After showing his winemaking talent at Cía de Vinos Telmo Rodríguez, where he had the chance to work in many different wine regions, Juan Antonio Ponce chose to return to Iniesta, his hometown in Cuenca (Castilla La Mancha), and try his luck with tannic Bobal, arguably one of Spain’s most difficult red varieties to work with. He also started recovering local grapes like Albilla and Moravia Agria in DO Manchuela.
The Ponces own 17 hectares of vineyards although they work up to 40 hectares thanks to long term rental contracts with local winegrowers. With plots no larger than 2.5 hectares, all of their vineyards are worked separately. They benefit from the region’s high altitude (Juan Antonio describes Manchuela as “a plateau within the plateau”) and good aeration. They refrain from using both powdered sulfur and copper in their vines “to make clean, simple, direct wines with no make-up on them,” says Juan Antonio.
Yields are moderate and they pick grapes earlier than the average in the area to keep Bobal’s distinctive harsh tannins under control. Fermentation takes place in wooden vats with relatively short maceration times. After careful and precise pressings, wines are aged in large 600l barrels. If tannins are still harsh, thick lees are not removed in order to obtain creaminess and offset Bobal’s robust character.
The entry-level red Clos Lojen (28,000 bottles, €7) is actually a blend of eight early-ripening plots planted on clay-limestone soils. All of them are fermented, pressed and aged separately. La Casilla (around €12 in Spain, 12,000 bottles) was originally sourced from two vineyards with distinctive limestone soils, but since the 2007 vintage grapes from a third clay-soil plot were used in the blend in order to tame the powerful character of the limestone soils.
A step above is PF (10,000 bottles, around €15 in Spain), which stands for pie franco (ungrafted) in Spanish, is sourced from a deep, sandy, phylloxera-free plot. This is a full-bodied red displaying balance and consistency with lots of black fruit and aromatic herbs. The two top single-vineyard reds, La Casilla Estrecha and Pino (both of them around €21 in Spain), are full of character and will notably benefit from some further bottle aging.
The latest addition to their range starting in the 2015 vintage is Las Cañadas, a rosé “with no expiration date”, as Juan Antonio likes to put it. Made by direct pressing, it goes beyond fruit and manages to offer lots of mineral notes and the ability to develop with time.
The white Reto (11,000 bottles, €12) is particularly outstanding. It is made with local Albilla, a white grape unrelated to other Albillos grown in Spain. It delivers a captivating minerality, amazing acidity and herbaceous notes. Another original wine is Buena Pinta (7,000 bottles, €12), a blend of Moravia Agria, a long cycle, low-alcohol, light-coloured red grape) and 15% Garnacha. Although rustic, it is a floral, evocative red.
Ponce has also ventured beyond Manchuela with Depaula Monastrell (23,000 bottles, €7). This red wine, sold as VT Castilla, sources grapes from very old vineyards located at around 900m of altitude in the village of Casa Las Monjas (Albacete).