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By Cat Gaa
I knew Bodegas Silvano García was a family business when Cristóbal topped up our wine glasses with the winery’s rosé and said, “Smell and tell me what it reminds you of. I’ve got to ring up the vecina (neighbor).” He pointed at the older woman, shopping cart in tow, as the other employee hauled over jugs, called garrafas, of wine.
My boyfriend, Enrique, and I quickly downed our glasses, eager for the red when Cristóbal returned a few minutes later, four new bottles in tow. I turned to Mister Sourpants and asked, “Now aren’t you happy we came?”
On a recent trip to Murcia, Spain’s nearly forgotten territory anchoring the southeastern corner, I begged Enrique to drive me out to a winery. After all, Murcia’s own Denomination of Origin of Jumilla and its 47 wineries are quickly making a name for themselves in an already crowded gastronomical (and vinicultural) offering. Frantic emailing to all of the big names in this sleepy town yielded just one confirmation: we’d be joining a group of six at Silvano García Winery on Saturday, 11:30 am sharp.
Jumilla is just over an hour’s drive from the capital, Murcia, through Martian-like landscapes. Its rich soil and unspoiled climate is known as Spain’s fruit basket, and the monastrell grape variety is very much at home.
We started our visit at Silvano García with an introduction from the others: there was a couple from Madrid, expectant newlyweds – grandparents-to-be along for the wine – from Alicante, Enrique and me. I took the tourist route and pulled out my camera, happily snapping away at oak casks and delicate wine glasses while Cristóbal talked far, far over my head.
Silvano García is a third-generation family business that proudly develops everything from white to reserve red, as well as sweet wines, olive oil and marmalade. Just eight years ago, the family acquired the old storehouse of Bodegas San Isidro, one of the biggest names of the regions.
Despite the big casks to fill, Silvano García keeps its business local. While you won’t find their brands, Silvano García and Viñahonda, in supermarkets, their award-winning wine is prominent in local dishes and wins regional and national prizes for quality and taste.
While that’s all good and well, we came to try wine and see how it’s made. Saturday morning was rainy and quiet in the city, and Cristóbal patiently listened to and answered our questions for over an hour as he led us through the small production plant. “Come on,” he pleaded, “hit me with anything. I’ve been here six years and know my stuff. And tours where only I talk are so dull. ” He debated with Enrique about cork and synthetic bottle toppers, pummeled through production numbers and grape varieties and let us get as hands-on as we felt like.
When we returned from the tour, a small bar area was set for us with eight glasses emblazoned with the company’s sleek logo, eight bottles of the Vinahonda brand and small plates of sausages and potato chips. The 5€ tour included a cata de vinos, or wine tasting, so we eagerly lined up at the bar. While I love drinking wine, I’m certainly a green thumb when it comes to picking out the scents and tastes, so Cristóbal was there to help.
Starting with the white and progressing through a rosé, four reds, a reserve from 1990 and two sweets wines, our host explained the proper steps to tasting a wine – the evaluation of color against a white sheet of paper, the smell with your nose nearly skimming the wine in the glass, the taste through the entire mouth, and not too many aperitifs.
As the wine warmed our bodies, it too warmed our relationships. Before long, we were chatting up the grandpa about the Camino de Santiago, his expectant daughter about her job at a chocolate company and Cristóbal about the most expensive wine he’d ever bought (he kept mum!).
After the full portfolio of wines, Enrique disappeared and came back with two plastic bags full of wine. “I can’t honestly say I’ve had a night out drinking Jumilla,” he said with a smile, hoisting one of the bags of garrafas into my expectant arms. “But here’s to starting.”
The town of Jumilla, 120 kilometers north of Murcia, is home to dozens of bodegas.
For weekend trips, many ask that you inquire about availability and prices of tours. Ours at Silvano García, Avenida de Murcia 29, cost 5€ for the tour and the entire wine tasting (and tours are also run in English and German upon request). Some run as low as 3€ and as pricey as 15€, and the tourism board of Murcia also runs a Ruta del Vino with several visits included. Prices for a bottle of wine at the bodega were 6€ to 20€. http://www.silvanogarcia.com
Bio: Upon receiving an offer to work at a radio news broadcast center in Chicago, Cat Gaa turned it down and turned up at the Consulate of Spain. Five years and a daily craving for Cruzcampo later, she writes by night at Sunshine and Siestas about Sevilla – toros, tapas and just about everything else – while wrangling kids by day.