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Tapas Interview | Antonio Vázquez (Bodegas Señorío de Nava, VILE La Finca y San Cobate): “If it is the best wine in the world but the company is bad, you will not enjoy it” 

We spoke with one of the leaders of the new generation of winemakers, thanks to his wineries Señorío de Nava, San Cobate and VILE La Finca.
Foto de Jaime Partearroyo

Click here to read the Spanish version.
Antonio Vázquez Muñoz-Calero (León, 1983) perfectly represents the new generation of winemakers: young people with extensive experience in the wine sector who are perfectly at ease in a world that, despite preserving many of the techniques of yesteryear and a more than evident rootedness, are constantly evolving and adapting to any change, whether unexpected and forced by nature, or the new ways of understanding wine and the world itself.

This connection with the present is also evident in his broad business vision. Far from being anchored in a single project, Antonio is an entrepreneur eager for new challenges. In addition to continuing with the winery he inherited from his father in 2011, Señorío de Nava, he also has other wineries such as San Cobate or VILE La Finca, several restaurants and his recent incursion into wine import agencies. Of course, all these projects have a common denominator: wine as a starting point.

Wine and business are your two passions. Are you a wine enthusiast who has made it his way of life, or a businessman who has found in wine the perfect activity?
Well, I can’t tell you right now if it was the chicken or the egg first. My grandfather was a great wine drinker, maybe more classic and of certain specific brands. I think my father was already a person who liked this world, and he was very open to France, mainly Bordeaux, also some Burgundy… and he started with those tastings of other wines.

And with me, I can’t tell you very well if it was one thing or the other. I think that wine gives you maturity and also the fact that you become interested in wine usually gives you maturity. Normally when you are 18 years old, you tend to be more interested in other types of beverages, more than wine. Because wine is something more leisurely and relaxed. Going back to the current point, I think that in the end I am a wine lover who is lucky enough to work in this sector, both in the wineries and with the import company we have (of foreign wines that we bring to Spain, mainly from France -Borgoña- and Italy -Piamonte and Toscana-). Being in love with wine, its world and its people, it is fortunate to be able to dedicate yourself to it both at the production and import level.

How is the day-to-day life of a wine entrepreneur like you, who is always looking for new challenges?
In the end we are present in several businesses and in several sectors. On a humorous note, in the end I always say that I am a bit of “todero” (who does everything), you have to do a bit of everything and there are many days when you are traveling and away from home. You tend to get used to working wherever you can, on a train, in an airport, in a cafeteria or in a hotel, wherever you can… What moves you is the illusion. The illusion of doing new things, of improving what you are doing, of reaching the objectives set, of making sure that the teams are motivated, that things work out…, regardless of the schedule, the place or the trip.

You have several wineries, you are also involved in the restaurant business and now with the new import company…, any other wine-related projects in sight?
The most recent has been what I was telling you about just before, starting this wine agency. I think that now we have to consolidate this project, which takes a lot of work. We have to travel to foreign restaurants, talk to many governments, taste many wines, see what can be brought to Spain and what can work. Obviously, it is not an easy moment in many aspects. And I think that in the next two years, we will also have to consolidate the rest of the brands, together with this project. And, of course, we have to be aware of the continuous changes that are taking place. But we will continue to be linked in one way or another to the world of wine.

If we talk about your oldest winery, Señorío de Nava, where is it now and where is it going?
Right now in Señorío de la Nava is where we are most excited, because it is where we have made the greatest effort in the general change and where this change will be most noticeable in the coming years, both in the wines of Ribera and Rueda, with two great novelties. In Ribera we make a white wine made from albillo grapes, which is one of the grapes in Ribera. And then we are making oak and crianza and now a new Reserva that will be released in the next few weeks, also Señorío de Nava, but under the Dominio de Nava brand.

Then we have another new project that we have just launched, also in high altitude vineyards, in the areas that are a mixture of vineyards between the area of the province of Burgos and Soria. It is called Fuentenebro. This is going to be distributed by Alma Vinos Únicos, a well-known distributor of quality wines in Spain. It is another very exciting project, with wines from the freshest part of Ribera, and very drinkable. Although it is not the right expression, I always like to define them as nice wines, it is a wine that you like to drink, that you like to repeat. When you say: “Hey, this friend is nice”, and you like to hang out with him because you laugh, because you have a good time. It is a wine profile that has a complexity, because it is a serious wine, but it is also ‘nice’.

What about San Cobate and VILE La Finca?
Another more personal Ribera project of mine is San Cobate. Here we make a generic wine, our base wine, which is San Cobate, from an estate in Gumiel del Mercado, in the area of the province of Burgos. And then we make three parcels under the name of San Cucufate, which is a bit more personal. In León we make several wines under the León Denomination of Origin. We base them on the two types of native grapes in León: albarín, as a white grape, and prieto picudo, as a red grape. And here we have the historical projects of Bodega de León, which are the red wines we make with Don Suero. And it is a bit of an emblem, because it was the first prieto picudo wine to be aged in wood, 50 years ago.

We also make a rosé and a white wine under the Valjunco brand for Vinos del Año. As part of our personal project in León, together with San Cobate, we make VILE La Finca, where we make a red wine from prieto picudo and a white wine from albarín, both aged in wood. Valjunco is not aged in wood and VILE La Finca is.

