One of the most common adjectives associated with winemaking is the term “passion.”
We say the winemaker has passion, the winery owner has passion, there is even passion in the vines. Perhaps it is because the art of making wine is one of the most expensive, often difficult and sometimes treacherous jobs a person can have. Wine makers have to rely on Mother Nature for a good harvest, which in recent years has been hard for many, and when you get through the romantic notion and glamorous appearance often associated with making wine, we realize that these skilled artisans are really farmers and researchers who thrive on getting their hands dirty in the vineyards, and challenging their minds in the labs. This is where the passion comes in. They do so because the end result is truly a work of art to be enjoyed now, or for many years to come, changing and continuing to develop as it ages. I was recently invited to spend a luxurious morning with one of the most passionate winemakers I have met recently, Manuel Louzada of Spain’s Numanthia Winery.
Over pedicures at The Ritz followed by lunch at Oak we talked about how this eloquent and elegant winemaker with Portuguese roots ended up making wine in Spain and changing the way people look at wine from Spain’s Toro region. Manuel had been traveling across the country with the Moet Hennessey wine tour, standing and pouring at events for days and was due for some R&R for the toes. When he asked me to join him for a pedicure how could I refuse. As our tootsies soaked we talked about wine and family, the two topics he is most passionate about and how one led him to be involved with the other.
At the age of five Manuel knew he wanted to be a winemaker. His grandfather, a great influence on a young Manuel, was a winemaker in Portugal with Caves Messias, his family winery established in 1926 specializing in everything from still wines to Port to traditional Champagne method sparkling wines to high quality Brandy. As a young man Manuel would explore the caves at the winery, climb the barrels, run in the vineyards. The world of winemaking was his playground, with the man he admired most as the ring leader.
Manuel is also very smart and knew to be good at this chosen profession you have to put in the time and effort to learn everything you can, and moved to Spain for his formal university education. He obtained his Masters in Winemaking while being a researcher at the Madrid University, after graduating in Agricultural Engineering. He returned to Portugal to work for the family winery, quickly moving on to Rozes LDA to focus on their Port varieties and becomes head of winemaking.
In 1999 an opportunity comes up with Chandon in Argentina to expand their still and sparkling wine production in the region. Always having a bit of an adventurous spirit he moved to Argentina and quickly becomes head of oenology for all three of the Chandon properties in Argentina – Chandon, Terrazas de los Andes and Cheval des Andes, each producing some of the most acclaimed wine in Argentina.
Though Manuel shares the same feeling about Argentina that I do, that it is a magical, mystical place with beautiful people and incredible wine, the desire for him to be closer to home crept in. (Having three little ones in Argentina and his mom in Portugal missing her grand-children probably didn’t help either.) In 2008 a new opportunity in the Toro region of Spain came up with Numanthia. Immediately the personal and professional pros of the job made the skilled winemaker jump at the opportunity – a winery close to Portugal in the northern part of Spain working with 100+ year old, ungrafted Tinto de Toro vines that withstood the phylloxera devastation, that he would protect and honor the heritage of by creating complex, structured yet sublimely delicate and elegant wine, truly celebrating their history. Numanthia has given a new level of subtlety and sophistication to the wines from Toro.
Started in 1998 in Valdefinjas, a small village of 100 in the Toro region, Numanthia is named in honor of the town of Numancia, which resisted the siege of Roman conquerors in Spain for over a century. There is a direct parallel between Numancia’s tenacity and the 120+ year old Numanthia vines which were first planted in 1880, withstood phylloxera, extreme climate conditions and are still producing this exceptional Tinto de Toro wine. Tinto de Toro is a sister to Tempranillo, typically with a bit of a harsh tone, creating an abrupt, aggressive style wine.
Numanthia believes in doing something different and unique for the region, creating approachable, yet still complex, elegant wines with character and an artistic style which layers the flavors of the wine beautifully. Vines are old, with extreamly deep roots as rain fall in the region is low so roots have to reach deep into the ground for nutrients and water, the skill of this winemaker knows how to balance the intensity of the fruit to create appealing, structured wine.
Numanthia produces three wines all using Tinto de Toro grapes from various vineyards throughout the Toro region varying in age from 30 year old vines to 120 year old vines, all of which is hand harvested at the optimal moment to ensure the fruit is at its exact peak of ripeness. Termes is their youngest wine, using vines that range from 30-50 years old, with vibrant and lush fruit forward notes and a soft, supple palate and a long finish. Filled with blackberry, blueberry and a touch of vanilla aromas, the wine the opens to full flavors of black plum, blackberry, and chocolate finishing with a touch of smoky tobacco on the end.
The signature wine of the estate is Numanthia, created from 70-100 year old vines this wine is a bit bolder, more complex and interesting with concentrated tannins and expressive fruit flavors, while still maintaining an overall delicate and refined approach. Black cherries, currants and plums mingle with herbal, mineral and spice notes of pepper, eucalyptus and black tea with layers of chocolate and espresso. This full bodied wine is more robust than its Termes sister, aged 18 months in new French oak barrels, compared to 16 for the Termes.
The small production Termanthia is the ultimate expression of how special wines from Toro can be, with richness, complexity, longevity and power, while maintaining that refined elegance. Created from vines that are over 120 years old, this is a dense, complex, powerful wine that masterful winemaking keeps perfectly balanced, with blackberry, black plum, cocoa and tobacco leaping from the glass, followed by earthy truffle and toasted caramel notes. Aged 20 months in new French oak barrels, Termanthia has a velvety texture and long, luxurious finish keeping this wine happily lingering on the palate, and in your memory.
Manuel believes that good winemakers allow the fruit and the land to shine through the wine, that you must be respectful to what you have, especially with this 120+ year old fruit, and his artistry and skill come out in careful management of the vines and eventually through thoughtful blending of the wine before bottling. Numanthia is doing something very different from many other wineries in the Toro region, really harnessing the potential of the Tinto de Toro grape by taming the typically harsh Toro style. They are changing the tradition of the region one exquisite bottle at a time.