The wine of the week: La Forcallà de Antonia 2020

On the Alhorines plateau (the Vall dels Alforins area), at the confluence of the municipalities of Alicante (Villena), Almansa (Albacete) and 30 kilometers from the Murcian municipality of Yecla, the octogenarian Vicent Santos Francés has cared for his entire lives a vineyard that he planted in a glass 55 years ago, with free standing.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
18 March 2023 Saturday 23:04
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The wine of the week: La Forcallà de Antonia 2020

On the Alhorines plateau (the Vall dels Alforins area), at the confluence of the municipalities of Alicante (Villena), Almansa (Albacete) and 30 kilometers from the Murcian municipality of Yecla, the octogenarian Vicent Santos Francés has cared for his entire lives a vineyard that he planted in a glass 55 years ago, with free standing. On a 4-hectare plot, he planted the native and rustic red variety forcallà (also known as forcallat) at 700 meters above sea level. He gives them just over 2,500 kilos of grapes per hectare. With the berries that grow on its twisted vines, which for many years ended up diluted in a cooperative, Rafael Cambra has been making a unique wine protected by the DO Valencia since 2011.

Subsequently, on their labels, they wanted to pay homage to Antonia, the wife of the viticulturist who planted this terraced vineyard with sandy and stony soils (petrocalcic stones) and that cancer took away. Vicent and Antonia pampered and harvested their grapes for many years. Rafael Cambra will continue this vineyard that he has leased when Santos is gone, since the sons of this Fontanars dels Aforins viticulturist (one a piano teacher and the other an industry worker) have no intention of dedicating themselves to viticulture. Cambra, like Antoine de Saint-Exupery, is of the opinion that “we did not inherit the land from our ancestors. We pass it on to our children."

The forcallà is a rare variety that is recovering. It was on the verge of extinction after the devastating plague of phylloxera. It has been preserved almost miraculously in the westernmost part of the DO Valencia. Among its virtues, its resistance to the effects of climate change stands out (it is a long-cycle variety) and the facilities it offers in terms of tillage: pruning and only two treatments with sulfur and copper during the vegetative cycle. It is a vineyard in which the parameters of organic farming are followed, without irrigation. They do not use chemical synthesis products. They fertilize with compost made by fermenting the skins of their grapes with bovine excrement.

Rafael Cambra has 42 hectares of vineyards, of which 20 are his property and the rest are leased. It is made next to an old farmhouse from 1633, in Fontanars dels Alforins (in the southwest of Valencia). He assures that the forcallà is resilient as it "endures the heat strokes of summer and the cold drops of September". It's tough skinned. Cambra accounts for 10 of the 40 hectares currently declared to be forcallà in DO Valencia. One of those vineyards is surrounded by holm oaks, pines and some fig trees, with soils full of rosemary, some thyme and lots of white radish. This Valencian producer has actively fought against the landscape threat posed by some solar park projects. His vineyards are rocked by a cool Mediterranean climate (average rainfall of about 480 liters per year). The 2020 vintage was marked by significant rains in spring, with lower than usual temperatures. This caused a delay in sprouting. The summer was dry. The harvest took place with an average temperature somewhat higher than normal, and the absence of rainfall caused an increase in the degree of the harvest and no complications in the state of health.

La Forcallà de Antonia Vino de Parcela 2020 is made with ancestral grapes that come from a single vineyard. They harvest manually at the beginning of October (when the seeds are already ripe). Previously this variety was harvested at the end of October or beginning of November. It is made using indigenous yeasts in small 2,000-liter stainless steel tanks with 30% well-lignified stems, with light pump-overs. The maceration, at 26º C, is carried out for 16 days. Light pump-overs and maceration are carried out for about 20 days at a controlled temperature of 26º C. It is aged for six months in used 500-litre French oak barrels (up to the sixth year), fine-grained and medium toasted, and others. six months in a wooden tub. A total of 6,600 bottles of this vintage were bottled in December 2021.

It is medium-low layer and ruby ​​in color. It is fresh and fluid, with notes of sour red fruit (pomegranate) tinged with a hint of vegetables and those reminiscent of carob. It also clearly expresses the scrubland that surrounds the vineyard, with a profusion of rosemary, and a mineral tip (graphite). It has little volume, but good acidity with 14.5º of alcohol, well integrated into the wine. A wine that comes from ancient times but that today is highly modern. An old drawer from the winery's ancestors presides over the label, with which they want to honor "its roots, its typicity and personality". They point out that “sometimes creating is remembering”. From the winery they recommend its pairing with Asian cuisine, with pasta, with blue fish or with the typical gastronomy of the area, such as mushrooms, spoon rice or Manchego gazpacho (because of its proximity to La Mancha). Rafael Cambra likes to harmonize this wine with Asian proposals, such as bao bread with salmon or sushi. It is also ideal to accompany a grilled turbot or a local and yellowish rice casserole from the interior of Valencia (with potato, tomato and various preparations with pork).

Rafael Cambra, who runs the winery together with his wife Elena Arpón, gives more relevance to the work in the vineyards than to the work in the winery, where he makes with stainless steel tanks, 225- and 500-liter barrels, foudres, and eggs from tartarized concrete. In this sense, he adds that "quality is controlled by limiting vigor in the vineyard." On his website they say that “the land, like the vineyard, needs a lot of love to grow in a certain way. It is emotional, a key modus operandi for us, which allows us to obtain optimal results after many hours of work and care in our winery”. Rafael Cambra signs his bottles stating that he is an intern. He explains that "we are all interns of our land", and clarifies that "in particular, we try to interpret the grapes that we grow and the soil that we have lived on in order to be able to leave our legacy to the following generations". His philosophy is condensed in the word pasante: "our best inheritance will be to transmit our landscape and our love for our land to the next generation." He is convinced, at the same time, that "grapes are like a diamond in the rough", and that "wine must be shaped, polished, but in no way modified".

Rafael Cambra's is a small winery that started in 2001 in an old fruit garage in Ontinyent. In 2008 they moved to Fontanars dels Alforins, since they had the vineyards there. Initially they made eight barrels of a monastrel. Since 2011 they have been recovering the forcallà (the variety used to make La Forcallà de Antonia and Casa Sosegada). In 2012 they started with a plot of the arco variety. They work all in ecological cultivation, and strict dry land. The autochthonous varieties (monastrel, arco and forcallà) are grown by glass, and cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc are trellised. They work in the field and in the winery with minimal intervention, with gentle macerations and respecting the natural environment that surrounds them, to achieve "elegant and personal wines". They currently produce around 150,000 bottles a year, of which 60% are exported. The US, Canada and Germany are its main international markets. The Valencian Community is its main stronghold in Spain, followed by Catalonia.