Biodynamic wines full of life, by Ronda’s youngest winemaker
Seven years ago, the Ronda wine industry received its newest and youngest star, Pablo Chacón – and with him the exceptional wines of Samsara.
Seated upon a surprisingly comfortable suite of sofas fashioned out of recycled fruit pallets, beneath the towering cliff face of Ronda and its landmark 18th-century bridge, Pablo and his colleague Alex sit back, close their eyes and lift their faces up to the sun.
The Samsara vineyard doesn’t come complete with a fourteenth-century Spanish finca or an impressive family history of wine making, because that doesn’t matter when it comes to producing good wine – what matters is one thing and one thing only, the environment in which it is grown. And in our spot on the very edge of paradise, it doesn’t get much better than this.
A small waterfall crashes in the distant and the air buzzes with energy. Whether it’s from our surroundings or the men themselves I don’t know – but Samsara is already living up to its name.
“We are a young team and this is our new beginning. My philosophy is that with youth comes opportunity, a breath of fresh air and new energy. Life is all about energy. I believe that we can inject something new into an old industry.”
Pablo comes from a family of farmers. Seven years ago his father owned land that he no longer needed, so he gave his son a choice - Pablo could take over the land and build a business on it, or his father would sell it. The young man took up the challenge and gave it all he had, but it wasn’t easy.
“I understood about agriculture, I’d seen my family out in the fields all my life. My brother produces olive oil and also has land, but none of us knew anything about wine,” he explains. “So I did what every young student does when they start a new project, I bought a book. The problem was that it was a book about wine production in the north of Spain. It taught me nothing about viticulture in Ronda. My first year was a disaster and I was back at square one.”
But luckily for Pablo and his team, help arrived from the men that came before him and the men that came way before him.
“The wine growing community in Ronda is amazing, so supportive. Men I have admired for years such as Vetas and Schatz have been like gurus to me, like fathers, and they have taught me everything I know about ecological wine production. I also studied a lot of ancient Roman texts – after all, the Romans did a good enough job of producing great wine here two thousand years ago, so I figured I could learn a lot from them, too. Luckily I’m a fast learner and I started making progress.”
And progress he most certainly has made. Married with a four-year-old son, Pablo has built his vineyard up alongside his young family.
“I love watching my son play in these fields,” he says, nodding at his boy’s plastic tractor under the tree. “He helps us pick the grapes and we give him little jobs to do. He’s so at home here, in nature. It’s in his blood to be outside and working on the land.”
Pablo pours me another glass of wine and smiles. It's easy to see how someone so young has entered this ancient world and achieved his ambitions in such a short space of time. He's open and warm, and his unadulterated enthusiasm pulls you in.
"When did you know that you wanted to do this for a living?" I ask him.
He leans back and gives me a huge grin, it's clear how much he enjoys telling this story. “I love nature, I couldn’t imagine ever working indoors, but it was my grandfather who really taught me the importance of understanding and respecting our environment. My grandfather was a farmer and when he got too old he had to return to the town, so his daughter could take care of him. I was only about seven years old at the time and as we crossed the fields my grandfather started to cry. I was worried and confused, I looked at what he was pointing at and asked him why he was so upset. ‘That tree stood so tall and strong when I was young, now look at it’. The tree was old and dying, and my grandfather knew that he was next. And at that young age I suddenly realised that life is something to be cherished, that none of us lasts forever and that the earth that we live on is connected to us all – to our bodies and minds. We are all one. It’s that never ending cycle and energy that has always appealed to me, and that’s why my job is so fulfilling.”
The dipping sun casts shadows over the Ronda rocks behind him. The energy of which he speaks is here among us, in every blade of grass at our feet and in the sun warming my shoulders. It feels surreal imagining tourists milling around in the town over head, looking down at the valley unaware of this idyllic sanctuary.
Pablo is very much hands on in the viticulture aspect of wine production and his process is totally organic and ecological. He currently hires a small part of another Ronda bodega, Cuesta La Viña, to process and bottle the wine. This may change in the future, but for now he’s concentrating on growing his collection.
“Every wine tells a story,” he says, lining up three bottles of wine before us. “We plan to bring out a white and a rosé soon, every year brings with it opportunities to grow and try new things. With each new bottle will come a new story to tell.”
There’s his signature bottle of Samsara, representing life; Jaqima, a throwback to the agricultural farming methods of Ronda’s yesteryear depicted by a bold drawing of a donkey on the label, and Manos Negras ... in reference to the wine picker’s hands, dyed black from the juice of the grapes.
Pablo attributes his success to working with friends. This collective youth and energy gives the label a fresh dynamic. “There’s strength in friendship,” he explains. “We aren’t just a great team but we are friends, like a band of brothers. We understand and trust each other, there’s an unspoken synergy in the way we work. It’s a very natural process.”
His friend and work colleague Alex grins at us as we talk and he zips around, taking photos on his phone. They may well respect the traditional values of wine making, but they are very much of this era ... a bridge between the old ways and the new.
“We like to have fun,” he says, as we make our way back to our cars. “In August we taste the grapes every day until they are ready to be picked, then we harvest in the moonlight. It helps the grapes stay fresh. It’s an amazing sight at night, the bridge behind us is lit up and my friends and family are here, all working together to celebrate the hard work of that year. It has become a local event; last year we had six volunteers turn up wanting to help us.”
Pablo makes one of the toughest professions sound like one long party.
He shrugs. “My job fills me up spiritually. Without all this,” he says, waving at the fields now gold with the setting sun, “I’d be empty. I have my family and I have this. I’m a very lucky man.”