Back in 2016 during a trip to Cartagena with my small daughters who are 3 and 1 at the time, I decide to make the 150km pilgrimage across Murcia and into the wine region of Jumilla, to visit one of our most popular suppliers, Ego Bodegas. Ego is the stylish manifestation of the blending of old Monastrell vines and rugged tradition with ultra modern vineyard techniques and sharp branding. What has resulted is a jaw dropping gallery of viticulture imbued with nature at its finest. Ego Bodegas’ signature wines, Gorú, Fuerza, Marionette, Talento and Infinito can be recognised by their modern artistic branding and the depth, character and value of these expert blends.
Armed with my camera and two (thankfully sleeping) children I hit the open road of the N344 north east of Murcia and before long the grey motorways and industrial estates unfurl to reveal the magic of La Floración in all its splendour. During the latter part of February and March La Floración is the sweet moniker given to the spring flowering of the peach, nectarine and plum trees which punctuate the landscape and carpet the mountain ranges with velvet hues of pink and warm orange. As the basin extends outwards and the sky swallows the land these bright splatters of colour bring a warmth to the arid and barren naturescape of winter and bring the promise of fruitfulness in abundance. Passing the medieval town of Jumilla, in former glory days famed as a geographical and cultural crossroads, with its castillo sitting proudly above the town, it is another few kilometres before we reached the huge old gnarled tree on the roundabout which marks the winding road up to Ego Bodegas.
D.O. (Denomination of origin) Jumilla includes the vineyards from the north of the Region of Murcia and several municipalities in the province of Albacete and the regulation was established in 1966. The charm of this specific D.O. is its geography, where the valleys and plains are shielded by the mountains. Covering 19,000 hectares of vineyards that are situated in between the province of Murcia and Albacete the vineyards of Jumilla have a deeply rooted wine tradition, being one of the oldest in Spain.
The winery itself, when it comes into view, is a stark architectural structure which sits regally at high altitude overlooking the valley floor of 25 hectares of low, head pruned, bush trained or ‘gobelet’ vines. On calcareous sandy and stony fertile soil some of the vines are in excess of 40 years old and the predominantly (80%) Monastrell fruit they produce is concentrated, rich, tannic and requires expert care to be harnessed and restrained to reveal its strong yet silky nature.
Founders Santos Ortiz, of Spanish origin, and Ioana Paunescu from Romania, started the winery from scratch in 2011, “con palicos y canicas” as they say in the region. This means that they were short of financial resources, but had a talent for creating wines and coordinating financial, marketing and sales. Aﬅer almost 6 months looking for a place to set up, they fell in love with a spectacular farm in an area known as the carpenter’s place, an elevated area of bunkers which had everything they wanted – it was high up so they could enjoy the beauty of the landscape and surrounded by their vineyards (Monastrell), which are older than their combined ages. The principles that inform Ego Bodegas, as they see it, are as follows;
Ego : The concept of I
Talento : The ability to perform and carry out a task
Infinito : The power to dream without borders
The landscape at this time of year is softer and more yielding, the pink of fruit trees set off by the dazzling white of the almond trees which frame every view. It is difficult to envisage how desolate and barren the region must look in winter, when temperatures can fall to -10°C. And with highs of 45°C in summer it is a region of natural extremes.
The estate manager Antonio points out an isolated ramshackle stone cottage at the foot of the valley, and reveals that the inspiration for the ‘Mad Hairy Fella,’ the enigmatic ‘outcast’ who stares defiantly out at us from the signature Gorú wine, lived there. He was reputedly quite the narrador back in the day with a reputation for illicit behaviour and Don Juan-esque libertine ways. The legend of him seems to me to be akin to the living embodiment of the Monastrell grape, hard to tame, knowing, ancient and a little bit dangerous. His emblem is a strong one and anchors the vineyard firmly in its region and terroir. As Monastrell is a phenolically-challenging grape, high in tannins and late ripening, the skill of the modern winemaker is to gently cajole the grape to optimum ripeness, while avoiding jammy, baked flavours through careful control of fermentation. The key is learning how to tame the wild character of the grape through blending with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot in various different manifestations, making the wines more fruit forward while still retaining the earthiness and depth …and the beating wild hearted nature of the Gorú himself, as it were.
As my girls devour orange squash and explore the beautifully artistic and tasteful gallery-tasting room with gusto we begin a micro-tasting of four of Ego Bodegas’ best selling and most iconic wines, Gorú, Gorú 38 Barrels, Fuerza and Marionette, and hear a few of the principles behind the winery and of its vision. A marriage of new and old, innovation and tradition, light and dark, Ego Bodegas perfectly encapsulates the exciting possibility of Spain’s wine regions gaining recognition for their unique terroirs such as Jumilla and Yecla, and brings wines which are varietally recognisable and stylistically intriguing to the export market.
We take a look downstairs in the temperature controlled modern and spotless cave and discuss new innovations at the winery such as experimentation with Romanian and Russian oak to see what, if any effect, is had on the wines which generally spend between 12 and 24 months in American and French oak. My youngest girl particularly enjoys the bottling and labelling plant and keeps returning, mesmerised by the robotic machine as it twirls and fills the bottles to fulfil its quota. All in all it is an incredible opportunity to put a wine in context, to see its lowly ancient vine beginnings and witness the metamorphosis the fruit goes through to become this thoroughly modern liquid. And if nothing else it proves that children and wineries can sometimes mix.