Discovering a hill-top organic vineyard in Navarra: a personal account by William Long

When meeting people at cocktail parties who discover you work with wine, their eyes frequently mist over and they say “how lucky!” as they imagine you swirling glasses of wine all day, so different to their day-to-day toil.

The reality, of course, is otherwise as we also wade our way through thousands of emails, sample reports and badger clients to settle their outstanding bills, but fortunately there are moments that compensate all this and are very special.

One such moment occurred last week, when I visited a 42-hectare organic wine estate for the first time with new team member Fernando Mariñas after having taken him to the winery that supplies our Finca Mónica range to learn about the specific characteristics of their hill-grown Tempranillos near Alfaro.

The route to the vineyard was “off-piste “ to say the least and I was glad that my offer to take my Volkswagen Passat had been laughingly dismissed as the four-wheel-drive four rocked its way up a sludgy hill, beautifully overladen with flowering wild thyme.

From the top of the hill we inhaled the pungent lemony smell of the ocean of thyme flowers and observed the remarkable round stony pebbles of the 42-hectare vineyard, which, if we turned back the clock several thousand years, would have been a sea basin.

Birds of prey, including the Golden and Imperial Eagle, stalked colonies of rabbits and our host explained that the strong cierzo wind that ruffled our hair was a key ingredient in the choice of land for vineyard as wind is so efficient in keeping vineyard diseases at bay.

As is often the case in Rioja, the landscape was illuminated theatrically by shafts of light despite the deteriorating weather, picking out the Roman road that runs along the bottom of the estate and continues all the way to Astorga near Leon.

It was a moment to savour and we did just that.

The Navarra vineyard has been in serious decline these past years and now covers just 11,000 hectares. It seems the “Venelozanos“ (folk from Venezuela), have been snapping up estates in the area – Pago de Cirsus and Irache to name but two examples.

But what are the wines like? Well, I don’t know! Time got on top of us so we took the samples in the car and we’ll taste next week.