It seems that a job well done is rewarded, because those specialized in wine always agree in cataloguing your wineries with more than positive comments.
I think it is an award for many things. Logically to a job well done, but it is also an award to the team. After all, they are one of the wineries that, in the last 7-8 years, have undergone tremendous changes at all levels. In all departments: commercial, financial, winemaking, field… And these changes are slow. It is a merit of everyone and it has been a bit of an obsession that we have had from minute one, the whole team.

Here it becomes clear that you always say that the world of wine has helped you to cultivate patience…
When you come from another industry or are involved in another industry in parallel, you always have to be open to change. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, but change is necessary. In the world of wine, of course, change is also necessary. But, from the moment you make the decision and execute it, the process is much slower and more complex until that change reaches the end customer and you receive the feedback. For example, in changes in the vineyard, in winemaking or in some bottle format. The result can take years to be seen. That’s why you have to be very patient. It is very important not to rush. One advantage in this sector is that wine brands, when they are consolidated, are very solid. And the downside is that wine brands take a long time to consolidate. So here patience is a key part.

One aspect that identifies you in the way you work is that you are committed to innovation while rescuing things from the past. You seek a balance between these two eras.
The world of wine has that very nice thing that in the end is to respect what was there and the people who have done so much for it. It is a sector in which there is still a lot of respect for how the grapes were harvested in the past, how the wines were made, how everything was done, which had a tremendous merit. And then there is also the part of the new blood and what we can contribute with respect to improve and do different things. It is not only who makes the wines and the way of making them that changes, but we also have to think that the consumer changes.

In addition, we have a fundamental thing which is that the climate is constantly changing. So it is not just change for the sake of change, but also change to adapt to the conditions that exist now, because in Ribera del Duero, in León or Rioja, they are not the same as they were 35 or 40 years ago. So we cannot expect the winemaking or the ways of doing things to be exactly the same as they were in the past. Because nothing is the same, the climate is not the same, the plant is not the same…

And it is on that path that you are on.
We try to find that gap to adapt and give our point of view to improve what we believe can and should be improved. If we look at this with the perspective of 40 years from now, those who will be here may not do things exactly the same way we do them. There will be a different perception of things. We are mainly committed to the classic part of the grape typologies, of fermentations in concrete, recovering them. We like to add very little new wood to the wines. We also like the wines to be different, within the same style, but with small differences from one year to another, as it happens in the great wines of Burgundy; a cold year changes compared to a hot year. Within the same winemaker and the same parcel, there are two changes. We want the wine to be alive and we do not like to mask the work done in the field with excessive wood.

Now, in addition, there is more technological support, it is much more controlled when to harvest and when not to harvest. In the past, people used to say: “We harvest during the Pilar long weekend”. Why? Because the family would come from Madrid, from Burgos, from wherever, and they would help to harvest on any long weekend, regardless of whether the grapes were ready or not. That is why we also understand that traveling is very important for us; getting to know other wineries, meeting other producers, tasting other wines. The more you taste and the more you know, the better, because in the end it opens your mind.

Is the same true for the Spanish consumer’s knowledge of wine, and do you think it has improved in recent years?
In the end, the distributors and the people in the stores, who are the ones who really have the most direct contact with the consumers, have more information about this. What is being talked about right now is that it is a great moment for the more ‘unknown’ appellations of origin. Many have been standing out and before they didn’t have so much prominence. The end customer is more unfaithful than ever. That is, he loves to drink wine, he loves to taste, he loves to taste and visit, but if he buys a case of six, he buys a bottle of each, that is, six different brands. In our grandparents’ time, they were one-wine drinkers. The one who drank Marques de Murrieta, bought 300 bottles of Marques de Murrieta a year and that’s what he drank. He would buy a barrel or half a barrel and drink one wine all year round.

Now there are many more wineries open for visits than there were 35 or 50 years ago, so people can see the vineyards and learn about the differences between one place and another. This means that wine tourism has become an important part of it, and helps the end customer to be more educated and want to learn more. We see more and more small projects with super wines, with a beastly quality and that in the end you are very happy because they sell very well.

The hospitality industry also helps to generate that interest in people. More and more restaurants are betting on giving weight to the wine list, as in your restaurant Marcela Brasa y Vinos, in León.
It is true that there are restaurant projects that make a big bet on wine. This attracts customers who are more wine consumers and give more importance to this beverage. And it makes that wheel go on, that the restaurant keeps looking for new things for its customers. And their customers want to go to see what the trends are and try new things.

We are in the world of wine and, logically, we give a lot of importance to wine. But for me, a meal without wine is not a meal and I think it has to have its importance as well. A wine is valued at a good table, with a good glass, with a good meal and, above all, with good company. I always say, if it is the best wine in the world but the company is bad, you are not going to enjoy that bottle.

Hence the added value of wine, which is reflected in the higher prices in restaurants.
You have to understand that in a restaurant you probably pay more for the wine than in a store. But they are pouring you a good glass, they are opening it for you, they are decanting it… You are sharing a tablecloth and a moment of leisure, either with family or friends. And that is important. It is essential that wineries support restaurants, and vice versa.

Which three wines from your wineries would be your weakness?

Right now I would tell you:

  • Señorío de Nava Crianza: a classic Ribera wine with a surprising balance.
  • Fuentenebro Tinto: for the fluidity of the wine and its texture.
  • Vile La Finca Albarín white: it has a very nice nose.

Which wineries or wines seem most interesting to you right now?
From outside Spain, without any doubt, the ones from Burgundy. I am a great lover of Burgundy. In Spain, for me right now there are four very interesting projects: Bodegas Cerrón, Diego Magaña, Artadi and Casa Castillo.