Quinta Apolonia Belondrade, V de la T de Castilla y Léon
In 1992 Didier Belondrade, who has always had a strong affinity for Spain, visited Rueda and saw the potential to use Verdejo in creating a white wine in the burgundian style with barrel fermentation and ageing. Rueda had already evolved from its traditional oxidized solera style wines to produce crisp dry whites, but the only use of oak at that time was by Marqués de Riscal.
He produced his first vintage in 1994 from rented vines, using the corner of a friend’s winery to store his small quantity of barrels. From thereon Didier steadily built up his own estate by gradually purchasing existing as well as new plots and planting his own vines. He constructed his own winery and honed and refined his innovative winemaking techniques with the help of Marta Baquerizo from 1999, to create one of Spain’s most complex and refined whites.
The winery is located on the plateau of La Seca, 760 meters above sea level, in the northern part of the denominación, stretching from the river Duero down to Medina del Campo, to the south and west of Valladolid. The continental climate has long, cold winters and hot summers (spring and autumn are practically non-existent). The important factor is the large difference in temperature between day and night.
There are 30 hectares of vineyards, which are all trained on wires and are spread across 19 individual plots. The soil composition on the plateau is mainly a layer of large pebbles and stones over a sub-layer of clay and sand, covering deep limestone bedrock. The concentration of stones, depth and varying composition of sand and clay gives very different characteristics to the musts and therefore to the wines they produce from each plot.
Production is 100% from their own vineyards with the average age of the vines around 30 years with the younger vines used for Quinta Apolonia, averaging about 8 years. All the vines are Verdejo with the exception of a tiny plot of Tempranillo used to produce his rosado Quinta Clarisa.
In contrast to the more prevalent industrial style production in the region the grapes are picked by hand, with an initial triage in the vines by the pickers, and are then packed in small 13kg crates to be taken to a further sorting table at the winery. The bunches are de-stemmed, crushed and left in a maceration tank for 8-10 hours at a temperature of 18ºC. After maceration the free run must is pumped in to vats and the skins are transferred to a pneumatic press which uses nitrogen to protect the skins against oxidation between pressing cycles. Both juices, free run and press, are settled in separate tanks and depending on the structure and characteristics of each cuvée, they may or may not be blended. The grapes from each of the 19 parcels are vinified separately.
At this stage the decision is then taken as to which cuvées are suitable for barrel fermentation and which should be fermented in stainless steel tanks. Alcoholic fermentation is made with natural yeasts to continue the expression of the individual terroir.
Belondrade use only French oak barrels of 300 liters, as they offer, for them, a perfect balance between the surface of the oak and the volume of wine. They work mainly with four different coopers; Sylvain and Vicard from Bordeaux and Dargaud & Jaegle and Damy from Burgundy. 25% of the barrels are replaced each year with new oak and they work very closely with their coopers to adapt the toasts, origins and grain of the individual barrels.
There then follows two major selection processes in the creation of the Belondrade “grand vin” and Quinta Apolonia. An initial tasting of all the barrels is conducted in January after the harvest to select those which may not benefit from further ageing in oak and these are earmarked for blending with tank fermented wine to create the Apolonia. The second tasting is made in July to check all the remaining barrels and divide them up into 15 group lots which form the components for the final blend. Once blended the wine is left in bottle for 6 months before release on the market the following January.