Wine by the river
Photo: Bodegas Yuntero
Wednesday 27 April 2022
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Fat, purple grapes dusted with pretty, powdery must. Serrated leaves browning and golden against the ochre landscape. Shielding your eyes from the late summer sun under a lightly-streaked sky that seems to go on forever over the mountains that line the wide horizon. The River Guadiana rolls by, at the start of its long journey to the Atlantic ocean. You’re in a vineyard near Manzanares, Castilla-La Mancha, belonging to Bodegas Yuntero and it’s almost harvest season.
Bodegas Yuntero, rather than a solo project, is a farmer’s cooperative created in the 1950s. This “Jesús del Perdón Cooperative”, like many cooperatives formed in La Mancha around this time, afforded winemakers and farmers at the time some much-needed protection against private wineries who refused to pay a fair price for the grapes they were using.
During the 50s when Bodega Yuntero was formed, Spain was still knocked back by its Civil War, which ended in 1939, and the Spanish government could not (or would not) provide financial assistance to grape growers. By not making grape growing a priority, and because of Spain’s weak trade relations with other countries such as Britain and the US after the Civil War, wine production in the region could have died out. In fact, these cooperatives saved the Castilla-La Mancha from a barren future of abandoned vineyards.
Returning to the present day, Bodega Yuntero has gone from the largest cooperative winemaker in Manzanares to the only one, as smaller cooperatives join forces with it to take best advantage of high-tech facilities and international contacts. The wines made by the coop are wide ranging but with strong representation from the region’s best-loved grapes — Airén, Tempranillo, Macabeo, Verdejo and Moscatel, and some diversions into Crianza and Reserva Rioja too.
The region here gives Bodega Yuntero’s wines a unique taste of terroir too. The soil is made up from calcium-rich deposits from ancient seabeds, and the River Guadiana tempers the climate, bringing cooler mornings and nights in the high summer season — a real benefit in the unforgiving heat of a La Mancha summertime. After introducing an organic range, the Bodega is still looking to the future, and plans to introduce a number of new grape varieties to its vineyards in the coming years. How wonderful to see a winemaking cooperative flourishing, when at one time in the not-too-distant past there seemed little hope for the industry in the region at all. The power of working together.
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