Exclusive natural wines by the founding father of Ronda Wines
When Juan Manuel Vetas arrived in Ronda, from Medoc in Bordeaux, he arrived with more than just his young family; he brought with him a life time of wine growing experience and a pioneering passion for Orwine that has made the Ronda wine scene what it is today.
So strong was his dedication to the art of wine production that within a short space of time he became the founding father of what is now known as the Ronda Wine Revival. He brought French grapes to Andalucia, making the region one of Spain’s fastest growing wine producing areas with a distinct history and its own charming character.
Vetas’ vineyards and Spanish-style Chateau are nestled deep within the rolling fields of Ronda. Surrounded by olive groves and wheat fields, behind a pair of wrought iron gates sporting two large wine bottle motifs, Vetas’ unassuming home and vineyard is very much like the man himself; modest and stoic, but filled with true Spanish charm You don’t have to know much about horticulture or wine growing to know that Spring is coming and with it the new cycle of life and the beginning of endless possibilities.
“Welcome to my home,” he says, leading us through the gates. Upon stepping over the threshold an instant calm descends. A dog sits in a puddle of warm sunlight and the gentle buzz of wildlife hums gently in the background like nature’s own lullaby. In the myriad of winding country lanes and the impressive vineyards of Ronda, all roads lead to Vetas. Here is a man who has patience and determination etched upon his face. A man of principles and tradition, who with measured steps has reinvented Ronda without fanfare or fuss.
“It’s not been easy,” he tells me, as he we stand in his patio overlooking the vineyards. All is silent but for the distant crow of a cockerel. “When you are the first to try something new it is bitter sweet. Your successes are all your own, but so are your mistakes – and to begin with I was making those errors alone and with no one to share them with.” In the late 1990’s Vetas decided to buy his own land and create his own label; a lifelong ambition that he could only have dreamed of as a teenager in France. He not only produces some of Ronda’s finest wine but has been at the forefront of all Ronda wine production since his arrival in the late 1980’s, having advised his successors of the importance of every Ronda wine having its own identity and character – much like the wine makers themselves.
“Now, nearly thirty years after I started my venture, there are twenty-three other Ronda vineyards of various sizes and various quality. But although we are all different, we are linked, we have started something together and we are like one big family.” To Vetas, family is everything. Not only is he like a father to the younger winemakers taking their first tentative steps into the world of wine making, but his own family is intrinsic to the future of the label. His wife, Maria Elena, joins us outside and pours herself a glass of Petit Verdot. “I look after all the commercial and administrative aspects of the business,” she tells me. “It is a family business in every sense of the word. Our son and daughter are training to take over the label one day.” Vetas points at the bottle of Vetas Junior on the table, “that’s my grandson’s handprint on the label. He is just as much part of what we do as the rest of us. All this will one day be for him.” Vetas isn’t interested in growing his business beyond the eight thousand bottles he produces a year. For him it is about quality over quantity.
“It’s about controlling my vineyard and being hands-on. I can’t do that if I get any bigger,” he explains, looking out over his fields and shielding his eyes from the early Spring light. “These vines and my wine, they are like babies to me. Why would I want to hand them over to someone else? I am involved in every aspect, from sowing the first seed to the bottling. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
His wines, the Vetas Selección (a combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot), his signature Petit Verdot and his newest label Vetas Junior, are renowned for their French flavour. He’s proud of the fact that his wines are made in harmony with nature, they have nothing added to them and the flavour is pure French grape in Spanish soil produced with love and dedication.
“People ask me what I do for fun or as a hobby,” he laughs. “Well, if you know anything about wine, you will understand that you don’t get holidays or time off in this line of work. You have to love what you do, because there is very little time for anything else.” A collection of antique corkscrews, dating back to the 18th century, are displayed proudly inside his distillery.
He talks of his travels to France to continue his ever-expanding knowledge of the wine industry, and he smiles when he explains how he teaches sommeliers and wine enthusiasts about the importance of wine in our lives.“I admire the French, they have always had a love affair with wine,” he says, tipping his glass to the side and showing me how the wine has a clear halo of burgundy forming around its edges. “The French care about what they drink. To them wine is about family, homemade food and making memories.
They respect a good bottle and they keep it for a special occasion. For me it is better to drink good wine once a week than bad wine every day, and that’s what I tell anyone that asks me about wine.” So what exactly is the philosophy behind the Vetas wine label? He sums it up in three words, “Passion, patience and respect. You need to be focused as well as understand that the best things take time, and that your natural surroundings are vital in producing the best wine you can – so you have to work with what you have.”
A pioneer, a passionate producer and a dedicated family man, Vetas has finally arrived at his own nirvana. He can peer out of his own window and literally see the fruits of his labour, his past has not only shaped the present but has built a firm foundation for his growing family to do the same. His respect for his land, the grapes and the traditions will live forever through the Vetas name. “To wake up in the morning and look forward to the day ahead is not really work,” he says, his eyes creasing as he smiles. “Doing what you love is the only way to ensure you don’t ever have to work again. For me this isn’t work, it’s my life.”