Originally from Cádiz, Verónica Ortega’s experience has come from time spent in Burgundy and working with the likes of Álvaro Palacios from Priorat in her native Spain. She is one of the women stirring up the world of wine and her experience and her love of Bierzo and its Mencía grape, allow her to make wines with unique personalities.
Amaia Soto Ortega: How did you start your wine journey? And did you work with any inspiring winemakers along the way?
Verónica Ortega: Before studying oenology, my knowledge about the world of wine was practically non-existent. In Cádiz, my hometown, the image of Sherry is always very present. Since I was a child, wine was perceived as closely linked to tradition, to the land and to our culture.
My journey started with a harvest in Jerez. After that, I went to Priorat, where I was lucky enough to work with Daphne Glorian and the great Álvaro Palacios, who became a teacher and my mentor. I was fortunate because they also communicate their passion for wine. My adventure in wine began, and I did not look back; I was hooked and had to learn as much as possible! I decided to visit the best wine regions in the world, and I spent a few years doing so. This stage of my life and my childhood were some of the happiest years of my life.
ASO: In which wine regions did you learn?
VO: To be honest, I would have liked to learn in many more places, but I have been in great wine-producing areas such as New Zealand, Douro in Portugal, and I remember with special fondness, France. That’s where I spent almost five years working between Burgundy and Northern Rhône.
ASO: What were the critical lessons learned in these quintessential wine regions?
VO: I have been fortunate enough to work with good people who work hard. I learned various things from each place, and from each person I had contact with during that time. But in terms of winemaking, I had a special memory of Benjamin Leroux. I was able to work side-by-side with him in both the vineyard and the winery. I learned a lot about Biodynamic principles. Undoubtedly, he is one of the best producers in Burgundy.
ASO: Where do you go after spending time in France?
VO: My dream was to come back to Spain and start my wine project. I found the perfect place for it in Bierzo. Years ago, I discovered the area thanks to Raúl Perez and Ricardo Palacios. I fell in love with the region and its wines. Raúl encouraged me and invited me to make wine with him. I was still living in France, so I did a trial harvest with him in Bierzo before deciding to move there. Raúl’s enormous generosity made it possible. He offered to start making my wine in his winery for the first few years, and I will be eternally grateful.
ASO: What do you love about Bierzo?
VO: Located in the Northwest of Spain, Bierzo has an old winegrowing tradition. The wine culture is deeply rooted in its people, which makes everything revolve around wine. Its geographical location has a strong Atlantic influence with great soil diversity, and the old vineyards are highly valued as a source of good-quality grapes. The main local variety, Mencía, is the trademark of the area and shapes the identity of Bierzo as a wine-producing region.
ASO: What does the Mencía variety have that you love so much?
VO: It’s noble enough to make single-varietal wines. It is an honest grape that reflects any excess or defect in winemaking pushing me to seek a perfect balance. It can communicate perfectly what the French call terroir, because it displays differences in terms of soil or microclimate, just like Pinot Noir or Garnacha.
ASO: How would you describe the wines you make?
VO: I would summarize my work philosophy as minimal intervention. I try to work with the best possible raw materials and try not to force anything but I do control some factors to avoid any deviation. My main goal is to make wines with an identity that reflects where they come from. I like to think that my wines are lively, elegant, and can tell people about Bierzo. And with all of this, allowing them to flow as naturally as possible.
ASO: What do you use to age your wines?
VO: I use French oak barrels, clay amphorae, and larger-volume wooden casks.
ASO: How has your project evolved over these last years?
VO: After eight vintages here, my project is still young and small. I started with 600 bottles and now I produce around 40,000 bottles of six different wines, five of which with Mencía and Godello grapes. This year I made a sparkling wine together with some of my best friends. It is still mostly a one-person business! At the very beginning, I bought grapes, now I rent five hectares (2.5 acres) of vineyard, and have a small team to help me with it.
ASO: Where is your project heading and what kind of challenges do you think you will find in the future?
VO: I hope that the project will have a long life, that it will continue to grow but not so much more so that I can continue to preserve its intimate character. More than increasing in volume, I’m interested in doing my job better and better and continuing to enjoy it. In the future? I hope to have some more free time to enjoy my family. To be honest, it’s the only thing I would like to change.
ASO: Where can we find your wines around the world?
VO: Currently, you can find them in 25 countries, including Spain, Australia, US, and Canada. I’m selling them also in Asia.
ASO: Can you tell us more about your fascinating labels?
VO: Until now, I have always made them myself. Each one of them has a distinct style. They do not follow a corporate line, but I do not care about that because I think that each wine has a very marked personality. They are very different from each other, and I find that both the label and the name should reflect that.
ASO: What kind of challenges do you think the wines from Spain are facing?
VO: I believe we are living in a privileged moment as a wine-producing country. Our wines are positioning themselves among the world’s best and are valued for their quality. The main challenge is to know how to communicate that and try to support it with more commercial efforts.