Sierra de Salamanca: one of the smallest wine regions of Castile and Leon

 

This is one of the smallest, most overlooked wine region in Castilla y León and yet the acute observer that I am can only see a better future with greater exposure to the rest of Spain, Europe and … beyond. Sierra de Salamanca is somehow destined to revive and shine again. It boasts a diversity of flora and fauna, numerous nature trails, among which some 290 hectares under vine and 75 of them within the appellation. 

The vineyard mostly grows on man-shaped terraces, locally called paredones. In a similar way, the neighbouring Douro in Portugal and Ria Sacra region in the northwestern corner of Spain display the same luscious fields of grapes.

The appellation proudly celebrates its red grape Rufete, an autochthonous and quite unique grape in Spain. While a white Rufete also exists and is called localy Verdejo Serrano, the focus is more on the red variety. 

The Red Rufete is closely related to Pinot Noir, as it is known the later was possibly introduced by fhe French monastic order of Cluny in the 12th century, when ecclesiastic communities settled in the area. For some reason, the Rufete grows unevenly among the plots and it is interesting to observe people skills in discerning the vines, which can be of different varieties in a same plot. The winemaker relies mostly on locals for the picking, which requires the skilful art of quickly identifying which vine is what as plots are often mixed with different varieties. Rufete needs to be picked before tempranillo, it grows on roughly half of the vineyard, depending on the type of soil.

The Rufete is also said to have Portuguese origins, adapting from the Tinta Pinheira to the more refined variety it is today through its adaptation to the soil and local characteristics. The Rufete is the focus of current biogenetic research which might come to interesting outcomes in regard to its DNA and the similar features. 

For years, the predominant social structure was made of resilient rural communities helping each other, relying in a barter economy. The inhabitants, entire families could live in self-sufficiency, with habits of sharing crops. Despites the mountaineous area was free from epidemic episode, the area began to suffer a first wave of depopulation and land abandonment in the late 50’s, followed by a more critical one in the late 60’s, when people went to towns to make a better living. In this rugged land, a lush nature can regain its rights over an abandoned plot in barely 3 years. This is unfortunately quite visible today.

Even by modern standards, the area is still remote and only recently got better connected with improved roads. The distinctive architecture of the villages is virtually unchanged. It reflects the exploitation and usage of all the resources available like the chestnuts. With average rainfall levels reaching 750 mm a year at its highest points and extreme heat in summer, Sierra de Salamanca wine region is home to drastic weather conditions in Spain behind Rias Baixas in Galicia.

Sierra de Salamanca is the promising land, a place of granitic vats used for the fermentations of grapes in premedieval times, the realm of delicate floral notes Rufete (delicate Rufete) which could well fit in with the trend towards less structured, easy to drink wines.