At last week's South American & Iberian Portfolio Tasting, we had a chance to catch up with Juan Antonio Ponce of Bodegas Ponce, to discuss the key differences between his five bottlings of Bobal. And though Bobal is a varietal that was once reserved for rosé, it has since been catapulted into the 21st Century by the hands of Juan and his father, who have been organically and biodynamically farming these vines that have been in the family for generations. And while most other growers in Manchuela focus on Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo, Ponce has devoted a majority of their 18ha estate to Bobal.
At the age of 29, Juan has been working the vineyards with his father since he was a kid, and since then, he has known that each parcel was different. Divided into plots that dot Manchuela like patchwork, the vineyards here are parceled according to terroir. In 2005 when he first started the winery with his father, Ponce decided to vinify each parcel separately, in order to identify the differences between them. With 34-35 parcels, each at 750-800 meters above sea level, Ponce determines the Clos Lojen cuvée each vintage, by tasting through the fruit in the vineyards.
When blending the wines of the five to six parcels that go into Clos Lojen, Ponce is looking for a specific style of fruit, that's fresh and easy to drink–a house style wine–that's identified in the vineyard and not in the cellar. For Casilla, he vinifies the fruit of five to seven different parcels, each with "its own personality", though all of predominantly calcareous soils. Of these 55-70 year old vines, one parcel adds structure, another fruit and yet another provides the weight that Ponce desires. In 2007, he identified the singular traits of Estrecha, a 1.2ha property that was once blended into Casilla, until 2007, when he Ponce decided to bottle it on its own.
"Estrecha is different," says Ponce, "it's the most elegant of all the Bobals." With soil of sand and disintegrated calcarious clay, the parcel behind Estrecha has excellent drainage. And though this year was particularly dry, the deep root system here saved the vines. The low density of the plantings that his grandfather originally spaced has allowed for the roots to grow and feed off of the nutrients of the soil.
Made from a single parcel of 1ha, Pino comes from a rocky calcareous soil that, unlike the soil of Estrecha, cannot be crumbled. A wine that best demonstrates "the complexity of Bobal" with the most minerality, Pino comes from 35-year-old vines whose roots struggle to penetrate through the rocky soil, which becomes harder with depth. "Pino doesn't have as strong of a Mediterranean influence as the others," says Ponce. "The higher concentration of minerals in the rocks gives a higher concentration of mineral notes in the wine." And, he added, the name "Pino" comes from a single pine tree that stands in the vineyard.
Of all of their Bobal plots, the 3.5ha parcel that yields Ponce P.F. contains vines with original French rootstock. And though this parcel is located 100 meters from one of the parcels for Casilla, which Juan's grandfather had originally planted, it was not overcome by Phylloxera because of its sandy soils. Made from 85-year-old vines, the Ponce P.F. best expresses the purity of Bobal, because these vines are as authentic as it gets.