Image: Fiona Dunlop
October 06 2011
Over the years, I’ve traipsed round the commercialised sherry bodegas of Jérez, sat in the Provençal sun with a vintner tasting his pink nectar, been amazed by a vast “cathedral” of barrels in Andalucia’s oldest bodega, and earlier this year attended a gourmet wine-tasting in Margaret River (Australia). But easily the best winery visit was the most recent, in late August, which coincided with the first grape harvest in Spain.
My epiphany came at the Lagar La Primilla, lost in the mellow Sierra de Montilla, a family-owned wine-press where they do everything from grape to bottle. From Córdoba we cruised south down the motorway to the sprawling bodega town of Montilla (hence amontillado), where we just missed visiting the 16th-century convent as the nuns were apparently too busy baking cakes (it’s a place where you knock on the door, and either they come or they don’t). So we headed out towards our vineyard appointment.
Theoretically, this is the heart of Andalucia’s olive territory, as Baeza, home to the emerald-green Núñez de Prado oil, is just a few hills away. But here the chalky-white soil was striped by rows of leafy vines. Our car thermometer showed 37°; little surprise that the grapes were ripe. A couple of wrong turnings, a brief (heated) argument, and at last came a sign to the Cerro Macho, the highest hump of this secret sierra. Just as Charo Jiménez, the owner’s daughter, had told me on the phone, I recognised the gates by their two giant tinajas, or earthenware jars. And now the landscape morphed, as those familiar silvery-green olive trees crept onto the horizon.
An old man (the owner, we later gathered) waved us towards the courtyard where a beaming Charo bustled out, donning a straw boater and clasping a little box which, my partner discovered, was for his benefit: instant English translation. Our personal tour took us up to the mirador to survey the land (and to hear that half the year is actually spent on olives), down again to watch truckloads of grapes tumbling into the press, then through the fermentation hall filled with huge white cement jars. The best part came last in a cool tasting room, where Charo’s niece brought us plate after plate of home-made tapas, from aubergine drizzled in cane syrup to tiny croquetas and chunks of moist tortilla. To that we added a stalk of sweet raisins we had plucked en passant. As we sipped the crisp variants of La Primilla’s organic white wines, we revelled in the sheer simplicity of it all. How easy life was and, in some places, still seems.
Ninety-minute tour, including tapas, €12.