We have always thought the man and the story behind this incredible little bodega are nearly as intriguing as the property's wonderful wine. Indeed, Angel Rodriguez and the emergence of Rueda as the most prestigious still white wine-producing region of Spain are synonymous. Angel's story is the story of a unique grape called Verdejo. Although Verdejo is among only a handful of truly noble Spanish white varietals, Verdejo was in serious danger of extinction by the early 1970's due to the pervasive planting of more prolific native varietals such as Viura and Palomino and the introduction of international favorites such as Chardonnay. Through his loving refusal to uproot his ancient 17th century vineyard calledMartinsancho, Angel Rodriguez saved the shy bearing, thick-skinned Verdejo from extinction
The original majuelo or 17th century vineyard of Martinsancho is less than one acre of gnarled, ungrafted vines, preserved in isolation as a museum of pre-phylloxera viticulture and a continuing source of undisputed varietal authenticity. Once considered an anachronism and an economic liability, nurseries throughout Europe now treasure the Martinsancho vineyard for the vine cuttings it provides and the legacy it has preserved. Yet, thirty years ago no one seemed to care about this old vineyard with extremely low yielding vines; in fact, few had even heard of Martinsancho's existence. Besides, Verdejo was not deemed profitable enough then by most experts to preserve, let alone grow, despite the vine's noble pedigree and the undisputed quality of the wine it produced. Yet, in spite of the prevailing pressure and "expert advice" to uproot the old vineyard, Angel Rodriguez preserved it, and then undertook the near impossible or what many have called sheer lunacy: he re-grafted a vineyard by hand onto 25 acres of premier land, using Martinsancho cuttings.
In 1974 Angel Rodriguez planted the noble, nearly extinct Rueda Verdejo into his very best vineyard: thereby, assuring the continuation of the Martinsancho vineyard as well as the venerable production of Verdejo. In this special 25 acre vineyard, the alluvial soil is nearly all gravel to a depth of over thirty feet. Moreover, the harsh continental climate and the extreme altitude of Old Castile, together with the vineyard soil's austere inhospitality to all types of insects and bacteria, allow for the practice of completely organic viticulture – a rarity, especially for white wine.
With the help of Angel Rodriguez, other Rueda growers have planted Verdejo, to the point that today this shy bearing vine is once again the leading white varietal in Rueda. For his great sacrifice and untiring efforts in favor of re-establishing Verdejo's prominence in its region of origin, Angel Rodriguez has been officially honored by King Juan Carlos of Spain.
In spite of his great accomplishment and the recognition he well deserves, Angel Rodriquez remains a humble man who believes in tradition. He steadfastly maintains a very low-tech approach to the natural production of his wine. Angel still uses the centuries old, subterranean family bodega, replete with ancient 5,000 liter oak barrels for aging. The only quasi-modern pieces of equipment are two 20,00 liter glass tanks, which are used for the fermentation of the unpressed Martinsancho Verdejo, but subsequently even the Martinsancho is transferred underground for clarification and aging in ancient casks.
Production of the great Martinsancho remains quite small, under 2000 cases, but this wine's refined tactile quality and great depth of flavor reveal the indomitable spirit of a great winemaker and the preservation of a legacy. Enjoy!