A few months ago, we made a trip down south to Utiel-Requena to experience the harvest in full swing. With the autumn light streaming across the vines with hints of seasonal color change on the tips of the leaves, it was a beautiful site to experience. However, despite our desire to publish this article earlier, life got the best of us and delayed our report until now – better late than never.
Chozos Carrascal is located on a 30 hectar estate, 700 meters above sea-level, in the small town of San Antonio in Requena, Valencia. The etymology of the winery name is rather obscure. Chozas is the nickname of the owner’s grandfather, a common tradition given to most people in Utiel-Requena, while Carrascal refers to the local oak trees in the region. It is a familiar winery founded by Julian Lopez, and his wife, Jose Maria Peidro, with the technical aid of the French winemaker Michael Poudou. We did not meet Michael on that crisp fall day, but we were introduced to Francesc Giron. Francesc is your go to guy at the winery. Responsible for the everyday winery tasks, this stocky, teddy bear of a guy has a smile to melt your heart and the ability to make the most complicated technical information sound like an excerpt from a children’s book. As a journalist, and not a technician, I bow down to people who have this gift, as it makes my job easier.
Historically, the tradition of winemaking dates back to the 1870s, which can be observed in the old ruins located beneath the current winery. “If we hadn’t fallen through the floor during the renovation of the building, I doubt we would have found it”, said Julian with a sly smile on his face. The winery was acquired by Julian and Jose Maria in 1990; but it wasn’t until 2003, after 13 years of meticulous planning, that Chozas Carrascal launched its very first product to the world.
What makes this winery unique is that it has dedicated 3 hectares to each of the 11 different varieties of grapes (soon to be 12), many of which were completely foreign to the region at the time of their planting. Their main objective was to expand past the regional iconic grape of Bobal to include a wider range of both native and non-native varieties such as Syrah, Voigner, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc to their winery portfolio, in addition to Bobal, Monastrell, Garnacha, Tempranillo and Macabeo. Moreover, rather than limit themselves to exclusively the tradition of producing monovarietal wines, they chose to honor their local Mediterranean culture by blending wines based on the varietals that show best during a given vintage.
The location of their vineyard is also a defining factor in their wines. Driving up to the winery, one can’t help but notice the long line of trucks passing by you at lightening speed. With absolutely nothing but vineyards surrounding you, their presence is rather difficult to ignore. The trucks belong to a local water bottling facility that like Chozas, sits on top of a large water reservoir under a thick slab of limestone rock. The unusual benefit being, that in addition to the 3,300 vines per hectare competing for resources, the grapes have obtained a high mineral characteristic, unique to its location.
Another important point to note, is Chozas’ use of a mechanical harvester. Julian believes that mechanical harvesting can produce high quality wines if done correctly. While Ryan was happily shooting pictures from on top of the harvester, Julian shared with me the benefits of his 9 year old machine. “It’s a great machine, that works as well today as it did years ago. It’s fast and efficient, and can get the grapes to the winery in less than 15 minutes, which retains the grape’s fruit and acidity. Although it may slightly shorten the lifespan of the vine, if done well, it should not harm the grape.”
And unlike many modern wineries, Chozas has been made an effort to restore the use of concrete fermentation tanks. In collaboration with the Polytechnic University of Valencia, they have been actively researching the benefits of concrete and its behavior in fermentation as compared to a variety of other inert materials.
As for the wines, we suggest looking out for their value brand wines, which include: las Tres, las Cuatro and las Ocho – each referring to the number of grapes in each blend. All three of these wines are well structured and easy to drink. My personal favorite, the 2006 Las Ocho (Bobal, Monastrell, Tempranillo, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Garnacha) shows good fruit aromas on the nose, fine tannic structure and good acidity. And unlike the 2005, where the Cab Sauvignon took over with its green pepper flavors, the 2006 is better integrated.
Their high end wines, like the monovarietal Cabernet Franc, are good, but seeing that this winery is so young, we believe that these wines have yet to reach their potential. The 2007 Cab Franc is lush and silky in the mouth, with good acidity and dark, rich flavors of chocolate, slate and dark cherries. Albeit elegant, this wine still feels as if it hasn’t defined itself.
Chozas Carrascal is a young and innovative winery that we feel is worthy of paying attention to in the future.
You can find out more about their wines on here.
Here’s a quick12 second video from the day we were there that shows a machine harvester at work!