The gentle, rolling hills of Rueda are the ancestral home of the noble Verdejo grape. Prized for its firm structure, complexity, and ability to transmit the limestone minerality of the Rueda soils, Verdejo produces one of Spain’s most distinctive white wines…as long as it is farmed well and carefully vinified. Unfortunately in the last decade, producers large and small have adopted a very modern vision of Rueda, with the intention of producing white wines geared toward the international market. High yields, machine harvesting, selected yeasts, cold fermentation, heavy filtration, and copious amounts of sulfur have become standard winemaking practices. This monolithic mentality has left many artisanal-minded producers striving to produce authentic, terroir-driven Verdejo wines shut out of the Rueda D.O., working under the broader Castilla y León umbrella. Thankfully, deep respect for the land and non-interventionist winemaking shows in a finished wine regardless of appellation approval. Enter the family Cantalapiedra: Verdejo’s vanguards working in Rueda.
The Cantalapiedras descend from several generations of winegrowers working in the municipality of La Seca. This dusty town of 1,000 people, half an hour southwest of the industrial center of Valladolid, is considered to be the heart of the Rueda appellation, with a disproportionate number of well-known producers calling it home. Although there are records of the Cantalapiedras’ grape-growing dating to the 19th century, the birth of the current estate can be traced directly to the year 1949, when patriarch Heliodoro planted his first vineyard plot, or majuelo, at the tender age of 15. For many years, Heliodoro’s son Isaac worked alongside him, and together they built a 20 hectare domaine that is now certified organic. In the past they sold the bulk of their grape production to larger producers in the area. It is with the third generation – Helio has since passed away and Isaac’s son Manuel hasten charge – that the family has established a small cellar of their own, bottling their first vintage in 2014.
Even from the first vintage, the high quality of fruit and the traditionalist approach set the Cantalapiedra wines apart amongst the masses of producers in Rueda. Since then, it has been thrilling to watch the evolution of the estate under winemaker Manuel Cantalapiedra. Trained as a classical pianist, Manuel has brought an exacting and artistic approach to the Cantalapiedra cellar. Inspired by the potential of the Verdejo grape and the old vineyards that the family works with, he has focused on bottling of small parcels that highlight the unique heritage of Rueda and Toro. Simultaneously, Manuel has followed his own vision for Verdejo, Tempranillo, and Grenache in the area around La Seca.
Working organically, with old parcels, and without irrigation, Manuel is able to harvest later than many of his neighbors while retaining vibrant acidity. In the cellar, Manuel utilizes wild yeasts for fermentation, minimal amounts of sulfur, and no other additions. The results are a range of singular expressions of Verdejo from their entry-level unfiltered Lirondo, to more soil-driven, single plot wine called Majuelo del Chiviritero, to the flor-aged La Vigilia (historically traditional for the region), and some of the greatest expressions of the rare old vines in the Toro and Rueda area: Majuelo La Otea, Alto Las Cuestas, and El Parvon.