As you walk into the strikingly contemporary Ronda bodega, ‘La Melonera’ you are greeted by a large artwork – it depicts at first glance a long, twisted ancient branch of an oak tree, yet look closer and you see it is telling a story, the story of La Melonera and its wines. This is La Encina Ingles, the English Oak.
Artists, poets and writers were particularly attracted to Andalucia in the 19th century. Although part of Europe, it represented a colourful, mysterious land, an exotic mixture of Arabian architecture, passionate gypsy culture and virgin natural landscapes.
These creative romantics endeavoured to capture his flavour of the region and share it with the world. Now, in the 21st century, La Melonera, one of Ronda’s new generation of emerging wineries is doing very much the same, with its remarkable wines.
Look closely at the artwork and you see that the visual story starts with the historic cortijo that sits high up on this wine estate, and then continues, incorporating the different elements of this special part of the world; from the flora and fauna, like the little bugs that help keep the vines free from pests and the wild birds and vultures that command the skies to the wild flowers that fill the pastures here.
In the centre is an ancient oak, typical of the beautiful trees that cover much of the La Melonera estate and the surrounding Ronda countryside. In its shade is a figure, a 19th century European, no doubt an Englishman, representing the romantics that came here to discover the beauty of this once isolated part of the Iberian Peninsula. As the winery explains, ‘Romantic 19th century travellers such as the hispanist Richard Ford and British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, journeyed through the area on their way to Granada on what came to be known as the Great South Tour, and literary figures such as James Joyce, García Lorca and Ernest Hemingway sang praises of this land of endless skies, sun and good wine.’
Reviving lost varieties
Yet La Melonera does not simply distinguish itself from other Ronda wineries due to its creative and romantic story-telling. This bodega has a mission; to recuperate the once native grape varieties that were one so successful here before being devastated by phylloxera. The wines here were noted internationally since Roman times and the vines were exported worldwide.
It’s an extraordinary project, one that really has only just begun.
What’s more, although the team at La Melonera is very much looking back to the past for its grapes, in terms of growing and producing wine they are at the forefront of innovation. The vines for example are grown around unusual rings that maximise the leaf surface area and the opportunity to mature healthy grapes on these young vines (most around just 8 years old). They also adopt different types of double training, creating root competition between the vines.
My tour was with Almudena, who hails from Ronda and is passionate about the winery and the area. She’s a natural for giving such a tour as she eloquently explains the intricacies of La Melonera’s vast task of recuperating the lost grape varieties and the subtle differences of the growing conditions on the estate, with varying attitudes and soil types.
The natural topology of the ground and the abundance of oak trees are all used to create the perfect conditions for the different grape varieties, from sheltered pastures, to exposed terraces. The estate also grows cereal crops amongst the vineyards, but everything is organic.
In the shade of an oak
Our walk through the vineyards ended as one might imagine under the shade of an ancient oak tree, not unlike the European romantics of the 19th century. Here I met Ana de Castro, the Technical Director and wine maker responsible for creating the bodega’s award winning ‘El Payoya Negra’ red, and the ‘La Encina del Inglés’ red and white wines. The winery also produced an elite limited edition MHV Collection that showcase the unique personality of some of the recovered grape varieties. Ana is clearly a very talented woman, the success of the bodega’s wines is testament to that.
In the shade of the oak tree, with views out across the vines we tasted and enjoyed the ‘La Encina del Inglés’ white. It is a fresh and very fruity wine, with a slight salty taste that makes it an absolutely perfect accompaniment for local Andalucía seafood. The grapes are Moscatel Morisco and also Pedro Ximénez, varieties that many Andalusian wine lovers will know. But there is also a touch of Doradilla to add that tiny little bit of salty taste that makes the wine so delicious.
We returned to the winery. Take the tour and tasting and like me, you will also see the striking new subterranean winery area, and learn about their new approaches to making and maturing wines.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, we relaxed in the interior designed property and tried the remarkable ‘El Payoya Negra’ red, accompanied with some tapas of high quality ham and an excellent homemade tortilla de patatas! If you look closely at the wine labels (take a look at the website, or next time you buy the wines) and you will notice each depicts a different portion of the La Melonera visual story.
It was a wonderful morning’s wine tasting…I just wanted to stay move in!
Well, if you feel the same, then why not register your interest for one of the luxury homes they plan to build on the estate. The idea is to have a few exceptional private homes built on the estate, each with its own portion of the vineyards, producing owners wine! What a dream….
Oh, by the way, La Melonera is the name of one of the historic grape varieties the winery is reviving. As the name implies, it’s a juice, plump variety, with flavours of water melon.
Wine Tasting Tours
Typical tour lasts 2.5 hours and includes a visit to the vineyards, tasting of the white wine at the oak tree, tour of facilities and tasting with tapas.
Price at time of writing is 25 euros each – minimum party of 4.
Check website for opening hours (winter open in the mornings only – in summer in the evenings too)
You can read more about my Ronda wine articles here.