Fabio Bartolomei A Self-Taught Viticultor in El Tiemblo
I’ve been living in Spain for over 20 years, and have been making wine for the last 11 years. I am a small artisan producer (around 10,000 bottles/year) and I also have a day-job in Madrid.
I was born in Scotland and I grew up and was educated there: first at school in Glasgow and then at university in Edinburgh. With a name like mine I’m obviously of Italian origin, and in fact my parents emigrated from the village of Barga (Province of Lucca, Tuscany) and of course made their living in the Italian restaurant business. However, not being able to stand the climate or the prospect of life in the world of accountancy and finance (in which I got my degree) I left Scotland and came to Spain.
For the first 10 years I was based in the South-East of Madrid, with vineyards in Carabaña and Villarejo, though I never had a stable bodega, but moved around and I worked out of garages and other buildings in the villages of Perales de Tajuña, Tielmes, Ambite and Morata de Tajuña.
But last year (2013) I was lucky enough to find a magnificent building for rent – the old wine co-op of El Tiemblo which had gone bankrupt several years ago and which was sitting empty, and which I now share with Daniel Ramos.
My ultimate goal is to produce beautiful, delicious, terroir-expressing wines. And to do this I believe in using native grape varieties, grown organically to ensure health and balance; in using native (wild) yeasts, and in minimum interventions in the winery.
Every year I make quite a lot of different wines in small quantities, as opposed to just 3 or 4 wines in large quantities. I love to experiment, which apart from being great fun and interesting, it is the way I learnt how to make wine. Some wines I’ve been making the same way for 10 years (eg, my Airén from Carabaña) – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Apart from the local Garnacha, Albillo, Chelva etc, I also make wines with Airén, Tempranillo and Malvar from the south-east of Madrid, the region where I was based before. I have kept on my vineyards there, as the quality of the grapes and the nostalgia are just too much to let go, even though I have to transport the grapes over 100 km!
I’m not so bothered about the use of SO2, just its abuse. Although by default I don’t need to use any, I always ask my importers if they want any added at bottling, and if they do, then I have no problem adding some at bottling. I don’t consider myself an extremist or a radical exponent of any particular wine-making ideology. I belief in common sense and tolerance more than in anything else.
Sierra de Gredos
This region is a hidden treasure! It has a huge potential for making unique terroir-expressing wines. It has a varied and complex topography, geology and climate. It has native grape varieties. And it has an interesting history of winemaking.
The problem is that there are very few winemakers who are even attempting to make quality, terroir-expressing wines. The region is dominated (in terms of quantity) by a few very large volume-producers who make millions of litres of table wine which they sell cheap all over the world.
And also, as can be seen just by driving around, there are many, many abandoned vineyards in the area, with more being abandoned every year. This is because some of the volume-producers have gone bankrupt and the ones remaining can no longer buy in so many grapes. In addition the price of grapes is so low these days that grape-growers can hardly cover costs, let alone make a decent living. So there comes a time when the grape-growers (all old men well past retirement age) decide to throw in the towel.
But around 15 small and not-so-small producers have got together and we have formed an association (“Garnachas de Gredos”) to promote our local, quality wines made with local native grape varieties.
I have to say that I’m optimistic and that I’m enjoying the challenge tremendously, even though I’ve found that working with more than say 3 Spaniards at the same time is a bit like trying to herd cats.
I believe that all materials that are used for fermentation and aging have both advantages and disadvantages. I currently use the following:
2. Stainless steel
4. Oak barrels
And this year (2014) I will use concrete for the first time.
I believe that quality wines should be genuine and reflect the terroir where they were made. And to achieve this I believe that several requirements are essential:
1. No chemicals in the vineyard. Apart from the important environmental/pollution and health issues associated with the use of chemicals, from a purely grape-growing and wine-making point of view, I believe that the use of chemicals distorts the balance and true expression of the fruit of the vine. Chemicals may well remove the ‘problems’ of insects, diseases, unwanted weeds, etc and increase the productivity of the vines, but I believe the quality of the must will be worse. It will be distorted, forced, unbalanced; it will have too much of some things and not enough of other things.
2. Correct harvest date. I believe that if you harvest too soon or too late (eg, ‘extended hang-time’), then this also distorts the true and optimum expression of the grapes
3. Minimum intervention in the winery. Over-manipulation of wines may be necessary in order to produce a standardized, homogenized commodity wine, but I believe that for quality wines, the less you mess around with it, the better. Because whatever you do to the wine, for whatever reason, will change its characteristics.
4. Native yeasts. I believe that the use of native yeasts, ie the ones floating around the vineyards and winery, is important for the production of quality wines. Even though it is always good old saccharomyces cerevisiae that dominates all fermentations in the end, I think that the first few days’ fermentation with the local wild yeasts are important for the expression of the terroir. These weird strains of yeast, unlike sacch.cer. are unique to each location and so impart unique characteristics and qualities to the wine.
5. Sulphites. I’m not too bothered about sulphites really, even though it seems to be the issue that is most talked about. By default, I don’t use any sulphites at all in my wines, simply because I don’t need to! It’s enough just to use top quality grapes and to keep all my equipment scrupulously clean. It’s true that sulphites also help stabilize a wine so that it remains the same over a longer period of time, but “frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” I’m quite happy to have my wines evolve over time and that the ‘same’ wine in January tastes completely different in June.
6. Tolerance and common sense. I have absolutely nothing against mass produced commodity wines, even though I’ve been accused of being a radical, holier-than-thou elitist! The wine world is huge and growing, and there is room in it for all sorts of wines, including the type I like to make!