Tumbleweed 2020 rolls in

Tumbleweed 2020 rolls in

Late summer 2020. The pandemic is tightening its grip. Bog roll is disappearing from supermarket shelves and there are reports of tank convoys rumbling down the M1. I'm in La Palma and preparing to fly to Gran Canaria to make a 2020 listán negro. But at the last minute this project falls through. Facing a TFWATH wine-less 2020 and a reluctant return to bog roll-less England, I scroll through my contacts and stop at Julia Casado. And suddenly my wine wanderings divert on to a new path...

I'd first heard about Julia a few months earlier - muttterings about a young Spanish wine-maker who'd built her own mobile winery and plonked it in the middle of a nature reserve in Bullas, Murcia. I ended up interviewing Julia for a Decanter feature and learned a bit more about her story. By that point she'd moved her winery - a modular structure that she could take apart and rebuild anywhere she wanted - from the nature reserve to a regenerative farm on the Andalusian border. When my Canary Island adventure fell through, it took a two-minute WhatsApp call with Julia before I was booking a flight to the Spanish mainland.

Julia Casado

As a wandering winemaker, I was particularly inspired by Julia's winery. This tailor-made, container-style construction can be taken apart and moved anywhere. It contains a kitchen, plumbing and drainage systems, her fermentation casks, cement tank, tinajas... there's even room for her cello. Julia chose as its first home a place called Venta del Pino in Bullas. She loves the monastrell grape variety and this elevated site, carpeted with old bush vines and surrounded by forest, was perfect for the fresh styles of monastrell she loves. When she moved here she knew no one (in Venta del Pino, there were few people to know), but she made it work, forging links with local growers, finding the best vineyard parcels to work with, and making a life for herself in these rarefied surroundings.

The bodega in flight

Many wine drinkers (especially of big reds) will be familiar with Jumilla, maybe even Yecla; fewer will know of Bullas. But it has a long history of growing grapes and making wine. In the 19th century, they found a statue of Bacchus on the site of an excavated Roman villa in the town. These days, a lot of Bullas's wine heritage has been lost. Where once there were artisans working with nature and making simple wines of the land in tinajas, there are now big co-operatives with their 50,000-litre steel tanks and shit labels. But Julia believes this is the best region in south-east Spain in which to make fresh, aromatic styles of monastrell.

Misunderstood monastrell
I've always loved rosé, even the supermarket dribble, which I'll happily glug (full of ice) on a sunny day. When Julia explained that Bullas had a well-established tradition of making monastrell rosé winemaking, it felt like I should take it as a sign to make my first wine in this style. But I like rosés with substance, complexity, personality - whether that's from barrel ageing, longer maceration with skins or whatever. I think of Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva Rosado from Rioja, Pícaro del Aguila Clarete from Ribera del Duero, Massa Vecchia Rosato from Tuscany. In fact, what I like, especially on a bright, sunny day, is a wine which is something a bit deeper than the usual Provence-style rosé, but not as intense as a typical red; not quite one, not quite the other, but something deliciously in between. So that's what I decided to make with Julia.
Tasting Tumbleweed, one charmed hungover morning
After looking at various vineyards around Bullas, Julia introduced me to a small plot of monastrell owned by her friend and 'fixer', Señor Lobos (a reference to the Harvey Keitel character in Pulp Fiction, who does for gangsters with dead bodies to dispose of what Señor Lobos does for winemakers in a harvest-time crisis). The vineyard was planted on clay-limestone soil on the gentle slope of a mountain in a village called Moratalla. It's one that Julia had previously used to make her La Cañada del Jinete wine. As with all the vineyard sites Julia uses, this one owned by Señor Lobos was at high elevation - 900m above sea level. This helped to retain the acidity in the grapes - crucial in the hot climate of southern Spain, and crucial for a refreshing rosé.
Señor Lobos's monastrell vineyard in Moratalla
Most rosés which are not made as a by-product of red wines (ie, the 'saignée' method) are made with red grapes which are directly pressed, or given a very short maceration of perhaps two or three hours. For the Tumbleweed 'almost rosado, almost red', I left the grape skins to macerate with the wine for 14 hours. This gave it its deep pink colour, its rich fruitiness (strawberry and sweet red cherry) and its hint of body and texture. The wine was fermented in unlined Spanish tinajas (amphorae), of which Julia had several spare, then aged in tinajas and a Flextank plastic egg. No sulphur was added at any point.
Harvest time in Moratalla
Ninety-nine percent of commercially available wines will have had sulphur dioxide (SO2/sulphur) added to them. If bought from the supermarket, probably quite a high concentration. Sulphur can be good, but also bad. It's good because it can protect your wine against oxidising or turning to vinegar; bad because it can limit all the good bacterial stuff going on in the wine, reducing its complexity and, for want of a better word, 'aliveness'. To not use it at all is risky, but this is the way Julia prefers to work. It's also what I decided to do - for the first time - with my Tumbleweed.

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