A NOMAD BACKGROUND: Established and owned by Fabio Bartolomei since 2003, Vinos Ambiz is located in the village of El Tiemblo, which is in the Sierra de Gredos Mountains, about 1 hr (90 km) West of Madrid (Spain).
The winery is right in the middle of the village, on the main street, next to the bull-ring. It is a historic building, built in 1958, and has been hosting the village wine co-operative (called Sociedad Agraria de Transformación Nº 1162) until it went out of business in 2009. The walls are made of stone and are extremely thick. It contains about 50 concrete fermentation/storage tanks and has a total capacity of about 1.2 million liters (well … Fabio averages only 20.000 bottles per year!)
It took Fabio a long time to find such a place – 11 years, no less! In that time, he changed winery 4 times, each time moving to a slightly better place. During his last 2 years as a nomad, he had the good fortune to share a real bodega in Morata de Tajuña, but before that he worked out of an abandoned cow-shed (in Ambite, 5 years), before that a basement/cellar (in Perlaes de Tajuña, 2 years) and before that a house/cave (in Tielmes, 2 years). Fabio has a nomad mindset, yes, you are right!
The good news is that nowadays at El Tiemblo he shares this huge and a bit old fashioned facility with another artisanal winemaker, Daniel Ramos, with common links on chemical free wines and culture.
“I was born in Scotland and I grew up and was educated there: first at school in Glasgow and then at university in Edinburgh. With a name like mine I’m obviously of Italian origin, and in fact my parents emigrated from the village of Barga (Province of Lucca, Tuscany) and of course made their living in the Italian restaurant business. However, not being able to stand the climate or the prospect of life in the world of accountancy and finance (in which I got my degree) I left Scotland and came to Spain”. Here we go … the gipsy attitude comes to the surface one more time: the “Trinity man” (a bit Scot, a bit Italian and somehow a bit Spanish) hits the road and tries hard to make his path in the terrible and difficult wine world. Meanwhile fifty-something Fabio enjoys his life and family in Madrid where he lives. And guess what … his favorite sport to watch on TV is still rugby and a Scottish flag is always present inside his bodega!
“Is it tricky deciding whether my wines are natural or not? Well, given the current lack of a legal or official definition, no-one (or everyone!) is able to say. My own personal thoughts on this issue are as follows: I don’t see it as a clear-cut, yes/no, natural/not-natural dichotomy. I think that there is a scale of naturalness based on the number and types of interventions. So what I do is, publish information sheets on each type of wine I make, clearly stating what I add (if anything) and what I do and don’t do to the wine. Then my consumers can decide for themselves just how natural my wines are. My European back labels are definitely well known for the details that I include. Actually even some of my USA back labels are a sort of personal manifesto … it depends on the FDA which has the last word on what I am allowed to write”.
To cut a long story short, Fabio has been working completely organically, or naturally, or with minimum intervention in the winery for the last 15 years, and by default he doesn’t add any substances at all to the must or wine; neither does he use any aggressive or intensive high-intervention processes. Natural yeast is a must-go for him and apart from few wines, the vast majority of his gems skip any added sulfites. If he were certified, his wines would easily comply with any legislation. He doesn’t use any pesticides, herbicides, insecticides or any chemical whatsoever in the vineyard. Every two years or so Fabio adds organic manure from a sheep and goat farm located in the mountains behind Madrid.
He also adds back the canes from the pruning. After pruning, he leaves the canes in the lanes between the rows of vines and in summer a tractor comes and at the same time cuts back the grass and plants and chops up the canes.
Vinos Ambiz regularly attends the most important natural and artisanal wine fairs in London, Paris, Milan, Barcelona and Madrid. Fabio is a self taught agronomist and oenologist still humble enough to keep his pace steady and constant by never ending new studies and updated experimental wine making.
Fabio elaborates wines from the following grapes: Airén, Chasselas Doré, Albillo Real, Chelva, Malvar, Villanueva and Sauvignon Blanc. The reds are limited to Garnacha and Tempranillo.
He tends 5 vineyards by himself (2 nearby Madrid and 3 in Sierra de Gredos) as Fabio is still sentimentally linked to vineyards that are part of his past in Carabaña when he had the bodega before moving to El Tiemblo.
The two Madrid outskirts province vineyards are in Carabaña (planted with a field blend dominated by Airén and Tempranillo) and in Villarejo de Salvanés, this one planted only with Malvar. The three different vineyards in El Tiemblo (Sierra de Gredos) host Garnacha and Chelva varieties.
