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Alejandro Fernández, A Winemaker Worth Knowing

The story begins in a small village called Pesquera del Duero located on the banks of the river Duero in northern Spain. It was here in his hometown where he was born and raised that Alejandro Fernández turned from beet harvesting to winemaking. As a young boy, Alejandro’s father taught him how to make wine from the grapes of the surrounding vineyards and it became a lifelong dream to follow his father’s passion. It was Alejandro’s wish to someday make excellent wines that spoke of his homeland and in so doing, inspire the world to take notice.
The beginning of Alejandro’s dream was finally realized in 1972 with his own bodega, a 16th century stone winery in the province of Valladolid where most of the winemaking took place. 

Alejandro’s first grape planting was Tempranillo and he produced his first vintage in 1972 called Tinto Pesquera.  By 1982, Alejandro along with a few other wine pioneers founded the D.O. Ribera del Duero, establishing official recognition for the region. And now, almost five decades later, Alejandro, his wife Esperanza and four daughters own and manage an impressive little empire under the name Grupo Pesquera. 

Alejandro Fernández with his wife Esperanza and four daughters. Photo credit: Grupo Pesquera

Grupo Pesquera consists of four bodegas: Tinto Pesquera, Condado de Haza, Dehesa La Granja and El Vínculo. All the bodegas are dedicated to exclusively growing Tempranillo except for El Vínculo in Campo de Criptana (D.O. La Mancha), which also produces Alejairén, a white wine.

Ribera del Duero has a high elevation and spans from the east of Aranda del Duero to Valladolid in the west. The major source of water for the vineyards in this region comes from the Duero River.  The climate leans towards continental with a complexity of soils throughout the region.
All the grapes for Grupo Pesquera are harvested by hand and Alejandro doesn’t let the calendar determine the harvest, only the grapes dictate when they are ready to be harvested. He feels that the harvest is the most significant element in winemaking. Alejandro uses a combination of French and American oak barrels for aging, making certain that the original character of the grapes is present and doesn’t allow the wood to define the grape. The Fernández family is dedicated to natural winemaking. Wines are neither filtered nor fined prior to bottling.

Alejandro has been given the title of “Master of Tempranillo” and deservedly so. In following his intuition and not the rules, Alejandro has helped to establish Tempranillo as a fine wine in Ribera del Duero. His wines are rich and complex with an abundance of fruit-driven character.

As per the rules of the D.O. Ribera del Duero, 75% of all red wines must be Tempranillo. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec can make up the balance or up to 5% of Albillo or Garnacha.
I recently received four samples from three of the bodegas. 

2015 Condado de Haza Crianza – Ribera del Duero
The Condado de Haza vineyards were planted in 1987 on a 200-acre estate located right next to the Duero River. With a focus on sustainable farming and maintaining the area’s biodiversity, chemicals are never used and an onsite purifier recycles all water. The soil is rocky and the estate experiences a cooler climate than that of the other three bodegas. 

This wine is 100% estate-owned Tempranillo. After 18 months of barrel aging, the Condado de Haza Crianza is then aged for a minimum of 6 months in the bottle. The color is deep red, bordering on purple. Aromas of dark fruit, plum and sweet spice give way to a savory and understated dark fruit palate with hints of fennel, spice and chocolate. This is a straightforward wine with no pretention. It is nicely balanced with a long finish. Serve with grilled meat, hearty stews and spicy pasta.
Alcohol:  14%
SRP:  $24

2013 El Vínculo Crianza – La Mancha
After Alejandro discovered high-quality 100-year-old Tempranillo vines in the historic village of Campo de Criptana in La Mancha region, El Vínculo became the fourth estate. He signed a long-term lease in 1999 with the town’s best grape growers and assumed control of the yield of 50% of fruit dropped per year and harvest time. La Mancha is in the warmest region of the four estates and is exposed to more sun, heat and less moisture, but does experience an extreme continental climate. The vineyards have a combination of sandy and clay soil.

This wine is 100% Tempranillo and aged for 18 months in American oak barrels and 6 months in the bottle prior to release.  The color is deep red with wonderful aromas of ripe red fruit, plum, spice, violet and vanilla. Intense flavors of berries, plum, cherry liquor, earth, spice and toasted wood greet the palate. Round tannins and acidity are perfectly balanced with a long and persistent finish. Serve with grilled meats, poultry and stews. This is a lot of wine for the price tag!
Alcohol:  14.5%
SRP:  $19

2015 El Vínculo Alejairén – La Mancha
This is Grupo Pesquera’s first white wine with the first vintage released to the market in 2007.  It is made from 100% Airén grapes; an indigenous white grape planted throughout central Spain and in particular the La Mancha region. It is drought-resistant and adapts well to hot, dry conditions and poor soils. The grape juice has mostly been used to make brandy and fortified wines such as port and sherry.

The grapes for this wine are harvested from old vines in the Paraje la Golosa vineyard. It is aged 24 months in American oak barrels and a minimum of six months in the bottle.

This wine is a tantalizing honeyed orange color with apricot, floral and oaky notes of vanilla and coconut on the nose. The palate is laden with hazelnut, apricot, baking spices and brioche. This is a dry wine with bright acidity and lots of character.  Serve with an array of appetizers, light pasta and fish.

The name Alejairén is derived from both Alejandro and the grape, Airén.

Alcohol:  13.5%
SRP:  $30

2014 Tinto Pesquera Crianza – Ribera del Duero
This 100% Tempranillo is produced from their flagship bodega covering 200 hectares of vineyards near the Duero River. The grapes are harvested from 40-year-old vines that grow in sand, gravel, clay and limestone. Aging takes place for 18 months in American oak barrels and then 6 months in the bottle.

The color is reminiscent of black cherries with lots of dark berries, dark cherry and sweet spice aromas. A succulent layer of flavors envelops the palate with ripe fruit, dark cherry, plum, nutmeg and chocolate. It is beautifully balanced with silky tannins and a long finish.  Hands down, this is a rich and elegant wine. Pair with meat, game, stews and an assortment of hard cheese.  
Alcohol:  14.5%
SRP:  $35

I fully understand now why Alejandro Fernández is called the “Master of Tempranillo”! His bond and respect for the land upon which his grapes grow are apparent in every bottle of these expressive wines. Cheers to Alejandro and his family!

Alejandro Fernández  Photo credit: Grupo Pesquera



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