Unearthing the Organic and Biodynamic at F. Schatz
When wine production in the Serranía de Ronda had ceased entirely and the land had given way to the much needed production of cereals, pioneer Federico Schatz thought it was time to rekindle this ancient tradition and bring the vine back to the Serranía.
F Schatz reignited the Serranía's passion for wine making
Ronda has a winemaking tradition dating back to the Phoenecians but by the late C19th the vineyards of the Serranía had been decimated by the phylloxera plague. Bodega F Schatz was the first bodega to be re-established in the Serranía and became the start of a wine revival that would eventually put Ronda wines back on the map.
A pioneering spirit with big ideas
Hailing from Northen Italy, Federico Schatz left home at 18 in search of a new life. His family thought he was crazy to try and re-establish vines where there had been none for over a centur,y but with hard work, dedication and a strong wine making background, Federico indeed succeeded against the odds.
Today the bodega is a modest set up producing a range of highly regarded organic and biodynamic (more of this later) wines. The bodega is reassuringly farm-like. When we arrived there were several hens pecking about, helping to keep the insect population down.
Forestiere's garden throngs with birdlife
Tiny by normal standards, the vineyards cover just a few hectares where Lemberger, Pinot Noir, Petit Verdot, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Muskattrollinger, Moscatel Negra, Tempranillo & Syrah are all grown. The bodega sits alongside an impressive garden, laid out in semi-formal style with low hedging and many aromatic plants such as myrtle, lavender, santolina and rosemary. In fact, the gardens have been kept as they were when they were first created by Jean Claude Nicolas Forestiere in the early C19th, (other gardens by Forestiere can be seen in Ronda’s Casa del Rey Moro and Sevilla’s Maria Luisa Park). The garden is rich in birdlife which helps to keep pests away from the vines. There is a sense of harmony and interconnectedness here that we also saw at Samsara's vineyards, in part this is because the folk at Samsara learned from Schatz himself.
Curiouser and curiouser - the mysterious methods of biodynamic production
The biodynamic side of things is less easy to understand. Harvest when the moon is waxing (or is it waning?) according to the lunar calendar as identified by Maria and Matthias Thun. Gema, from MilamoresRonda, who gave the very descriptive and informative tour did her best to explain about Horn Manure and Horn Silica, I can imagine some folk are rather baffled at how cow manure, that has been fermented in the soil over winter inside a cow horn, could improve the quality of the grape but I don’t argue with these things. The biodynamic movement has been extremely successful and I’m sure some of Rudolf Steiner’s ideas are spot on (even if they don’t seem to make much sense). Gema explained that there are over 500 preparations to help the vines and they certainly look very healthy but, as they say, the proof is in the pudding…
Chocolate and chorizo to pair
It is easy to recognise any of the wines from the F. Schatz bodega because their labels are emblazoned with the letters S-C-H-A-T-Z. On the day of our tasting the letter Z was sold out, this is the rosado, crafted from Moscatel Negra, I've never tried it but if it is anything like other rosés from this sub appellation it will pack a punch of red berry fruits (Spanish rosés tend to head towards the redder end of the pink scale). The 'S' is a Chardonnay, a little too much tropical fruit for my taste but if this is your thing it's a pretty good bottle. The 'C' is a surprisingly good Pinot Noir, in a climate that ought to prohibit production of a decent Pinot Noir, this one is definitely worth a try. The 'H' is a 100% Lemberger, one we often buy at Malaga airport on our way back to the UK. Vintages differ greatly but this wine is usually good and sometimes very good. The 'Finca Sanguijuela', or the letter 'A', is named after the farm itself, a blend of four varietals, this one packs a punch and was great with some paprika spiced chorizo. My favourite, the 100% Petit Verdot 'T' is a delicious red, the most expensive of all six (but still a good price) and great with typical Spanish cheeses and hearty tapas. Gemma had laid out an array of food to pair with the wines and to pair with the Petit Verdot she had some very dark chocolate, I was not convinced at first but it worked pretty well.
F Schatz's wines span a spectrum of styles and flavours but the one thing they have in common is the loving way the vines have been tended, the grapes harvested and the wine developed. There is no rush at F Schatz if a wine needs more time, at any stage of its development, then more time is granted. But perhaps it is the great legacy that Federico Schatz has left for future generations, in reinstating vines, in what had become a winemaking desert, and establishing an organic biodynamic culture of winemaking, F Schatz has given the Serranía de Ronda perhaps more than phylloxera could ever steal.