Heritage VinesBodega Numanthia
The gnarled stems and deep roots of Bodega Numanthia’s ‘heritage vines’ help to battle the harsh climate of the Toro region in Spain.
Termanthia: History in a Bottle
To properly appreciate the wines produced by Bodega Numanthia, you must understand the history of the Toro region. Winemaking in the area dates back thousands of years; it’s believed that ancient Greeks came to the Toro region of Spain and taught the Celtic-Iberian settlers the nuances of winemaking. The settlers planted grapes throughout the region, including an ancient town named Numantia, which would become famous for defiance to Roman rule.
This epic tale of resistance begins in 153 BC, when the town was attacked by Roman forces in retaliation for a former Numantian victory against Rome. At one point, Roman war elephants were deployed against the small town, but even these heavy attacks proved unsuccessful. For the next 20 years, the Romans attempted to tame the feisty Numantian army. In 137 BC, the Numantian army (numbering only 4,000-8,000 people) forced the surrender of 20,000 Roman soldiers. Rome’s patience with the small city began to disappear.
By the orders of Roman consul Scipio Aemilianus, the final siege and eventual destruction of Numantia began in 134 BC. An army of 30,000 Roman soldiers constructed fortifications around the city in preparation for a long siege. Famine began to spread after eight months, but the citizens of Numantia refused to submit to Roman rule. In an act of legendary sacrifice, the Numantians burned their own treasures, their city, and finally – themselves.
The Numantian resistance was not in vain – the act is now a source of pride for Spaniards, akin to the Alamo for Americans. Legendary playwright Miguel de Cervantes solidified this story in Spanish lore with his popular tragedy, “El cerco de Numancia.” This colorful history is now bottled and packaged by Bodega Numanthia. Their flagship wine, Termanthia, is made in living tribute to the famed warriors of ancient Numantia.
The Toro Region
Ever since the Siege of Numantia, the Toro region has been known as a place of mystery, resistance, and resilience. Situated 40 miles east of Portugal, it is an extreme climate for wine country. Summers are hot underneath the Spanish sun, with temperatures exceeding 110° F. Winters are equally bitter and cold, with temperatures often falling around zero degrees.
Planted between 1870 and 1890, the 12- acre vineyard from which Termanthia is sourced sits at an altitude of 3,000 feet, with rocky, sandy soils and a clay subsoil. Despite the tough conditions, the vines are dry-farmed and organically grown. The work done in the vineyards is entirely manual in order to maintain the balance of the vines and the quality of the grapes.
Lucas Löwi, Estate Director at Numanthia, describes the terroir in no uncertain terms. “Nine months of winter and three months of hell. It’s an incredibly harsh place to produce wine – especially organic wine. However, our heritage vines live longer because of the sandy soil.” Less than 16 inches of annual rainfall are recorded in the region, leaving the vines to feed only off of snowmelt. This causes the vines to develop roots as deep as 15 feet to reach the much-needed water.
The winery crafts only three red wines, each from distinct vines in different age categories. Termanthia comes from vines 120 to possibly 200 years old, Numanthia from vines 50 to 100 years old, and Termes – the “youngster” of the three – from vines 30 to 50 years old.
“It’s really difficult and painstaking work, but we are aiming for the highest quality product. The fruit used in Termanthia is chosen carefully. Each grape, every drop of wine in the bottle, is purposeful,” explained Jesus Jimenez, Technical Director at Bodega Numanthia. “We practice organic farming so that we may produce wine not only for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren. It’s out of respect for the grapes and the terroir. We have to preserve it.”
While the climate is unforgiving, the winemakers at Bodega Numanthia coddle the fruit at harvest. The fruit is hand-picked, hand destemmed and crushed by foot. Selection is grape by grape, and only the best product is used to produce Termanthia. Extremely low yields (some of the lowest in the world) ensure a high concentration and expressive wines. Bodega Numanthia produces three expressions of the rare Tinta de Toro. It is renowned for its concentration, balanced tannins and elegant notes.
“Our yield is one of the smallest in the whole world, less than three thousand pounds,” explained Jimenez. “While the yield is small, the grapes are powerful. Our challenge is to dominate that power, to select the best grapes rigorously in the vineyard and winery, and extract very gently with a cold maceration before fermentation, to retain the wine’s freshness.”
The ungrafted vines (which have never been irrigated) deliver fruit intensity, an impressive body, and elegant complexity. Within a single glass you’ll find a century of handcrafted perfection. Completely organic production only adds to the wine’s unblemished profile. Over time the vines have been sculpted by the climate, growing low and bushy, developing thick trunks which can measure upwards of ten inches around.
After six months in new oak, Termanthia is moved into other different oak barrels for 16 months to give it additional complexity. After much experimentation with bottle age, Löwi and Jimenez have found that adding a few more years multiplies the power and elegance of the wine. While holding wines for longer might be disastrous for other producers, this is only what is necessary to produce the truest expression of the Tinta de Toro.
Because Numanthia’s focus has always been on working with heritage vines, the winery team has earned an interesting reputation in the community for caretaking. Well-established families look to Numanthia to manage or buy their legacy vineyards; many planted by great-grandfathers and passed down over the generations.
“Some owners,” explained Löwi, “have been known to weep after selling, but its sadness mixed with relief that their heritage vines will carry on as part of one of Spain’s greatest wines.”
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