The Sierra de Gredos is quickly becoming a zone of high reputation and much sought after by adventurous wine lovers and connoisseurs alike. This rising popularity for the wines is indeed justified. The area has an amazing mix of decomposed granite and schist all located at high altitudes in a classic Mediterranean alpine forest. The dry heat with cool nights and just enough rain fall to keep the classic Mediterranean fauna flourishing…think wild thyme, rosemary, figs, fennel all extremely aromatic and full of flavor…is of course also perfect for wine grapes.
Bernabelva was actually a pioneer that put Gredos on the radar of many now famous names in Spain and in the zone – names like Raul Perez, Dani Landi and more. In fact, Bernabeleva was a founding partner in Comando G (now only Dani Landi and Fernando Garcia) the goal of which was to help bring more attention to the zone. The first wines of Comando G were in fact made at Bernabeleva.
While the modern-day story of Bernabeleva begins in 2006 with Juan Bulnes hiring Raul Perez to make the winery from his family’s old vine holdings, the actual true origins of the family domaine began with a truly inspired family member named Vicente Alvarez-Villamil in 1923. Vicente was a successful doctor in Madrid and in 1923 purchased land outside the village of San Martin de Valdeinglesias to build his estate. Here he planted Garnacha (grenache) because he believed in this area the variety could produce wines of profound elegance and character. The area was an ancient Celtic hunting ground with the countryside dotted with stone carvings that were believed to be bears. Because of this he named the estate Bernabeleva or “bears forest”. With the Spanish civil war erupting in 1936, his plans for the estate did not materialize. Successive generations of the family held onto the land and maintained the vines selling the fruit to the local co-op. As mentioned above, in 2006, Juan Diez Bulnes and Santiago Matallana Bulnes (the great grand children of Vicente), inherited the vineyards they decided to finally create the estate of Bernabeleva.
By that time in 2006, the vineyards were now 80 years old and capable of showing great ripeness and depth but more importantly, lift and freshness, that the high altitude and granite soils reflect. To protect this unique personality of the wine from “commercial winemaking” and trends of the time, they hired Raul Perez who was proving his prowess as a winemaker championing cool climate wines. Right away Raul hired Marc Isart to be the winemaker who had been working with the great Jose Luis Mateo as assistant winemaker in Monterrei in Galicia. Marc worked tirelessly in the vineyards practicing viticultural methods that incorporate organics and biodynamics with astute attention to how nature works in this area. In the winery, he also focused on low intervention methods and natural winemaking practices, preferring long fermentations and aging in large, mostly older wood so as not to destroy the amazing aromatics of these wines. Marc has now left Bernabeleva but the team carries on what he established.
The Bernabeleva range begins with Camino Tinto, made from a combo of both estate and purchased grapes from the zone. While certainly fresh and easy, it is a perfect intro to Gredos Garnacha, and shows more real and serious than one would expect in this price point. Next up are the Navaherreros Tinto and Blanco, each made from selected estate vineyards with a vine age of around 40 to 60 years. The crown jewels at the property are two single-vineyard Garnachas, “La Bonita” and “Arroyo del Tortolas”, which are made from two of the most singular, high elevation (800+ meter), old vine vineyards on this historic property. These wines could easily hold their own with any of the top wines now made in the Vinos de Madrid sub-zone.
The Bernabeleva wines are a far cry from what you would expect from Grenache grown in a Mediterranean climate, such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Cotes-du-Rhone. The high elevation, large diurnal shift, and minerally, granite and schist soils all lead to wines that showcase more of the “Pinot Noir” side of Garnacha. Elegant, perfumed and red-fruited, these wines are balanced and fresh, and a perfect match for lighter to medium weight foods (chicken, grilled fish, pasta, etc).