The great opportunity to create a dream DO in the Marco de Jerez
There is a sense of nervousness in the Marco de Jerez region among producers and appellations. It is a new feeling. An uneasy nervousness, but with positive and hopeful undertones, because what they have in their hands is a natural path to grow among younger consumers. They are on the verge of creating a sustainable, quality entry point into the exciting world of traditional sherry wines. It is no longer a question of changing the specifications of some of its appellations. The issue is more far-reaching. What is on the table, and what is currently being worked on, is the creation of a new designation of origin which, if it continues at the right pace, could see the light in Europe as early as 2025.
The decision seems to have been taken to protect and collect the elaborations of 'vinos de pasto', i.e. still white wines, without heading, stylistically linked to the territory occupied by the bodegas of the Marco.
The still and typological wines that are born every year in this part of Cádiz have been on everyone's lips for a long time. We recall the first elaborations that paved the way in such a classic environment as that of Jerez. La Bota de Florpower nº 44 2010 Blanco was a pioneer in this aspect, which led us to nominate it as a Revelation Wine 2014 precisely because of the path of growth that this type of wine was opening up in the Marco. We were on the right track.
Little by little, new producers arrived who, in an isolated way, contributed their bit to a trend that, although not yet a movement, was gaining weight. Projects such as Cota 45, De la Riva, Equipo Navazos, Primitivo Collantes, Forlong, Valdespino, Viña Callejuela, Barbadillo and many others have taken steps to transmit, like other great regions of the world, the great potential of this region based on ancestral varieties such as palomino, perruno, muscatel, king grape, etc., and above all on its albariza soil, the great forgotten by the traditional sherry producers. Over the last century, the winemaking process has taken precedence over everything, especially over a vineyard formerly segmented by quality and which has gradually lost its identity and value.
All these "new" works have been labelled as VT Cádiz or directly as Table Wines, since they cannot do so within their respective Denominations of Origin. The creation of a new DO does not guarantee that all of them will end up joining this initiative. Many of them are outsider winemakers who identify themselves as free souls and consider that they enjoy more creative freedom by labelling as Vinos de la Tierra (IGP) or directly as table wines. However, if the future DO is well founded, and they have all the potential to do so, they will have no choice but to be part of it in order to be considered an active part of a production area linked to quality through unique soils and climate. Who can refuse to be part of an idyllic DO?
Pasture wines, the styles
Initially these wines have been called Vinos de Pasto, a traditional Spanish term, but which many producers consider to have a negative connotation, but whose link to the wines of the South is already a reality, so they have already gone a long way. These wines are linked in some way to traditional wines, either through the vinification and ageing of the wines in butts that have previously contained some type of sherry wine, or through the use of one of their creative processes (biological or oxidative) at some point in the production process. We have also been able to appreciate the proliferation of wines that do not make use of any traditional Sherry process in the winemaking process.
They are exclusively concerned with making wine in a "conventional" way, but, and this is of the utmost importance, they are concerned with ensuring that the origin, its proximity to the sea, its Atlantic, saline and chalky character remain alive and well-defined. For this dialogue to be possible, it is essential to limit the grapes to be used, to compress yields and to prohibit the use of yeasts other than indigenous or neutral yeasts.
Defining the Terms of Reference
Great progress has been made so far. Within the technical committee that has been formed, there are three people who are playing an important role in this creative process: Willy Pérez and Ramiro Ibañez, as representatives of the producer feeling of wanting to transfer the soil of the regions of the Marco to their wines and César Saldaña, manager and president of the DO's Jerez, Manzanilla de Sanlúcar and Vinagre de Jerez, a unifier of sensibilities, capable of bringing positions together to convince that what is proposed here is a way of growth for all the wines of the Marco in general, be they still or fortified, small or large producer.
Before tackling the naming of this new designation of origin, on which there is no agreement in sight, all the players involved are focusing on drawing up a set of specifications, the most complex part to define, in which a balance is being sought in order to define the minimum and maximum limits that will guarantee that the wines covered reflect the origin of the region.
It seems clear that beyond the type of winemaking, there are key and essential elements:
- Soils: that the vineyards are settled on albariza soils, this will be a limiting and identifying factor of their origin.
- The traditional grapes of the region are the first point of agreement. Grapes such as palomino fino, which in some parts of the region is still called Listán, especially in those vineyards where it is a very old plantation, pedro ximénez, moscatel de Alejandría, beba, perruno or vigiriega, which maintain coherence with the past and present of the area.
- Lower yields that allow the grapes to arrive with all their DNA imprinted in their aroma and flavour, aware that an overexploited plant will find it difficult to transfer the characteristics of the vineyard from which they come.
- The essential analytical parameters to be qualified within the future DO, such as minimum alcohol or maximum permitted volatile acidity, variables that always generate discrepancies between "young" and "old" winemakers, but which will be tools for winemaking as soon as they come into force.
The intention is to increase in the future the differentiation of the identity of the pagos and to allow different levels of territorial delimitation of origin, with the broadest category being that of Pueblo and the minimum unit being that of Parcela. This work in favour of the differentiation of Pagos must be an indispensable part of this new designation of origin. The greater study and definition of these Pagos del Marco, which are currently unknown to the public, will generate an increase in the price of grapes according to their quality and origin. So far this year the price of grapes has already experienced a significant increase, due to the existence of barrels for the ageing of "Sherry cask" whisky and also because the average production has not yet reached traditional levels as a result of the intense droughts of the last few years.
The Marco de Jerez as a well-known territorial entity
As for the name of the future DO, everything is still up in the air. Some names have already been discarded, such as Vinos de Pasto. Others are still on the table, such as the generic and unclear Vinos de Albariza, capable of being understood by a specialised consumer, but far from the general public. There is the option of calling them Vinos del Marco de Jerez, an option much more closely linked to a territorial origin, which is still the question to be addressed. Including the word Jerez would be a positive point on which to base this new DO, as it would leave no doubt as to its origin.
At the moment they have all the tools to build an idyllic appellation of origin. The agents involved will have to be open-minded and understand how important it is to create solid foundations on which to build the identity of different wines. It is imperative to close the door to all those wines that discredit a region's style. The most important thing in these first steps is to define the tools and the rules of the game. In the future, it will be the winemakers who, with these tools and their knowledge, will be able to create their own areas of specialisation, a specialisation that will eventually have an impact on quality wine lovers.
Is it possible to have better prospects for the future today?
At Peñín we are already focusing on the 2025 Guide, which begins its tasting tour this January to reach October with the most complete Guide to Spanish wines in the world.