GRANADA - SPAIN
Bodega Barranco Oscuro is an organic winery established in 1979 by Manuel Valenzuela. Instead of making wine in a popular region of Spain, Valenzuela took a gamble on the Sierra de la Contaviesa Mountains of southern Andalucia. He built a winery in the village of Alpujarra (about 30 miles southeast of Granada and 165 miles east of Jerez and Tangier) and started making incredibly unique renditions of Spanish and French grapes classified simply as 'Vino de España'. Manuel and his son are dedicated to organic and traditional farming, and so they use very little sulphur, no herbicides, pesticides or synthetic fertiliser.
Manuel is a man who is fascinated by everything, which goes a long way to explaining both the way he talks and the way he makes wine. He has built up a vast base of knowledge on subjects ranging from the relationship between wine and health to the numerous idiosyncrasies of the land itself (the conservation of which remains his first priority). Clearly not one to rest on his laurels, he also constantly experiments with different varieties and ever more unlikely plots of land to see what new results he can achieve. It is this sense of open-mindedness and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge that has led him to be such an accomplished wine maker.
And you would have to be accomplished to be able to make wine like his from this land, with its extreme weather conditions and range of temperatures, not to mention the boisterous population of wild boars who routinely ravage the plants. Instead of attempting to mitigate the effects these conditions could have on his wines chemically or mechanically, Manuel decided very early on to let himself be guided by the land and climate and try to champion it through his wines, as well as championing indigenous and almost obsolete varieties such as Vigiriega.
The vines are not treated with anything and in many places are simply allowed to grow how they naturally would, creeping over the rocky ground to shelter themselves from the wind instead of being trained up onto wires. Similarly, in the cellar, the grapes are allowed to ferment naturally without the addition of any yeasts or sulphur.
As a result, in taking advantage of - instead of fighting - the unique terroir and climate, Manolo produces wines with perhaps the most striking sense of place of any I have tasted. They have an incredible freshness and quite unexpected, intriguing characteristics, maintaining a lightness which belies their often hefty alcohol content (a number are around 17-18°), as well as being a departure from many of the other wines produced in the region which are consistently dense and heavy. It is often impossible to reconcile the flavours of some of the wines with the more usual characteristics of the grapes they are made from, such is the influence of the environment.