The spirit of Ramon Saavedra
The team at Where The Light Gets In visit a vineyard at the foot hill of the Sierra Nevada
In Graena, a small village near Granada, at the foot hills of the Sierra Nevada, Ramon Saavedra makes youthful wines full of vigour and honesty at his small winery Bodegas Cauzon.
This land appears arid, incapable of supporting any life. The rocky outcrops and red soils, cactus and long, flat horizons make you want to throw on a pair of spurs and rough house in the local saloon. The dusty plains of Andalucia were used as the back drop to Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns.
But the dry climate supports so much growth. Ramon’s high altitude vines gnarl around training posts surrounded by olive trees, groves of almond and chestnut, fruit bearing cactus, wild thyme, rosemary and eucalyptus. Here at 1200m the peaches and oranges are bursting with sweetness and acidity. The minerals deposited from the Sierra Nevada sparkle in the rust coloured earth and minerals trickle down too from the snowy peaks in crystal clear water which we drink in the circumspect winter sun. It is these minerals that bring fertility.
This fecund land is actually one of the best places in Europe to grow wine grapes. The dry climate protects the grapes from moisture prohibiting rot, the sandy soil keeps phylloxera at bay. The hot days ripen the berries and give colour and tannin whilst the cool nights slow down the growth and allow acidity to develop. This is a wine makers paradise and Ramon gives his thanks through his work. No fertilisers or chemicals, nothing added to the 8 hectares he farms. In the winery no sulphites or enhancers, nothing added to the wine. He allows only nature to do what it does best and presents as true an expression of his home land as he can.
He also takes great measures to protect the land around him. When a local land owner tried to pull down the oldest chestnut tree in Andalucia, a tree 600 years old, he created a petition calling for its protection and won. He told us that one year the same tree produced 400 kilos of fruit. There is also a gang of vultures hanging around these areas, from large Rioja wineries, trying to buy up land in a preempt of a crisis for growers in the north due to global warming. They have already managed to buy huge pieces of land which they have levelled flat and filled with pesticide and fungicide, preparing for huge, intensive, mechanically farmed plots. Ramon is gathering support from other local wine makers and fighting with the local councils to try to prevent more of these tragic acts.
Recently we spent 3 days with Ramon and his partner David on a trip with Fernando Berry from Otros Vinos. Within 2 minutes of pulling into Bodegas Cauzon we were in the cellar with glasses in our hands, a dazzling, peachy white using sauvingon blanc, chardonnay, viognier, macabeo and torrentez.
Later we helped with lunch, preparing 'manita con gambas’. A dish of pigs trotters and red prawns in a sauce made from dried pimentos, almonds, garlic and fried bread. Ramon hadn’t cooked this for 20 years, since he had been a chef in the Catalan region. We sat under a bright blue sky to eat using crusty bread to mop up the moorish sauce and drinking Ramons Pinot noir. An uncommon grape for this climate which he had turned into a bright, floral rosé.
For three days we ate and drank, making new friends at every table, meeting the people behind some of the wines and ciders we pour every night.
At La Huerta, a local restaurant high up on the south face of the Sierra Nevada, Luis created dish after dish of Catalan inspired veg dishes with most of the produce grown by him and then rest by local farmers. Although he is from Catalonia he has lived in these mountains for 30 years and prides himself on marrying the two cultures together through his food. He started us with a newspaper parcel of oven fired, steaming calcot onions with a dip using the same moorish ingredients as Ramon’s sauce. Around the table farmers opened their wines and ciders, new vintages or limited productions made from small parcels for their ‘own personal use’. Laughing at the volatility of a wine, arguing about the age of another, admiring dryness or colour.
Afterwards Luis and I talked about the ease of cooking when produce is pristine, the simple touch one needs to transform a handful of vegetables into a meal and I thought about Ramon and his wines and how he lets the land do all the hard work and intervene only to take the juice from the grape and put it into the bottle, a lightness of hand that is present in every bottle, along with a boldness of spirit that will not let this land down.
And this is the point, to be able to come here and meet the people behind the grape. To eat and drink and listen and share stories about our crafts, our experiences. Friends are quickly made in these surroundings because we have a direct kinship for a way of life. It is not the fact that they make wine and we buy it but a vigour that we share in our beliefs, a volatility that we share in life, seeking for a connection to nature and simple pleasure in everything we do.
To travel and meet people of like mind is stronger than any Facebook meme or Instagram post. It gives strength to a community that is not bound by geography or even craft but by direction and projection of spirit.