Fabio Bartolomei was born and grew up in Scotland. His parents emigrated from the village of Barga (Province of Lucca, Tuscany) and made their living in the Italian restaurant business, but neither that, nor his Accounting and Finance degree were attractive career paths for Fabio, and over 20 years ago he moved to Spain.
For the first 10 years he was based in the southeast of Madrid, with vineyards in Carabaña and Villarejo; He moved around and worked out of garages, stables and other buildings in the villages of Perales de Tajuña, Tielmes, Ambite and Morata de Tajuña.
“Then in 2013… I got my lucky break and moved to the Sierra de Gredos. After looking for a decent building to use as a winery for months, I rented the awesome building that I’m working in now: the ex-cooperative of El Tiemblo, in Sierra de Gredos. It went bankrupt in 2011 and was sitting empty and abandoned.”
The Coop is hugely oversized for Fabio’s needs – he makes around 10.000 litres a year and the building has capacity for two million! Without any formal studies in winemaking, oenology, chemistry or liquid processing engineering, Fabio’s knowledge comes from 14 years’ experience, reading and talking to people.
“I used to have a day-job as a translator, until I got fired in March 2017; probably for not turning up often enough at the office!”
Sierra de Gredos has everything going for it as a wine region:
Soil. Mostly granite covered with a topsoil of sand. But thanks to geological upheavals millions of years ago, there are also some interesting outcrops of slate
Altitude. Mostly between 600 and 1200 m above sea level
Slopes. North-, south-, east-, west-facing. Take your pick
Rivers. Alberche, and Tietar plus numerous streams and tributaries
Temperature ranges. Yes! Big differentials between day and night temperatures. And between summer and winter temperatures
Rainfall. Perfecto! Enough at the right times. Basically, 0% probability of rain during harvest. (Well, let’s just say <0.5% just to be on the safe side)
Long grape-growing tradition
Interesting grape varieties to work with. The emblematic varieties are Garnacha (red) and Albillo (white), but there are several other varieties that are completely unused, unappreciated and scorned (Doré, Chelva, Morenillo, Villanueva, …).
The only thing that is really lacking is more … “winemakers” with only about 20 small independent winemakers in the whole region.
Fabio farms organically although he’s not officially certified:
“I refuse to certify because I believe that the polluters should pay for the damage they are doing to the environment, not the clean farmers.”
He wants his vineyards to be alive with life! … flora, fauna and micro-life. Instead of ploughing up the vineyard several times a year and leaving the soil naked and unprotected, he allows all the wild grasses, plants and flowers to live. This is in fact an excellent form of insect control, because all the different species prey on each other and no one species gets out of control and becomes a problem.
Another reason for leaving all the grasses, flowers, thistles, plants with all their associated insects, pollens, yeasts, etc. is that they contribute to making the aromas and tastes of the wines richer and more complex. The remains of all this vegetation decomposes and goes back into the soil, and improves its fertility and structure. He also chops up the canes from pruning into tiny pieces and spreads them about the vineyard. Same with the skins, pips and stems of the grapes.
“If your soil is healthy and balanced, your vines will be too, and they’ll provide healthy, balanced, complex, terroir-expressing grapes and must. If you spray chemicals on your vineyard, you kill the micro-organisms, the soil becomes unbalanced, the vines suffer and give unbalanced grapes, and your chances of expressing the terroir are reduced.”
The only chemical Fabio uses in the vineyard is a little sulphur to dust the vines once or twice a year depending on the weather.
In the cellar Fabio just uses the wild yeasts that are in the vineyard and winery. He wants his wines to express the terroir as much as possible, so it’s fundamental to use the natural yeasts and not buy a cultured product from a laboratory.
“What I believe happens is that during the first few days of fermentation, there are lots of different strains of strange yeasts active; but then good old Saccharomyces Cerevisiae (the ‘good’ yeast) takes over and dominates totally and completes the fermentation till the end. Well, I believe that those first few days are important, as those strange yeasts provide flavours and aromas that contribute to the expression of the terroir in the wine. If you kill them off with sulfites and inoculate with selected yeasts, well, you’ll get a clean, simpler wine, but it will be less expressive of the terroir.”
“In the winery I make a big effort to make quality wines that are naturally tasty, complex and express the terroir and year in which they were made; and at the same time to care for the environment and my customers’ health. Basically, this boils down to minimum intervention, ie no additives and no processing!”
Fabio is very, very scrupulous about cleanliness and hygiene and spends lots of time cleaning tools, materials, machinery, etc. It’s a great bore, but he believes that it has to be done, if you don’t want to use chemicals. As a general rule he doesn’t even add sulphites to his wines unless it is absolutely necessary or if the buyer expressly asks him to. His winemaking techniques are as simple as possible:
“I take my quality white grapes to my clean winery and I crush the grapes using a clean manual crusher. Or crush them underfoot. I then pour the crushed grapes (pulp, pips, skins and stems) into a clean manual cage press using clean buckets. I press the grapes and I pour the must from the press into a clean stainless steel fermentation tank, again using buckets. When fermentation is finished (after about 2 or 3 weeks) I rack the wine off into another clean stainless steel tank.”
“I take my quality red grapes into my clean winery and I crush the grapes using a clean manual destemmer-crusher. I then pour the crushed grapes (pulp, pips, skins and sometimes with stems and sometimes without the stems) into a clean stainless steel fermentation tank, using clean buckets. I let the wine ferment on the skins for a certain number of days, and punch the cap down manually once a day or more or less. Then I press the wine off the skins using a clean manual cage press. I then pour the wine into a clean stainless steel tank, again using buckets. I rack the wine off once into another stainless steel tank. And that’s it.”