With the arrival of autumn comes the desire to flee the city for the fresh air of the countryside. For us, that means heading to wine country. We went north out of Valencia to visit Bodega Flors, a small family winery that is a beautiful place to experience the wine region of Castellón.
One rarely hears much about Castellón wines. Part of the autonomous Valencian Community, Castellón is not in one of the three Valencian Denominacións de Origen (Alicante, Utiel-Requena, and Valencia). Instead, it is a Vino de la Tierra, a category lower down on the rung of the ladder of Spanish wine designations.
What I find fascinating about this region is that it has thousand of years of winemaking history but most of the current wineries are new. This is partly due to the Phylloxera outbreak in the mid 1800’s, an insect infestation that decimated vineyards throughout Europe including Spain. To recover from the outbreak, many vineyards replanted with American hybrid vines that were resistant to Phylloxera. When the Spanish government adopted a French law banning the the use of these hybrid vines, many vineyard owners ripped out their vines and planted olive and almond trees in their place. (The law did not apply to European vines grafted onto American rootstock.)
In recent years, there has been a resurgence of winemaking in Castellón, with new winemakers planting vineyards. Vicente Flors Martí of Bodega Flors is one of those new winemakers. Bodega Flors is located in the municipality of Les Useres, a mountain village in the center of the province of Castellón. It is actually one of the oldest bodegas in Castellón, the family growing grapes and making wine since the early 19th century. Like many wineries in the area, Bodega Flors had closed in the 1980’s.
More than 20 years later, grandson Vicente Flors Martí discovered his own passion for wine and decided to revive the family tradition at Bodega Flors. A banker by profession, he went to Requena to study wine making at the Eonology School of Requena and produced his first wine in 2007. He recovered what remained of the family vineyard, including Monastrell and Tempranillo vines that are now over 70 years old. He has also planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Garnacha.
We visited Bodega Flors with a small group of friends as part of a private tour arranged by Johan de Smedt of Valencia Wine Consulting. Our visit began out in the vineyard where Vicente introduced us to his grapes. It was mid-September, just before harvest, and clusters hung heavy on the vines. We each pulled a grape from the eight year old Garnacha vines and pressed it between our tongue and the roof of the mouth. The juice was much sweeter than we expected, the thick skins warm from the sun.
Vicente explained his belief that wine is made in the vineyard, where the most important thing is to have top quality grapes. He doesn’t use instruments to measure sugar content. Instead, he tastes the grapes by mouth to test their readiness. All harvesting is done by hand, selecting the best clusters of fruit.
The old family stone house has been beautifully restored from nothing but stone walls into a gorgeous bodega. Inside, we see where the juice is collected and transferred to fermentation tanks. Very little intervention is done here. They let the wine do as it wants, using only the natural yeast and climate conditions, including no air conditioning for the fermentation or in the barrel room.
Despite their overall small production, they make eight different wines at the moment. We were fortunate to be able to try six of them. The wine tastings took place in a section of the building that was his grandfathers home. Family mementos decorate the rooms and a teeny museum dedicated to his grandfather’s winemaking tools.
Outside on the mirador, Vicente set up a selection of meats and cheeses, which came from Quesos de Almazora, artesanal cheese makers in Castellon. The setting couldn’t have been more idyllic. We looked over the terracotta tiled roof out to the vineyards and fields of olive and almond trees.
We began with two vino blancos:
Flor de Taronger is a blend of Macabeo and Moscatel. Light and minerally with citrus flavors, this is a great wine for the summer. The Muscatell grapes add depth to the blend along with a little hint of sweetness.
Blanc de Clotàs is 100% Macabeo from 2016. This wine spent six months resting on its lees (yeast) and aging in French oak barrels, mellowing out the acid and making for a lush drinkable white. This is one of the best vino blancos we have had from the Valencia region.
On to the reds:
Flor de Clotàs 2013 is made from 70 year old Tempranillo vines (50%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (50%) aged in American oak. This is an easy drinking wine offering nice dark fruits and a smooth finish.
The Clotàs 2011 Tempranillo steps it up a bit by using 80 year old Tempranillo vines (90%) with just 10% Cabernet Sauvignon added. Aged in French oak for 14 months, it is a big spicy wine with dark fruit and big tannins. Vicente explains that the grapes were allowed to mature longer to create bigger seeds, which provide the extra tannin. The wine is unfiltered. While a few more years will smooth it out, it was really quite delicious now.
The Clotàs M 2015 is 100% Monastrell grapes from 80 year old Monastrell vines. Inky in color, this wine packs a punch. It was aged for 16 months in French oak and is also unfiltered.
We finished up with a taste of the sweet Dolcet de Clotàs, which tasted of blackberries, prunes, dates and caramel. Made of Garnacha (70%) and Tempranillo (30%), it is aged six months in French oak barrels that had once held the Clotàs.
From the vineyard to the mirador, this tour was a delight. Vicente was an excellent host and you can tell that he is excited about his venture. Like most wineries in Spain, an appointment is required to visit (contact info on Bodega Flors website). Vicente’s wines are available in Valencia, but we didn’t want to take chances. We bought a few bottles of our favorites on our way out to make sure we could continue to enjoy them at home.