The gentle, rolling hills of Rueda lay claim to being the ancestral home of the noble Verdejo grape. Prized for its firm structure, complexity, and ability to transmit the limestone minerality of the Rueda soils, Verdejo produces one of Spain’s most distinctive white wines…as long as it is farmed well and carefully vinified. Unfortunately in the last decade, producers large and small have adopted a very modern vision of Rueda, with the intention of producing white wines geared toward the international market. High yields, machine harvesting, selected yeasts, cold fermentation, heavy filtration, and copious amounts of sulfur have become standard winemaking practices. This monolithic mentality has left many artisanal-minded producers striving to produce authentic, terroir-driven Verdejo wines shut out of the Rueda D.O., working under the broader Castilla y León umbrella. Thankfully, deep respect for the land and non-interventionist winemaking shows in a finished wine regardless of appellation approval. Let us introduce to you the father and son team of Manuel and Isaac Cantalapiedra, two of Verdejo’s vanguard working in Rueda.
The Cantalapiedras descend from several generations of winegrowers working in the municipality of La Seca. This dusty town of 1,000 people, half an hour southwest of the industrial center of Valladolid, is considered to be the heart of the Rueda appellation, with a disproportionate number of well-known producers calling it home. Although there are records of the Cantalapiedras’ grape-growing dating to the 19th century, the birth of the current estate can be traced directly to the year 1949, when patriarch Heliodoro planted his first vineyard plot, or majuelo, at the tender age of 15. For many years, Heliodoro’s son Isaac worked alongside him, and together they have built a 20 hectare domaine that is now certified organic. In the past they sold the bulk of their grape production to larger producers in the area. It is with the third generation – Helio has since passed away and Isaac’s son Manuel has joined – that the family has established a small cellar of their own, bottling their first vintage in 2014.
Being farmers first, they strive to go beyond organic, and incorporate many biodynamic practices into their viticulture. Their grapes are oftentimes harvested later than other producers in the region, with about 7 hectares of their fruit vinified by the Cantalapiedras, while the rest is sold to the old relationships of the family. In the cellar, Manuel utilizes wild yeasts for fermentation, minimal amounts of sulfur, and no other additions. They produce a wide range of wines, from their entry-level village wine called Cantayano, to the more soil-driven, single plot wine called Majuelo del Chivitero, to flor-aged wines (historically traditional for the region), as well as skin-contact and pét-nats with no added SO2. These are winegrowers who promise to be dynamic and forward thinking. Given the excellent quality of the wines right out of the gate, we are beyond excited to see what the future holds for Manuel Cantalapiedra.