotation), there is a surprising variety of coopers, including a few Spanish ones I was seeing for the first time. Tasting from barrel, I was impressed by the purity of fruit and lightly floral notes juxtaposed with those chalky tannins for which RDD is known. Bright, but mineral and forceful as well, the product of intense sun, cold nights, and highly calcareous soil. And a sturdy grape in the local tinto fino clone of Tempranillo. Unlike in Rioja where Tempranillo is typically blended with other grapes, here the Tempranillo more often than not stands on its own.

We have plenty of Lambuena to look forward to, arriving soon!

Another Ribera del Duero post is coming your way shortly. Signing off for now from El Bierzo, as I´m about to meet a Spanish winemaking legend!

- Joe Manekin