Carabaña is a small village about 50 km (30 miles) southeast of Madrid. He has been managing this vineyard for about 15 years (since 2003). It is about 1 ha (2.5 acres) in extent and has about 1,200 vines: 800 are white Airén and 400 red Tempranillo. All the vines are about 60 years old, which is advantageous, as old vines produce good complex grape-juice. Production varies from between 2000 bottles to 5000 bottles depending on the climate and on the voracity of the rabbit population, in a given year.
In 2010 he took on another vineyard in the neighbouring village of Villarejo, about 10 km from Carabaña. It’s planted to the white variety called Malvar and the vines are over 100 years old.
The three vineyards in Gredos are just amazing and share few common features: high altitude, steep hills, decomposed granite soils topped by sand. Biodiversity here rules with orchards and pine forests. Two of them are trained as low density bush vines (en vaso in Spanish). At roughly 750 meters’ altitude, the continental climate is fierce here with crazily cold windy winters and hot dry summers. Gredos is the new Eldorado for the new wave of Spanish producers seeking terroir driven wines and about 15 of them are gathered together within the “Garnacha de Gredos” association.
Overall he also buys in grapes from local Gredos grape-growers coming from supervised vines, if (and only if) they agree to certain conditions, like not using pesticides, harvesting in small crates, himself choosing the date of harvest, etc. Long time relation with campesinos (farmers) allow the small estate to produce roughly a dozen wines per year, although he is now limiting his micro-vinifications projects.
Fabio uses different materials on order to ferment, rack and age the wines: stainless steel vats, wooden barrels, concrete vats and clay amphoras of different sizes and even plastic bins. The majority of his offerings are monovarietal wines and total production levels oscillates from 15.000 to 20.000 bottles yearly, according to the characteristics of the vintage.
This small bodega exports on a regular basis to USA (with a consolidated presence in NY and Illinois states), Norway, Sweden, UK, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Austria, Italy, France, Russia, etc. Export markets absorb 95% of the total production.
Referring to NY and NJ states, Steep Hill is the new importer. The wines actually in stock are the Doris Chasselas Dorè 2018, Airene Airén 2018, Alba Albillo Real 2018, La Gatta Mormigliana Tempranillo 2017.
Doris Chasselas Dorè 2018: The fruit sourced for this wine comes from two different bush vineyards (en vaso) in Cebreros (Sierra de Gredos) averaging 40 years. Old vines have very long roots and so can explore the soil and extract many different nutrients and substances (more than young vines) and so make a richer and more complex wine.
The variety has been part of the local viticultural scenario in the last 200 hundred years and it’s a clone of the Chasselas which is an old grape variety born in the Jura and Alps mountain ranges of Switzerland. Fresh, tropical and savory, it is light on its feet while having a surprising amount of structure and body for a wine with just 10,5% alcohol. Fermented and macerated for 3 days. Like all of Fabio’s wines, the Doris is unfined, unfiltered and with no added sulfites. The ageing process continues in steel vats. 2.000 bottles produced.
Airene Airén 2018: New vintage and brand new label! The vineyards are located in Morata de Tajuña (Madrid Region) and are bush trained. Fermented and macerated for 5 days in stainless steel vats where the ageing process continues. Usually Fabio prefers not to macerate this variety elaborating it with a soft direct press by removing the skins. Well … in 2018 Fabio wanted to do a new experiment and the wine is delicious! 5.000 bottles produced.
Alba Albillo Real 2018: Each bottle is its own story, something to be appreciated and respected. This is an aromatic Albillo Real with fruit sourced from bush vineyards in the Sierra de Gredos mountains, near El Tiemblo (Avila). Fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged in used barriques. Two days skin contact. The terroir here is awesome: steep hills, wide temperature excursions, old bush vines planted on poor soils marked by sand and pebbles. Vineyards are totally untouched by pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides. Basically this wine is made only with fermented grape juice. Please enjoy this limited edition Alba (only 3.000 bottles produced) with friends while listening to your favorite indie rock bands. Serve it pretty loud.
La Gatta Mormigliana Tempranillo 2017: This Tempranillo comes from a young vineyard (about 15 years) nearby El Tiemblo, grown ecologically avoiding pesticides, herbicides, insecticides or other chemicals. Poor sandy soil, not very fertile, over granite, located at about 750 m above sea level. The best reason for not ploughing up is that the cover protects the topsoil from erosion from rain and wind, especially this vineyard which is on a slope and quite exposed to the elements. Grapes are crushed manually and macerated for about 30 days. Pressed off manually using a hydraulic cage press (low pressure = quality). Fermentation takes place in stainless steel vats, then the wine is racked to old oak barrels (500 and 600 liters) using a manual pump (manufactured in 1907 in Alcoy, Valencia) for 8 months.
In a nutshell