Wine tasting in the Serranía de Ronda - Descalzos Viejos & La Melonera - Part II

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Encina del Inglés Blanco at La Melonera

In the previous post, ‘Wine tasting in the Serranía de Ronda - Descalzos Viejos & La Melonera – Part I’, the focus was on Descalzos Viejos, a small scale producer located on the very edge of Ronda’s gorge with a very artistic philosophy. This time we will be exploring a completely different, much larger producer in a fabulous, sprawling setting only a short distance from our villa.

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Ancient, protected oaks surround the vineyards

Fabulous contemporary bodega of impressive scale

As much as DV is intimate, romantic, historic, enclosed by greenery, La Melonera is an enormous, striking, contemporary bodega set on a hilltop just a mile or so from El Olivar with commanding and panoramic views through its enormous walls of glass.

Where DV clings to the edge of el Tajo and, like an eagle from its clifftop eerie, peers down into the sweeping valley, La Melonera has 360 degree views over neighbouring Arriate and the wooded hillside rising up from the lush valley of Llano de la Cruz a few miles from Ronda.

Despite its modern architecture, its contemporary planting and super slick appearance, it turns out that the building itself was designed by Falvio, the architect at DV who was also responsible for the colonial-style Hotel la Fuente de la Higuera nearby. Small world. But then everyone in Ronda seems to know (and respect) one another.

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Innovative training methods ensure the finest grapes

La Melonera has painstakingly reintroduced once native varietals

We were met by the incredibly warm and beautiful Almudena and given a quick tour of the main building which has been carefully designed to take in the breathtaking panoramas. Our seven year old commented that the loos were the ‘poshest’ she had ever seen and the ultra modern, sliding kitchen left her suitably impressed – a good start. An architect’s model of the land showed the scale of this bodega – epic. It felt as if we were privy to an attempted conquest, as if a Napoleonic general were planning his invasion.

Moving on from the lovely scale model, we set out in the truck to one of the vineyards. This feeling of ‘expansion’ increased as we drove a fair distance past huge mounds of earth, that were new roads under construction, past a once glorious finca, quietly crumbling in the heat, down to a still vineyard that had a vintner’s surprise in store.

The site for La Melonera was chosen after years of painstaking research. Just 2 kilometres from the ancient wine producing city of Acinipo, at altitudes of 650 – 940m and set amidst 200 hectares of ancient and protected oaks, the dispersed vineyards are protected by woodland that somewhat regulates the temperature (which can range by as much as 20 degrees from day to nighttime temperatures) reduces exposure to the persistent breeze that blows across the Serranía and helps maintain moisture. Although many of the vines are traditionally trained, Almudena took us to a vineyard that uses an unconventional and innovative hoop system that ensures excellent leaf exposure, good air-flow around the grapes, even ripening and small, loosely clustered grapes.

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Encina del Inglés pays tribute to the romantic travellers of the C19th

We sat in the shade of an enormous oak (encina in Spanish) and tried the first wine, a fresh, fruity white – La Encina del Inglés Blanco. Stone fruits with a hint of citrus and tropical notes, a Moscatel Morisco, Doradilla and Pedro Ximénez blend. In the intense midday heat it was a refreshing drink with a lovely pale, green gold colour. The label is a fabulous illustration (the original is back at the main building) of an English gentleman standing upon the substantial roots of an ancient oak. Almudena explained that the name and label pay tribute to the romantic English travellers of the C19th who journeyed through Ronda and the Serranía en route to Granada and the coast, romantics such as Richard Ford and Benjamin Disraeli and later, the literary giants, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Rainer Maria Rilke and García Lorca who romanticised Ronda, its customs and people - none of them English but they continued the tradition.

Almudena described how the phylloxera plague of the mid C19th, the Napoleonic wars (I had a feeling he would come up) and the poverty of the local population culminated in the cessation of 3,000 years of winemaking. It has only been in very recent years that Rondeños and newcomers alike have begun to revive the winemaking tradition. La Melonera has reintroduced traditional, once native varieties such as Blasco, Tintilla, Rome and Melonera, that it considers to be perfectly suited to the terroir.

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State of the art equipment and cellars of epic proportions

After drinking a little too much of the blanco (not being accustomed to daytime drinking) we headed back to the winery for a tour of the cellars. After the hushed stillness of DV’s intimate church cellar, the scale of these cellars came as a bit of a shock. Excavated beneath the main building, the enormous cellars contain steel vats, plum coloured, egg-shaped concrete vats, large oval barrels, small round barrels and state of the art winemaking equipment. This winery might grow organically and harvest by hand but there is no mistaking the scale of the operation and the science behind the fermentation and maturation. The cellars are indeed so spacious that one can anticipate considerably increased production is in the pipeline. In fact, the whole bodega is undergoing a degree of development, albeit extremely tasteful, an exclusive investment opportunity seems to be on the cards.

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Deep down in the dim cellar

Typical, rustic Andalucian food prepared to perfection

Back in the blinding daylight, we were seated around a long table on the beautiful terrace and treated to an exceptional lunch by way of food pairing, a sweet pork paté and a hard, local cheese with membrillo (quince paste) accompanied the Encina del Inglés Tinto a lightly oaked Garnacha Syrah blend with notes of red cherry.

Cool gazpacho – the best I have tasted (and we have had a lot of gazpacho) a vegetable packed tortilla and thick slices of tender ham accompanied the last, my favourite, wine, the Payoya negra. Payoya is a breed of goat indigenous to the Serranía - look out for the local cheese of the same name. The wine is dark, ripe berries and medium tannins, blend of Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Tintilla de Rota.

The dogs, (another) Payoya, a black lab cross dozed in the shade and Tintilla, a gentle giant, typical of the ‘campo’ waited patiently for any scraps that might come his way. Unfortunately we left him very little.

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A rare piece of Spanish American history

Lovers of American history might be interested to see the bottle of wine our son spotted in reception commemorating the first visit to Spain of President Nixon in 1970. The feeling you get at La Melonera is of an epic, colossal undertaking, a plan to develop and expand - somewhat reminiscent of the conquistadors and conquerors of old. Hints of developing the land to include private residences with privately owned vineyards within the estate and of significantly expanding production abound.

Yet, there is an homage to the ancient ways, Ronda's winemaking past and a tribute to those who brought the masses to this once virgin wilderness. The striking contemporary architecture of the main building amongst the ancient forest is motif to this seemingly antagonistic contradiction. Whatever plans are afoot, you get the feeling that everything will be impeccably conceived and very tastefully carried out.

DV and La Melonera are completely different experiences, yet they each offer some lovely wines and a fabulous wine tasting experience, each contributing to the excellent reputation of the flourishing enotourism of the Serranía de Ronda.