Winemaker Fátima Ceballos and aeronautical designer Miguel Puig, fourth generation of the family that owns Lagar de la Salud, met while working in the south of France in 2012. After a couple of visits to the family estate on the outskirts of Montilla to study its viticultural possibilities, the couple decided to leave France in 2014 —Fatima was at Domaine Gayda, in Languedoc-Roussillon— to return to Córdoba, move to the estate and take over the management of the 8.5 hectares of vineyards and the old wine press that dates back to 1882 to make still wines.
Although Miguel's great-grandfather founded the now defunct Velasco Chacón winery in Montilla, where he bottled the wines made at Lagar de la Salud, the two subsequent generations, engaged in other activities, only sold wine in bulk. When Miguel and Fátima settled down on the estate, they began to farm the vines that Miguel's father had trellised at the beginning of the 21st century in order to automate production and obtain some profitability from the sale of the grapes. In addition to three hectares of Pedro Ximénez, there about six hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon under vine, an unusual variety in an area dominated by the traditional white grape of Montilla-Moriles.
There are hardly any goblet-trained old vines left on the gentle hills of Lagar de la Salud, an area with a wide diversity of clay-loam soils with sandy patches, many fossils and several spots of limestone and very white albariza. In conversion to organics since 2021, the Cabernet is planted in the higher areas, while the Pedro Ximénez can be found in the lower sections of the hills, on the reddish clay. "I like the limestone for its elegance. Having the white vines in the more clayey, more fertile part, there is a higher content of organic matter, but it still retains salinity and concentration because yields are low," explains Fátima, whose work is focused on quality.
Yields range from 5,000 kg/ha in the case of Cabernet and around 7,500 kg/ha at most for white grapes. Irrigation is in place, but it is only used on very occasional days —summer temperatures easily reach 40ºC in Montilla— so that plants do not suffer from heat stress.
Under the Dulas brand, they make five wines with estate grapes selected from 2.5 hectares and sell the rest to the cooperative. If all goes well, their future goal is to grow in quality from the vineyard by applying biodynamics and to produce up to 20,000 bottles (they currently fill 10,000) by expanding their small winemaking facilities.
Fátima is in charge of the day-to-day running of the estate —she also consults for several wineries in Lebrija and Montilla, as well as for Toro Albalá in its new still wine project in Bierzo— although Miguel, whose main occupation continues to be aeronautical design, helps her a great deal in the vineyard and has even designed machinery for the estate.
Settled in Lagar de la Salud since 2016, Fátima and Miguel did not release their first vintage until 2017 due to all the bureaucracy involved in a new project. They started in June, shortly before the harvest. It was a dry and difficult year, so they only made a barrel-fermented white (4,600 bottles, €12.60), unctuous and persistent, which is now in its third vintage. Fátima had worked in France with Macabeo, a variety that she says has many things in common with Pedro Ximénez, and she saw the potential to age it in oak, fermenting it in 500- and 225-litre French barrels and then ageing it on the lees for eight months.
In the 2018 vintage they released a lees-aged white and two reds. The first, called Dulas Sobre Lías (1,500 bottles, €9.20), follows the style of traditional tinaja Montilla-Moriles wines, with some velo de flor and eight months on its lees, although unlike most wines in the area, it is made in stainless steel rather than the large cement tinajas. It is a light and fruity wine on the nose, with floral notes and a very pleasant saline touch, which benefits from additional time in bottle.
For the time being, there are no tinajas at Lagar de la Salud, but Fátima does not rule out installing some small ones for her whites. She is already doing so as an advisor at Los Insensatos de la Antehojuela, a recent project by Cañada Navarro, a winery in Sierra de Montilla, to make single-vineyard tinaja wines.
The reds —Dulas Tinto Barrica Francesa and Dulas Tinto Barrica Americana (3,000 and 1,100 bottles respectively, €14)— both come from the same part of the estate but the type of oak used for ageing is different. The French barrels, with a capacity of 300 litres, were brought from Gayda. With them Fátima aims to enhance the fruit and the soil without letting the oak mark the wine. The American oak wine feels more balsamic and is slightly more fragrant. Both are smooth, with red fruit and gentle tannins, and sell well locally —mainly in Cordoba and Seville— although Lagar de la Salud wines are also exported to Switzerland and will soon be sent to the US and the Netherlands.
Their newest wine is Dulas Rosé (1,200 bottles, €12.60), a Cabernet which is bled and left to rest on its lees for three months. As befits this latitude, it is a dark-coloured, vinous rosé, spicy and full-bodied, just like Fátima likes. Both the rosé and the two reds are outside the Montilla-Moriles DO. All of the Lagar de la Salud wines are attractively presented in Burgundy bottles and are likely to overturn many preconceived opinions about this area, best known for its finos, amontillados and sweet PX wines.
Lagar de la Salud does not have scheduled visits but its entire range of wines can be purchased in its online store.