One of the most interesting figures among the new generation of producers working in Bierzo, Verónica Ortega grew up in the sunny city of Cádiz in southern Spain, but feels at home in the green hills of Bierzo in León. She just finds hard to get used to the foggy, rainy days in the autumn and winter.
“I was attracted by Mencía, but also by the climate and the region’s great wine growing tradition,” she explains. “I really liked the wines and the way Mencía manages to express different soils in a similar way to Pinot Noir”. Harvest dates are very important for her “as you only have a time window of three to four days to pick grapes and make balances wines. We don’t have much acidity or structure in Bierzo,” she adds. “If you pick early, you may get rustic wines; if you wait too much, you are left with tired fruit.”
Verónica’s background is impressive. She trained at Domaine de la Romanée Conti and Domaine du Compte Armand in Burgundy, worked the harvests with Daphne Glorian and Álvaro Palacios in Priorat and was winemaker at Domaine Laurent Combier in Crozes-Hermitage (Rhône).
Like other young newcomers in Bierzo, she started making her wines at Raúl Pérez’s winery in Valtuille. Verónica was still in France when she produced her first wine in the 2010 vintage but settled down in the area in 2012. She eventually found a small, modest place for herself in Valtuille. It’s a small winery, where oak vats rest next to clay vessels, barrels and Zalto glasses on hand for tasting.
Current production stands at 40,000 bottles. Half of it belongs to Quite, her entry-level Mencía (20,000 bottles, €12). Made with grapes bought to purveyors, winemaking is pretty simple: destemmed bunches are fermented in stainless steel tanks in a winery in Ponferrada.
But the wine that gave Verónica Ortega prominence was Roc (5,000 bottles, around €26 in Spain). Grapes are sourced from El Couso y La Rata, two 80- to 90-year-old plots grown in Valtuille on soils with sand and stones. Verónica Ortega is particularly fond of sand-grown Mencía because, according to her, the wines show great definition on the palate. Even if she has a sale agreement with the septuagenarian owner, he insists on tending the vineyards. The rest of Verónica’s plots are usually rented.
Grapes for V.O. (just over 1,000 bottles, €23) are also sourced from Valtuille. Grapes for this wine were sourced from lower areas on the plots destined to Roc, but since the 2018 vintage, V.O. comes from a new vineyard called Barredos.
Verónica also works in Cobrana, a small village at higher elevation in Bierzo Alto where grapes are usually picked two weeks later than in Valtuille. Blue schist generously mixed with clay is the dominant soil here. Verónica says that this schist, different from the one in Corullón, has the ability to retain acidity. Most of the eight plots that she works in Cobrana include white varieties that she co-ferments with the reds. Grapes are not destemmed and there is very little extraction: instead, the bunches are soaked and plunged into the must.
“Mencía is a round, voluptuous grape and stems serve as a backbone to add freshness and tension,” Verónica explains. “At the beginning there are some green notes and a certain astringency that needs to be polished, but on the long run you obtain finer wines.”
Cobrana (around €24 in Spain) is a floral, elegant red with a well-defined palate that results from the blend of the different plots in this area whereas Kinki (€22) is a light, relatively low-alcohol single-vineyard red.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating wines made by Verónica Ortega is the white Cal (4,000 bottles, €22), a single-vineyard Godello which she has been producing since the 2015 vintage. Grapes are sourced from a 30-year-old plot with pure limestone soils (this is really unusual in Bierzo) located in San Juan de la Mata. It is aged partly in oak barrels and partly in clay vessels coated with pitch. The style is sharp and mineral but really appealing.
Verónica has applied to include her wines in Bierzo’s new categories that will come effective from the 2017 vintage. The aim is to have Cobrana and Roc as village wines and Cal and VO as Viña Clasificada (single vineyard).