Organic Inspiration in Bodegas Robles
Francisco Robles grew up on the land, part of the second of three generations of a family of winemakers in DO Montilla Moriles (Córdoba), dedicated to making quality, fortified wines from the area's star grape: Pedro Ximénez. Now, ever since stewarding the winery’s switch to 100% organic production in the late 1990s, Francisco has been letting the land do the talking, primarily through the award-winning organic wines that are taking the wine world by storm.
Text: Adrienne Smith/@ICEX.
Although Bodegas Robles is by no means the only winery in Spain to have gone organic in past decades, the extent to which this Andalusian winery has turned itself over to the cause is admirable and certainly unique in its multiple configurations. Besides their 100% organic production, they are the first Spanish winery to calculate their carbon footprint and commit to reducing their environmental impact every year. They also sponsor a singular vine "adoption" program, and have created a beautifully designed reusable bottle that is sold with four different varieties of organic boxed wine.
The results of these and other sustainable efforts have been nothing less than stellar, as indicated by the bevy of international awards won by its wines. However, the innovative projects haven't stopped here. Bodegas Robles has also launched a line of 100% organic artisanal foods, including vinegars, jellies, jam and wine reductions. These are just a few of this winery's endeavors, but they will most certainly not be the last.
Moving forward, looking back
At first glance, Bodegas Robles' vineyards have the air of a wildly romantic English garden, overrun by a layer of lavender, poppies, clover and wildflowers, buzzing with bees and other insects. However, like those meticulously planned "wild" gardens, there is nothing accidental about this vineyard. It is the result of years of research in collaboration with the University of Córdoba, and it involves selecting a wide variety of native, short-rooted plants that serve to trap nitrogen in the soil around the vines.
According to Francisco, "Our vineyard is covered in vegetation including wild, native plant species that provide nutrients to the vineyard naturally, while preventing soil erosion. The vineyard develops everything it needs naturally, thanks to the herbs, flowers and insects". This has been only one of the many ongoing research projects that the winery has carried out—underlining its particular mission to use research and innovation to essentially move backwards in time to the natural and organic way things used to grow. Not only has this research formed one of the cornerstones of Bodegas Robles' philosophy, it has garnered quite a bit of attention. The winery was presented with the 2006 award for "Best Organic Project in Spain", by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and the Environment, as well as the Ministry's prestigious "Best Organic Production in Spain" award in 2014.
In addition to fostering the natural development of the vineyard with this layer of vegetation, Francisco asserts that the objective is to make wines that reflect their origins: "Our wines are fermented with native, local yeasts that come from the soil in the vineyard. These are the most important elements with regard to the wine's expression of its character. In other words: we make wines that represent the land".
And if awards are anything to go on, the winery has triumphed in achieving this goal. Over the last decade, several fortified wines from the Piedra Luenga Bio line—made with this region’s famed Pedro Ximénez (PX) grapes—have won dozens of awards, many of them at prestigious international trade fairs and competitions like Biofach and ProWein in Germany, among others.
The success of their endeavors might also be measured by the growing international demand for these wines, of which 20% of total production is exported to the USA, Australia, Japan, and Central and Northern Europe.
Feasting on wine
In 2009, Bodegas Robles embarked on a new line of products, this time through a project carried out in collaboration with various research institutes in Andalusia. The winery began by launching a line of four, quality organic vinegars. According to Francisco, the vinegars have been extremely popular in the export market, and sell particularly well in Japan. This was followed by a line of edible wine products in 2013 that included organic jellies, jam and reductions. They offer three different flavors of organic wine jellies, and one organic PX vinegar jelly. The jam is made from PX wine and the two reductions, which are sold in convenient squeeze bottles for cooking or dressing, come in PX wine reduction and PX vinegar reduction formats.
To emphasize the idea that these organic, grape-based products are ideal for use in top-tier cuisine, the winery published a booklet of recipes created by chef Daniel Cortés Grau using them as ingredients. Foie gras mousse and Greek yogurt with Pedro Ximénez jam, Roasted pork trotter with Oloroso wine jelly and Grilled salmon with salmorejo and vegetable medley pickled in Fino wine vinegar, are just a few of the recipes that this Andalusian chef favors.