Above everything else, David Sampedro considers himself a vine grower. He displays an intimate knowledge of his vineyards and the soils where they lay, on the outskirts of Elvillar, one of the higher areas in Rioja Alavesa. His vineyards are organically grown since he went solo in 2006 and he is currently working to make them biodynamic under the Demeter certification. As a firm believer of these practices, yields at his vineyards range between 3,000-3,500 kg/hectare (well below the appellation limits) and the only treatments he applies to his plants are sulphur and milk whey. He is conscious of the bad reputation he has gained as “the village’s worst vine grower” but believes it is part of the eternal dispute between young people’s new ways and old people’s conservative approach. Ironically, though, it is David, armed with his winemaker’s training, who wants to go back to do things the way his grandfather did out of intuition.
David could be defined as a garagiste, but he would rather leave romanticism to one side and move to larger premises where he could have concrete tanks, more space for his vats and 500-litre French oak barrels and animals to work his vineyards, where he only grows native varieties. He produces an interesting range of wines with undeniable personality, most of them vinified with stems and gentle extractions.
Bodegas Bhilar (derived from the Basque word for Elvillar) encompasses his Rioja production, with less than 10,000 bottles for each wine. Lágrimas de Graciano (€6) is the only varietal in the portfolio and spends 12 months in tank. It is made with purchased grapes, as is the case with part of the Bhilar Plots (€11) production, a blend where Tempranillo is the dominant variety. It is fresh and mineral and spends 14 months in oak although it needs some extra time in bottle to be at its best. DSG Phincas 2010 (70% Tempranillo, 15% Graciano, 10% Garnacha and 5% Viura, 17€) applies the idea of a single vineyard wine and is complex, with fresh black fruit and elegant tannins. Phinca Abejera does not leave anyone indifferent. A blend of Tempranillo and Graciano (40% each) and a touch of Garnacha and Viura (10% each), it comes from a west-facing plot with limestone soils and is extremely appealing on the nose, with pungent rosemary aromas and plenty of liveliness on the palate (2,000 bottles, €32).
Phinca Lali (€40) comes from a plot dating from 1910 planted with black and white varieties and is vinified in 400-litre barrels. Vuelta de Terca’s production is limited to 1,500 bottles (€31). Generally, they are long-lived wines, which will benefit from extra time in the bottle. As well as the reds, David makes three whites: Bhilar Plots Blanco (€11), Terca (€31) -aged for 12 months, with a fine nose and slightly oxidative on the palate- and Thousand Mils (€37), which includes a mix of varieties in the blend from 50-60 year old vines planted on his Abejera and Lali plots. The name of the wine, which refers to its diverse origin, used to be Thousand Milks but the Rioja appellation forced him to change the name on the basis that wine names cannot include “names of foods”.
A talented man with an inquiring mind, David does not restrain himself to his Rioja vineyards. Under the name DSG Vineyards, he produces wines in several wine regions with some common denominators: local indigenous varieties, minimum intervention and wines that express the land and terroir where they have been born. He went to Navarra to help Australian winemaker Dan Standish find some vineyards, but he was fascinated by the old Garnacha vines he discovered on the slopes and ravines in San Martín de Unx. At the village cooperative he produces Pasolasmonjas (€11), a perfumed and mineral wine which has aged in barrels for two years.
On the granite and slate soils of Sierra de Francia, on the southern edge of the province of Salamanca, David makes two wines with local variety Rufete and children’s tale names: Phinca Encanto (€20, Encanto means charming) is an elegant, mineral red which resembles a Mediterranean Pinot Noir (it is believed that Rufete is a mutation of this grape); and Phinca Durmiente (€38), made from Rufete Blanco, a minority variety with vines scattered around the region thus requiring considerable selection efforts.
La Malkerida (€6.75) and El Sueño de Bruno (€18) are the product of his partnership with UK-based sommelier Bruno Murciano, who was born in Valencia. David has reinterpreted the local Bobal wines, leaving rusticity and tannins to one side and focusing on elegance and fruit.
His most recent project is Shanela (€11), a saline and mineral Albariño aged on its lees for 16 months which comes from vines planted in Val do Salnés, in the heart of the Rias Baixas appellation. The Atlantic Ocean views enjoyed from the vineyard give this wine its name (xanela means window in Galician) although the spelling has been changed to suit the American market. It now resembles Shakira and, according to the Galician friend who suggested it, that cannot be a bad thing.