Antonio Sarrión, “Toni” as everyone calls him in the wine industry, was born among vines in Requena (Valencia), the fourth of seven siblings. His father, a country man from Villarrobledo in Albacete, insisted that he didn’t study Agronomy –farming had gloomy prospects at the time. Following his father’s wishes, Toni went on to study Business Administration but he returned to the country in 1999 to take care of the family’s winegrowing business.
The jewel in Sarrión’s crown is El Terrerazo, a 160Ha property located in Utiel, a major wine producing village in the area alongside Requena. Since Toni Sarrión’s father bought the estate in 1970, many bordering plots have been slowly and patiently added. It is the case of Mustiguillo, the piece of land that gave its name to the winery, which is made up of many plots purchased from up to 52 owners over seven years.
The N-333 road connecting Almansa and Teruel splits the property in two distinctive parts. To the left of the road, where Bobal was widely grown, there are fertile, alluvial soils at low altitude. There’s very little sand as clay and pebbles are dominant here. On the other side, vineyards are planted at 750 to 850m above sea level towards the Sierra de Negrete. A distinctive stony limestone layer waves down from this mountain range either emerging to the surface or 1.5m underneath. Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo, the most fashionable grape varieties in Spain in the 1990s, were planted here back then, together with cereal crops and almond trees.
In 1999, as soon as Toni Sarrión took over, he decided to make three batches of 2,000 kilos each of Bobal, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon to assess the true potential of the vineyards to produce high quality wines. He soon realized that Bobal was on a par with its better-known counterparts. That 1999 Bobal, which was never sold commercially, now displays leather aromas, but it feels firm and tannins have gracefully rounded up. Its main virtue, 18 years later, is the silky texture that speaks well of a variety that is often considered tannic and coarse.
Sarrión points out that those first attempts are worlds apart from his current Terrerazo wines. The grapes’ pH balance did not determine harvesting dates —as is the case nowadays—, maceration times were relatively short and Bobal bunches used to be much bigger. Nevertheless, the wine’s personality was such that it marked the way for a completely new and challenging approach: plant the most suitable variety in the best soils.
The maps above show the considerable transformation that took place over the following years at El Terrerazo and the way Bobal plants (marked in red) were relocated to the highest, poorest parts of the estate. Except for an isolated limestone plot planted with Bobal old vines, the lower flat area was planted with small grain varieties like Syrah and whites Merseguera, Viognier and Malvasia Adriática brought from Italy.
Nowadays Bobal is widely planted on the estate's highest areas covering 52 out of the 97 hectares under vine. All new plantings are dry, head-pruned vines sourced from massal selections. Bobal is the leading grape in Mustiguillo's reds accounting for 70% of the entry-level Mestizaje (€9.95 at Decantalo or via Wine Searcher) and 100% in Finca Terrerazo (€23.50 at Lavinia or via Wine Searcher) and the top Quincha Corral (€58.40 at Lavinia or via Wine Searcher) made from two small vineyards planted in 1919 and 1948.
“Out of all the Bobal plants I found in El Terrerazo, only 10-12 hectares were any good”, Sarrión points out. “You cannot expect to build the future based on that. But in 15 years we will have 50Ha with outstanding quality.” He adds: “We have learnt to work with old vines taking better care of our soils, while the less quality-oriented part of our estate has been put to good use.”
A great deal of extra work has been done to obtain smaller, looser bunches so that ripening is homogeneous. “We have evolved from a ripe, concentrated winemaking style in the early 2000s (2000 was the first vintage in the market) to more balanced harvests. In 2004 we discarded our crusher and started to work with whole berries. We still favour long maceration times but since 2010 we have reduced pump-overs. The focus now is on balance based on pH levels. We are also reducing the use of wood and ferment with stems in wines intended to age in large wooden vats.” Between 30 and 35 different Bobal fermentations are carried out in every new vintage.
While old vine Bobal is fermented in wooden vats, stainless steel tanks and cement tanks are used for the rest of grapes. Finca Terrerazo wines now combine barrel aging (40-50%), wooden vats and concrete (below 10%). “We are using larger barrels now but the idea is to have wines with less wood contact while increasing the presence of concrete,” explains Toni Sarrión. He also wants to experiment with tinajas since there’s a long-standing tradition of terracota vessels in the region.
The first Mustiguillo wines, launched in the 2000 vintage, were sold as table wines. Single-vineyard Bobal was a very hard sell until two respected Spanish specialist importers, Eric Solomon in the US and Frank Ebinger in Switzerland, tasted the wines in Barcelona in 2003 and made their first order. Subsequent high scores on The Wine Advocate helped to put this unknown red wine from Valencia on the map.
At that time, Toni Sarrión saw an opportunity to highlight the personality of his wines as single vineyard wines within the Vino de la Tierra category —back then, growers having at least 1Ha under vine could request it. Nowadays, vintage and grape varieties can appear on labels of wines without a given origin, but this was not the case for table wines in the past. For someone like Sarrión, who was already focused on terroir, it wasn’t difficult to prove the distinctive character of the estate by presenting soil and climate studies.
Today, apart from having the DO Vino de Pago status, Mustiguillo is one of the most dynamic young members of Grandes Pagos de España, a private association advocating for single vineyards wines in Spain which is presided by Toni Sarrión since January this year.
Three of Mustiguillo’s wines have DO Vino de Pago status —Bobal Mestizaje Tinto, Finca Terrerazo and Quincha Corral, while the whites Mestizaje (€9.55 at Decantalo or via Wine Searcher) and Finca Calvestra, and the juicy, fragrant Garnacha de Mustiguillo (€17.10 at Decantalo or via Wine Seacrher) are sold as table wines.
“We feel pretty confortable now with Bobal”, Sarrión says. “I try to follow the style of the past but in a more refined way. We still have wines with high concentration so we try to handle them softly, as if they were infusions.”
The Sarrión family makes more wines beyond El Terrerazo. Like many wine aficionados, I regarded Finca Calvestra (€17.40 at Lavinia or via Wine Searcher) as the first wine to unveil the real potential of Merseguera, the indigenous white variety, but didn’t quite realize it came from a separate property.
Calvestra is a 22Ha vineyard with a personality of its own. Located on one of the highest areas of Requena at 900m above sea level, it is an isolated piece of land with beautiful hills surrounded by trees. Given the altitude, the terrain and the nature of the soils (ferric oxide-free clay), white varieties have been planted here. They are also used in the white Mestizaje.
Merseguera seems to be suited to evolve in bottle given a 2012 vintage I had the chance to try. Honey, quince, white flowers and stone fruit aromas were followed by an unctuous palate with fine bitter and citrus nuances on the finish.
The family owns more land in Valencia which could eventually be used to widen its range of wines: Finca Conejeros, very close to Calvestra; Ardal south of Requena is planted with old Bobal vines while Casa Segura in Venta del Moro combines young and old Bobal plants.
Right now, they only produce 30 to 35% of all the grapes they grow. “Selling grapes is not profitable”, says Toni Sarrión who is keen to continue with the work of adapting the family land to improve the quality of the fruit they grow. Judging by the ability he has shown so far in vineyards like El Terrerazo and Calvestra, we can expect some pleasant surprises for Valencian wines in the future.