Romans, Saints and Watercolours
For many, wine is intrinsically linked with spirituality, nature and a slower way of life. For others it’s about passion and making a success of what you love, and Miguel Céspedes is no exception. Originally from Malaga and with a large real estate business under his belt, once Miguel reached his 50s he decided it was time to combine his love of wine and his business know-how and venture into the wine business. And what better place to start than the picturesque town of Ronda and its bourgeoning new wine industry?
“From a young age I have travelled a lot and I have enjoyed wine. It’s been one of my life’s pleasures and I had a very romanticised vision of the industry. It sounded relaxing and carefree,” he explains laughing. “But believe me, it’s not. Far from it. Maybe it is for those with a small holding in their back garden, but I’ve found that the more land you have the more work there is and the more problems. It’s very satisfying, but it’s not something you should enter unknowingly.”
Miguel is one of the biggest distributors of wine in the area, producing eight different labels and 85,000 bottles a year – with plans to extend to 100,000. In 2005 he bought the land, he then planted his vines in 2006 and by 2011 Morosanto wine was being enjoyed by thousands. In the world of wine this is short work, but Miguel is not someone who takes his time or sits on his laurels; he had grand plans from the onset.
“I am not a man of the land, I started this business because I wanted to make great wine. Full stop. I enjoy making it but it’s the selling part that gets it in front of people. I have been selling houses all my life, but selling wine is very different – so there has been a lot to learn.”
Like most vineyards in the area, the Morosanto bodega offers tastings and tours. It has a modern bar and dining area filled with dozens of modern paintings on the walls and glass doors looking out on to the breathtaking landscape. But what makes this location so unique is that when Miguel began building his business the builders discovered something that he wasn’t expecting; an ancient Roman settlement in the exact same spot that he intended for his finca to stand.
“It was an exciting time,” he tells me. “We asked the museum of Ronda to help us excavate the site and what we unearthed blew me away.” It seems that the vineyard had housed a finca thousands of years earlier. The archaeologists unearthed walls and rooms belong to a large finca and were even able to see the areas where the wine was crushed and stored. Roman coins from the second century were found depicting the Roman symbol of the fish, and there are even ruins of a twenty-two meter long Roman thermal pool that was also found on the site. “The discover slowed us down as we have to move our building to the other side of the plot,” Miguel explains. “But it was worth it, How many bodegas have Roman ruins on them? Our visitors love seeing how people used to live her thousands of years previously. We have respected that heritage in the way we have built our site.”
As you enter the bodega now, you are greeted by three large Cyprus tress as a nod to Morosanto’s Roman heritage, “the Fincas and grand homes in the Roman era all had three Cyprus trees at their entrance,” Miguel explains. “It means ‘Welcome to my home.”
It was no coincidence that both the Romans and Miguel chose this site to grow wine. “Morosanto has a unique microclimate,” Miguel tells us, as we lean over the railings and look out at the green rolling hills before us. “We have a mountain behind us that shelters us from the north wind and the frost. It’s important for wine to get sun in the day and a cold chill in the evening, but not anything too harsh. Snow is ok, but hail is deadly for wine growers as the hail stones can really damage the plants. We don’t get that here, we are really protected.” He points at the bright emerald leaves that have only just recently started to bloom, and the tiny buds on the plants that will soon be grapes. “The soil in these parts is 80% sand, so water doesn’t stay on the land for too long, plus the gradient of the slope makes the water run downhill. As I said, this site was perfect from the start – which is why I think we have managed to grow our grapes and produce our wines faster than other labels may have been able to.”
Miguel shows us into his storeroom where rows upon rows of bottles lie waiting to age. “I love wine and I enjoy it, but the secret of this industry is to make it work. Otherwise all you have is a very expensive hobby,” he says. “You need to be patient, everything takes its own time. But you also need to treat your business seriously.” An elaborate chandelier adorned with dark orange glass grapes hangs overhead, giving his bottles an air of unhurried decadence as they take their time to mature. Their labels are vibrant and colourful and Miguel hands me a small booklet baring the bodega’s name.
“This is a children’s book we produced and the illustrations to each tale are now the labels of the bottle,” he explains. The book contains three stories describing the beauty of the Morosanto land whilst making references to the Roman era and the history of the Moors (where the Morosanto name originated, meaning ‘Moorish Saint’) along with a short tale about the importance of everything taking its own time.
At the back of the book is an extract from an Arabic love poem written by Ahmed Ibn al-Baytar. It talks of love and longing, Morosanto and its wine. This is a place that has inspired Romans to settle, Moors to write and men to follow their passions.
As we leave we pass a large pile of rocks. On closer inspection I can see that they are carved stones, building blocks taken from the Roman archaeological site. To think that I touched the same local stone that two thousand years previously was carved by men just like Miguel, men building their businesses on the sacred Morosanto soil...dreaming, planning and forming their futures and their wine, knowing that this special place would treat them well. This is the land of the fortunate, a place where time has stood still and the soil has provided. All you have to do is believe and wait.