Saturday, 2 February 2019

The Classic Pagos of the Marco de Jerez: Macharnudo

Each Pago in the Marco de Jerez consists of a number of individual vineyards which share similar soil conditions, microclimate and to an extent microflora which together differentiate the character of one pago from another. The most famous is the Macharnudo, whose name allegedly derives from the Arabic “Machar” or farm and the Spanish “nudo” or bare as only vines could prosper in this chalky soil. Known as the “grand cru” of Jerez, it extends to a total of approximately 600 hectares lying about 5 kilometres north and slightly west of Jerez and about 18 kilometres from the sea – which can sometimes be seen from it. Its eastern neighbour is the pago Carrascal and to the west is Almocaden.

Part of the Macharnudo from a map of 1904

Like all great vineyards, it is a happy coincidence of location, soil, altitude and aspect. The lowest lying areas once formed part of an old estuary with surrounding marshland and here the soil can be quite salty due to the evaporation of water which drained from higher up. The pago divides into two general areas and sits on a mostly southwest-facing slope averaging nearly 10%: Macharnudo Alto, which accounts for around two thirds of the pago to the north, the finer of the two areas, and Macharnudo Bajo. The area enjoys some 300 hours of sunshine and 600 litres per square metre of rainfall annually.

The Alto, naturally, is the higher ground, indeed one of the highest vineyards in the Marco de Jerez, reaching 135 metres, where it can benefit from both the Poniente and good exposure to the sun. At the top there is a statue of Christ and the Sacred Heart. There may have been a medieval watchtower here once, on the roof of which a signal fire could be lit to warn people of impending trouble. The soil here is the purest albariza in the area with a very high content of chalk originating from marine fossils, mainly diatoms from the Oligocene epoch between 23 and 34 million years ago. It is quite alkaline with a low content of organic material and nitrogen. 

A view over Viña La Riva towards Jerez
Drainage is good thanks to the slope which prevents too much water being absorbed, and the musts produced here are recognised for superior quality and greater intensity with good minerality, concentration and personality. The Alto is famous for producing fuller bodied Finos with the capacity to evolve into some of the finest Amontillados. The Bajo is more alluvial with poorer drainage and aspect, but the wines are still pretty good, often maintaining freshness even during drought hit periods. There are many casas de viña including Valdespino, La Riva, Los Arcos, (I)Sabel, La Hortelana, Botaina, Belén and the Cerros: Alto, Viejo, del Obispo and Santiago.

Vines have been cultivated in the pago for many centuries and especially since the XIII century following the re-conquest from the Moors, and Don Alfonso de Valdespino was awarded land here in 1264 by King Alfonso X in recognition of his military services. The Moorish occupation had seen the grapes mainly used for raisins or base wine for distilling into perfume or medicine. Some of the vineyard names read like a roll call of great names: La Riva, Blázquez, Valdespino or Haurie. The monks of the Cartuja once owned two parcels here, of 15 and 25 aranzadas (@ 7 and 11 hectares) which they gradually accumulated from donations starting in 1481.

Valdespino´s casa de viña
Juan Haurie was a notable vineyard owner here with the Cortijo El Majuelo (or Castillo de Macharnudo) with its medieval tower, XVIII century casa de viña and its vineyard. The word “majuelo” means a newly planted vineyard, but in this case the name stuck. With the growth of the Sherry trade in the XIX century and the attendant need for more vineyard, the quality and style of which was more important then, Pedro Domecq, having taken over the business of Haurie, bought much more of the pago, some 200 hectares in 1829 for which he paid 800,000 reales de vellón, arriving at a total of some 400 hectares. 

Things began to change in 2005 when Domecq was taken over by Pernod Ricard and dismembered by them and Beam Global, who sold 205 hectares of this prime vineyard to Grupo Estévez to add to the 36 hectares Estévez had acquired with the purchase of Valdespino, and soon after the nearby 20 hectares of Viña Hortelana.

Castillo de Macharnudo and El Majuelo
Current ownership:

Bodegas Fundador (Emperador): the 200 hectare El Majuelo vineyard which surrounds the Castillo de Macharnudo, which they also own. This supplies the musts for Harveys.

Valdespino (Grupo Estévez): 260 hectares – the largest holding. Valdespino’s Fino Inocente, Palos Cortados Viejo CP and Cardenal and Amontillados Tio Diego and Coliseo are all Macharnudo, as are the table wine Ojo de Gallo, the Vintage Palo Cortado and the Maximum Brandy. Inocente (17 ha) and Ojo de Gallo are the names of individual vineyards. Much Fino by Equipo Navazos comes from here. Valdespino is the only Jerez bodega to be a member of Grandes Pagos de España, an association of bodegas who make single vineyards wines.

Viña Callejuela: 5 hectare La Choza vineyard. Musts from here have been used for the La Choza table wine and for one of their Almacenista Vintage single pago Manzanillas.

González Byass: A little under 50 hectares: 15.5 hectare Viña La Racha, Viña San Antonio, Viña Panameña, Viña El Barco.

Viña La Constancia: 24.5 hectares in Cerro Santiago.

Luís Pérez: a few hectares: Fincas La Escribana and San Cayetano in Cerro Valcargado
Plus a few small independent growers.

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