Organic wines by the agrotourism extraordinaire winemaker.
Sixteen years ago, in a remote part of the Ronda countryside, stood a field and nothing else. Now, because of the dream of one teenage boy nearly fifty years ago, stands Finca Los Frutales – the home and vineyard of Joaquín Fernández.
Fernández is originally from Córdoba, the home of sweet white Spanish wines. He came from a family of construction workers and followed in his father’s footsteps as a labourer. Little did he know that one day his simple job would lead him into the world of viticulture.
“I’ve always liked drinking wine,” he says. “Like any true Andalucian does, but it’s the smell that gets me every time. When I was around fourteen years old, my father and I were asked to make some repairs at a bodega,” a smile plays on his lips and he looks wistfully into the past. “When I stepped inside the distillery a smell so magical and potent hit me. It filled my senses, washed over me and possessed me. The aroma of wine stayed with me from that very day and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Since then I have known the path I have to follow.”
Fernández’ dreams of one day owning his own vineyard spurred him to plan and save and that’s what he did ... for over thirty years. Alongside qualifying as a stone mason, working predominately with marble, he also read up on wine production and studied agriculture and viticulture. His love for books has never diminished, and he’s now the proud owner of an impressive library with over four thousand books.
“People think it’s unusual that I went from sculpting and working with marble to producing wine, but it’s one and the same thing. I am creating something of value and beauty out of nature. I am working with an organic substance, be in marble, wood, stone or grape - and I am converting it into something amazing and unforgettable. In this case it’s wine.”
In the year 2000 Fernández successfully acquired a bank loan to finally realise his dreams (a plaque of recognition to that bank hangs proudly on the wall among his accolades and awards) and he created Finca Los Frutales.
“My dream was always to be a wine producer and to sell my wines in my own bodega. I loved the idea of offering an attractive space where wine lovers could come and stay, celebrate, enjoy wines and learn about organic ecological farming before going home with a bottle or two. For that I needed a place like this, and I had thirty years to think about exactly what I wanted and how I was going to do it.”
Finca Los Frutales is a place where you take your time. Everything in the grounds has a curious story attached to it, Fernández has kept to his ecological ideal and built his dream bodega from discarded material; reusing, recycling and re-loving the unwanted. The pillars are old street lights and the cobbles beneath our feet are stones from the surrounding countryside.
A large patio filled with orange trees and an antique wine press looks out over a sweeping landscape of olive groves, vineyards and blue-grey mountains in the distance. You want to sit with your wine, breathe in the scent of aromatic herbs and old grape-soaked wooden barrels and dream your own dreams. And that is exactly why Fernández designed his Finca in such a way that his guests can relax in nature and get a taste of his little slice of Andalucian heaven.
“I currently have a guest house that sleeps eight,” he says, pointing at the large white-washed Spanish house with its typical terracotta tiled roof and windows facing some of the best views in the region. “I run ecological wine tours and tastings. I also host weddings here, as well as corporate weekends and events. People really enjoy themselves, which is all I wanted from my bodega. A beautiful and comfortable retreat and a bodega that makes wine the way wine should be made, as close to nature as possible.”
Fernandez point to the old chicken sheds that he is hoping to convert into family accommodation and single cabin rooms so he can branch out and offer agriculture holidays. I, for one, can’t think of anything more enjoyable than waking up in this paradise and spending my days eating local produce and drinking Finca Los Frutales wines.
Fernández is one of only three Ronda wine producers whose ecologically produced wine carries the Andalucian and European organic stamp of approval.
“The entire process of wine making for me has to be as natural as possible,” he says. “From the way we cultivate the plants to the way we manage the wildlife. We even have twenty bee hives on our grounds, which help with our cross-pollination. They make the most delicious honey, but unfortunately they don’t produce enough to satisfy all my customers who ask for some to accompany their wine purchase. But every tiny part of the landscape you see before you plays its part in producing our wine.”
On the table before us is a collection of old used corks and some dried rosemary. Fernández picks it up in his fingers and releases the scent from the herb’s oil. “I don’t let anything unnatural touch my wine, even the corks are made from the best quality cork you can get. I don’t even allow the foil caps to be placed over them. Our bottles of wine are dipped by hand – one by one – into melted wax produced by my very own bees, and then sprinkled with local herbs. Sometimes we use oregano or other herbs too, whatever is in season. We use what nature gives us. When you use a wax seal instead of a foil cap you can see immediately if the wine is corked or damaged, and nothing unnatural can taint the wine within. I believe in transparency and honesty in my work, and going back to basics.”
It’s one thing for a bottle to look impressive and unique, but what about the wine itself? The Finca Los Frutales label has won countless awards and accolades which hang proudly in Fernández’ tasting and banqueting hall. His most coveted award being the Gold he won in Vienna in 2014 for his Garnacha, beating allcomers (entries from 37 other countries and over 11,000 other vineyards). “There’s a reason why they call wine the drink of the gods,” he laughs. “I can’t get this excited about other drinks. Yes I understand that whisky and brandy have their place in the world, but wine ... wine is in a league of its own.”
On our way out we pass the large wooden doors of the distillery, flanked by two majestic marble horse heads, carved by Juaquín Fernández himself. To him, making beauty from something natural is second nature. “I saw inside the stone and it called to me. The horses were already in there, hidden, waiting to come out. All I did was release them.”
Here is a man that can see into the future, who at 14 years old set his sights on a dream and made it happen – a man that could teach us all a thing or two about patience, determination and recognising potential; about releasing the very beauty and potential that is hidden inside us all.