A Dutchwoman who has been living in Spain for more than 20 years, Ellen De Vries was captivated by the beauty of old vines in Ines, a small hamlet with fewer than 10 inhabitants near San Esteban de Gormaz, an area of the Ribera del Duero appellation in the province of Soria.
"Someone brought me to this village, I fell in love with one of those old vines, bought a vineyard and started taking care of it." What began over ten years ago as a weekend hobby for this primary school teacher at the Waldorf school in Las Rozas (Madrid) ended up becoming her way of life.
Today Ellen lives in Ines with her husband, the painter and poet Carlos Aranda. They make wine but have also left their mark on the village. So far they have refurbished the small building which is used as a winery, their house, a small rural lodging that they call the "wine house", a woodshed and two underground cellars in the old bodega district. They also helped to restore the old school, which has now become a small museum that takes visitors on a journey back to the 1960s. And Carlos has created "the garden of wellbeing", a peaceful open-air area where visitors can enjoy a glass of wine while they contemplate an exhibition of his paintings and sculptures.
Enclosed by a fence and with a small house next to it, the small vineyard of twisted, century-old vines on the outskirts of the village looks like a wild garden. They barely produce 500 to 600 kg of grapes. The rest of what is needed to reach 2,000 bottles comes from two other plots that the couple looks after. All of them share the distinctive sandy soils that distinguish the village.
After completing a number of training courses in winemaking, Ellen believes she started to get the hang of it in the 2014 and 2015 vintages. In 2019 she quit her job to focus entirely on wine. The wine is not labelled as DO Ribera del Duero because the paperwork is too cumbersome for such a small production, but she does not rule it out in the future. But Aranda-De Vries is a member of Viñas Viejas de Soria (Old Vines from Soria), an association that champions the valuable vine heritage of this area, along with well-known producers like Dominio de Atauta or Antídoto.
As would be expected from someone who has worked at a Waldorf school, following the educational principles of Rudolf Steiner, the father of biodynamic agriculture, Aranda-De Vries make a biodynamic, natural wine with no added sulphites. Called Dualidad (duality), the wine is not organically certified -to have the seal, Ellen and Carlos would need their neighbours’s plots to be certified "and there is always someone who doesn't want to," Ellen says.
She considers wine to be a living force that absorbs many things. This is why Carlos’s poems hang on the walls of the winery, with a small space for vinification and a barrel ageing area, where she has a box with all the plants that grow in the vineyard. Music is also regularly played. "I deeply believe that all this helps to make better wine," she says.
In 2015 Ellen started a wine club. Members are required to buy 12 bottles a year at €12 each, against €18 when purchased in the store. The wine rests in racks displaying the names of the buyers in one of the old cellars in the bodega district. On the door it reads: "Giving time to time."
At just over 60 years of age, Ellen acknowledges that it is not easy to be an outsider in such a small place but she admits: "this whole business of wine has captivated me". The truth is that the handful of bottles of her respectable red have brought a spark of life to Ines, a village that only experiences its old hustle and bustle in summer and during the holidays.