The emergence of Rueda as a prestigious white wine region is the story of a unique grape called Verdejo. Although among only a small handful of truly noble Spanish white varieties, it was in danger of extinction by the early 1970s due to pervasive planting of more prolific producers such as Viura and Palomino. Angel Rodríguez saved the shy-bearing, thick-skinned Verdejo through refusing to uproot his 17th-century vineyard, Martínsancho. King Juan Carlos officially honored him for his untiring efforts in favor of reestablishing Verdejo’s prominence in its region of origin.
The majuelo (plot) of Martínsancho is less than an acre of gnarled vines, preserved in isolation as a museum of prephylloxera viticulture and as a continuing source of undisputed varietal authenticity, treasured by nurseries throughout Europe. In 1976, Angel regrafted 25 acres of his best vineyard, using Martínsancho cuttings. The alluvial soil is pure gravel and reaches a depth of over 30 feet. The harsh continental climate and extreme altitude of Old Castile, together with the soil’s austere inhospitality to all types of insects and bacteria, allow for the practice of completely organic viticulture.
A traditional subterranean bodega is still in full use, replete with 5,000-liter oak bocoyes in continuous use for centuries. For Martínsancho, two glass tanks of 20,000 liters are used for fermentation of the unpressed Verdejo juice, the wine subsequently transferred underground for clarification and rounding in the cooperage. Production is under 4,000 cases, and harvest is carefully timed and rapidly completed to ensure consistent maturity and health in even the most difficult years. Archetypical of authentic Verdejo is Martínsancho’s refined, creamy bouquet with surprisingly long and complex finish.