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 Bobal, a tannic variety and arguably one of Spain’s most difficult red grapes to work with. He also started recovering local grapes like Albilla and Moravia Agria in DO Manchuela.
The winery manages 55 hectares: 13 owned and 15 in the hands of the Ponce family while the rest are rented. The goal is to extend their land under vine to 20 or 25 hectares to compensate the low yields of their oldest plots. New plantings are underway, too: two hectares of Garnacha and two and a half of white Albilla, both grafted on site. Albilla, usually found in the village of Villamalea, has now been planted on limestone soils at a higher elevation in Villanueva de la Jara.
Generally speaking, grapes benefit from the region’s high elevation (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.
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 600-litre barrels and/or large oak vats. If tannins are still harsh, thick lees are not removed in order to obtain creaminess and offset Bobal’s robust character. According to Juan Antonio, the goal is “to make clean, simple, direct wines with no make-up on them.”
In 2017 they built a new, spacious and functional winery in Villanueva de la Jara, resulting in a significant qualitative leap forward. Now, with a cooling chamber and more fermentation vats, they are able to better adjust the harvest date and vinify their plots separately.
Current production stands at 130,000 bottles, 80% of which are sold abroad. The entry-level red Clos Lojen (45,000 bottles, €7.5) is actually a blend of different early-ripening Bobal plots planted on clay-limestone soils which are fermented, pressed and aged separately in large oak vats. This is one of Spain’s smartest buys. La Casilla (around €12 in Spain, 12,000 bottles) in turn captures the expression of Bobal grown in limestone soils.
A step above is PF (12,000 bottles, around €15 in Spain), which stands for pie franco (ungrafted in Spanish) and is sourced from a deep, sandy, phylloxera-free plot. This full-bodied red is balanced and consistent with lots of black fruit and aromatic herbs. The two single-vineyard reds La Estrecha and Pino (3,000 bottles each, both of them around €21 in Spain) come from granite and limestone soils respectively. Both are full of character and will notably benefit from some further bottle ageing.
Launched in the 2015 vintage, Las Cañadas is a rosé “with no expiration date”, as Juan Antonio likes to put it. Made by direct pressing, it seeks to be more than just a wine with good fruit and has great minerality and the ability to develop with time. The latest addition to the Bobal range, made for the first time in the 2018 vintage, is Ponce (€40, just under 2,000 bottles), their new top red. A blend of 85% Bobal and 15% Moravia Agria, it is lighter, and more refined than the standard in the area, with lower alcohol and the refreshing acidity provided by the Moravia Agria variety. The character of the soils -sandy with stones over limestone rocks- enhance this lively character.
Beyond Bobal, Ponce produces La Xara Garnacha (€10), De Paula Monastrell (20,000 bottles, €7.5), which used to be made from grapes grown in Jumilla but now comes from vineyards in Albacete and is sold under the DO Manchuela seal; and Buena Pinta (7,000 bottles, €12). This is a blend of Moravia Agria, a late ripening, low alcohol, light coloured red grape, and 15% Garnacha. Although slightly rustic, it is floral and evocative.
Finally, the white Reto (11,000 bottles, €12) is particularly commendable. It is made from Albilla, a local white variety that is unrelated to other Albillos grown in Spain. It delivers a captivating minerality, amazing acidity and herbaceous notes.