The Future of Bobal: Interview with the Orozco Brothers at La Niña de Cuenca

Olga Verchenko
Lorenzo López Orozco (left) and Valentín López Orozco (right0 | Photo Credit: La Niña de Cuenca

Two brothers, Lorenzo and Valentín López Orozco founded the bodega La Niña de Cuenca in 2006, after recovering old vines that their family had owned for over 100 years. The vineyards are located at 700 meters altitude in the heart of Cuenca province in the Manchuela DO. Here, the Bobal variety thrives, and its reputation for producing age-worthy red wine is growing by the day.

OV: Tell us about the moment in your life when you decided to dedicate yourselves to winemaking.

L&V: We have family records showing that our ancestors have always worked in the field. Back then, we used to sell all of our harvested grapes to other wineries. When we inherited the vineyards, it was a turning point and time to the way we were working and understanding agriculture. We decided not to sell our grapes and instead make wine. We knew we had the essential parts—small plots of old vines, some over 90-years-old, grown organically and autochthonous varieties such as Bobal, Pardillo, and Albilla.

OV: The name of your winery translates from Spanish as “The Girl from Cuenca”. What is the story behind it?

L&V: This name honors our mother. From a very young age, long before we were born, she was an enterprising woman. Apart from grapes, she grew other products to go to other provinces and sell them. Wherever she went, she was known as “la niña de Cuenca.” We were happy to use that name for the winery, as it refers to our family, the tradition and our land’s origin—all main pillars of our project.

OV: When you started working with old vines of Bobal, was there something that surprised you about the variety? 

L&V: Bobal is a variety that has not been successfully produced anywhere else globally, unlike other international varieties planted in different countries. This fact alone makes us suspect how special it is. It has high acidity and remarkable, powerful tannins that turn into silk when properly treated. It’s a variety capable of making excellent age-worthy wines. The surprising thing about old vines is that year after year, they produce equally high-quality grapes as if willing to show that they always give their best beyond the climate, the plot, and the people. We faithfully believe that Bobal is a variety for the future.

Old Vine Bobal | Photo Credit: La Niña de Cuenca

OV: Bobal is cultivated mainly for bulk wine production. Why do you think so many producers have overlooked Bobal’s potential as a primary variety?

L&V: Being an indigenous variety to southeast Spain and the Levante, Bobal adapts exceptionally well here, so under favorable conditions and with great pruning and irrigation systems, it is capable of producing a high crop yield. This makes the variety attractive for cooperatives that often advocate large volumes at the expense of quality. For two decades or so, intensive farming systems have been encouraged due to the land availability for planting, irrigation, and mechanization development, which results in a large production of bulk.

Along with high acidity, Bobal gives intense, attractive color and fruity characteristics to the wine, making it optimal to blend with other varieties that may lack these characteristics. So there is a high demand by large brokers to produce Bobal for volume wines.

But this is beginning to change. Smaller producers focus on old vines and smaller production, but there is still a long way to go.

OV: You’ve chosen not to use any oak for aging your wines but use clay amphorae instead. What is the reason behind this decision?

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L&V: The amphora or “tinaja,” as it is known here, is the medium that was used before barrels arrived. For us, it was a matter of coherence with history and tradition.  Because we want to tame Bobal’s tannin, it’s necessary to work with medium to long aging, so we needed vessels that would allow the passage of oxygen and at the same time, respect the fruit by not adding any secondary flavors or aromas to the final wine. Clay vessels meet all these criteria to age wines and still represent the tradition, the landscape, and the variety itself.

Photo Credit: La Niña de Cuenca

OV: It is exciting to hear about the growing amount of talented young winemakers from all around the world. What is “talent” in winemaking for you? And which qualities define you?

L&V: The most important thing is not to “spoil” the grapes that come from the vineyard. I must admit that we are more winegrowers than winemakers. We spend more time in the field than in the winery; it is our natural environment. Our vinification philosophy is minimalist; we want hardly any intervention. We recover old vines; we practice organic farming. We follow an artisanal process of care and selection in the vineyard, so that once the grapes enter the winery, the magic happens. We believe in respect for the land and origin and humility in recognizing that the merit belongs to the vineyard itself. We are here only temporarily, and we have to take care of our viticultural heritage and leave it for the next generations. 

OV: I found one of your quotes fascinating: “It is possible that you will forget our name or will not remember the winery, but once you have tried our wines, you will never forget what they make you feel.” Could you tell us more: what message would you like your wines to transmit?

L&V: Wine is an incredible product. It travels worldwide to be enjoyed immediately or saved for a special moment, but it is also a communication channel between the winegrower and the consumer. When people drink our wines, they are on an imaginary journey. They move to our vineyard, step on our land, and stain their hands with grapes. We want that journey to be unforgettable and different with each wine and vintage.

Editor’s Note: Answers have been edited for clarity.