Much loved wines by the exceptional winemaker
A large gate, a long impressive drive and a scenic sweep of vineyards is the sight that greets you when you arrive at Finca Doña Felisa, the home of José Maria Losantos Hernando. Overlooked by the Roman amphitheatre of Acinipo, the impressive finca was built sixteen years ago and named after José Maria’s mother-in-law.
“She was an incredible woman,” he tells me, as his dog Tinto bounds at his feet. “It felt fitting that we should name our first vineyard after her.” José Maria’s own family came from Burgos in Rioja; you could say that red wine is part of his very roots.
“As soon as I was able to work, I joined the marines. I have run all sorts of companies since and I’ve worked on the coast and in construction. But it’s always been wine that has held a special place in my heart. When you are brought up in the Rioja region, wine is part of every day. Even as a child, as a snack, I was served white bread soaked in red wine with sugar sprinkled on top. The older I got, the more I wanted to escape back to the countryside and get back to what I loved ... and here I am.”
Chinchilla consists of six hectares of predominantly French grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and the Spanish Tempranillo. In 2005 José Maria produced his first wine and it has been a great success ever since.
“At first I started this as a hobby, a side line. It was an adventure and a challenge to be part of an exciting new pioneering drive to get wine back into Ronda,” he says. “But once it took off it became my sole business. I’m proud of my culture, and wine is a large part of that. My daughter has gone on to study Oenology at university, along with chemistry, and together we will grow the Chinchilla name. She has been brought up with wine all her life. She has the practice, and she has now also acquired the theory.”
José Maria is adamant that when it comes to producing award winning wines, passion is not enough – that it takes a good knowledge and mix of technology, chemistry and history to truly understand what you are doing. Inside the winery he demonstrates his state-of-the-art temperature gauges and pressure valves. Everything is monitored to the finest degree and nothing is overlooked.
Doña Felisa isn’t José Maria’s only vineyard, he has a couple of hectares of vines scattered among other small holdings nearby. As his reputation has grown, so has the production of his wine – but always retaining his great reputation. “It’s about quality over quantity. Instead of trying to squeeze more than one bottle out of a plant, I have simply planted more vines and not lost my quality,” he says.
We head to the tasting area downstairs and pass José Maria’s fascinating mini museum of wine-related artefacts dating back to the Roman era. There are arrow heads, pieces of pottery and coins found locally and donated to him by nearby farmers. The coins are clearly marked with images of grapes – demonstrating how important Ronda once was to the Roman wine industry. The walls are adorned with old photos of the region, along with posters demonstrating the importance of nature to wine productions.
“See that huge piece of cork?” he asks, pointing at a large piece of tree bark. “That is where our corks come from. There are different grades of cork, and many people don’t give it much thought when they open up a bottle of wine. But good quality cork is expensive, and it’s the sign of a decent bottle of wine. It takes 9 years for a tree to grow its bark thick enough for corks to be punched out of them, and they aren’t cheap to buy. But whatever touches my wine affects my wine...so I only use the best.”
Past the small showcase room is where José Maria keeps his barrels and where the tasting area is. It’s a welcoming area, not dissimilar to a country kitchen, with a large table laid out complete with tartan blankets and rows upon rows of bottles line the shelves behind – some dating back as far back as the 1950’s. On the other side of the glass wall are the barrels, stored in a cool temperature-controlled cellar.
“We have wines for every taste,” he says, pouring a glass of his Seis + Seis. “For instance we did some research and discovered this wine was enjoyed by many women. So we changed the label, made it more feminine, whilst still in keeping with our Spanish heritage.” A young lady walks in with a tray of tapas and José Maria encourages us to eat while he explains more about his wine. “One must always eat and be with friends when drinking. That’s what it’s all about, good Spanish food and good company. Drinking alone is for drunks,” he laughs.
Family and friends are very important to him, as are the arts. “Wine goes hand in hand with some of my favourite things; music, art and my family. In fact we were lucky to take part in a collaboration last year with ten local artists who were asked to design the labels for ten Andalucian wines,” he opens up an impressive wooden case containing ten colourful bottles.
“We got lucky, our artist was the only one that painted our bodega, so it’s extra special to us. Wine takes up so much of my time, but it’s the simple pleasures in life that are the best. When I can, I like to enjoy restoring old machinery and spending time with my young granddaughter. Both give me a wonderful sense of fulfilment.”
José Maria has achieved what many wine producers could only ever dream of. He has successfully combined the knowledge of the old with the technology of today and turned his personal love into a thriving business.
“I still have lots of plans for Chinchilla though,” he says with a wry smile. “One day we will offer agriculture tours and holidays where people can stay with us; understand the philosophy of wine, enjoy Ronda produce and really get a true taste of the area. The Romans knew what they had when they produced wine here two thousand years ago, and we are lucky that we get to rediscover it all over again.”
We exit via his small shop, Tinto the dog weaving between our legs and José Maria’s team waving at us from the fields, and marvel at the spectacular landscape.
It’s no wonder that José Maria returned to his roots - you may leave the wine country, but clearly the wine will never leave you.