When we first Google Alfredo Maestro, the top video search that pops up is ‘Alfredo Maestro on finding aliens in his vineyard’ and we know instantly that Alfredo is our kind of winemaker. This comes as no surprise to us. After all, we’ve been obsessed with Alfredo’s ‘El Marciano Garnacha’ cuvée for as long as we can remember, so we’re more excited than ever to sit down and chat to the rockstar of the Ribera del Duero region.
This region is one of Spain’s most conservative and classical wine regions. It takes serious gumption to work non-conventionally in a region known for its hard-nosed approach to winemaking, but Alfredo works to his own rules and conventions. He starts off by telling us that, although he’s technically within the Ribera del Duero region, he classifies himself as being part of Castilla y León. There’s more of a sense of community, he tells us, and he is not confined to the D.O. regulations of the region. It makes complete sense. These are wines for sharing with friends and family—your community—and let’s be honest: there’s a time and a place for taking life a little too seriously, and this is certainly not it.
From the second you sit down with Alfredo (albeit through a screen), you feel at ease. Nothing in life is too serious; too pressing. We laugh about technology failing us (the hot topic of 2021) and then all of a sudden a duck quacks in the background, and we’re instantly transported all the way to his bucolic home in Castilla y León.
People: Alfredo Maestro
Place: Peñafiel; Ribera del Duero/ Castilla y León, Spain
Varieties: Garnacha, Tempranillo, Albillo, Moscatel, and Palomino
Did You Know?
Alfredo’s 13 cuvées are well known for their playful depiction of winemaking (and of life). El Marciano, Alfredo’s ‘Martian’ cuvée is based on an imagined story of Alfredo finding two martians in his vineyards.
“This area is so special; I have had strange experiences — it’s a hot area for extraterrestrial activity and for UFOs. On this label, you have two martians working in my vineyards in the middle of the night. I arrive at the vineyard in the morning, and discover the two martians working there. I say to them: ‘Sorry, what are you doing in my vineyards?’ ”
We laugh, and ask if this happened IRL. Alfredo chuckles.
“No, no. This was my imagination. However, the name is singular – El Marciano or ‘the martian’ – and so a lot of people say to me: ‘Alfredo, you are the martian’. That’s you arriving on Mars.”
Having grown up amongst the vines in the Ribera del Duero, Alfredo was accustomed to the ins and outs of winemaking; he had seen many old winemakers and growers work their farms through the years. But despite being passionate about wine, the idea of becoming a winemaker and selling his produce hadn’t yet crossed his mind.
“The next step for me was planting some vineyards in Peñafiel (in 1998) at the back of my father’s house. But this wine was for our family to drink — my father, my brothers, my friends. I never thought that I might sell the wine in Spain… or anywhere else in the world for that matter.”
Commercial interest or not, Alfredo continued with his mission to make wines for his community.
“Step-by-step I studied auto-diadactially. I studied books and then I practiced the technical stuff from the books. And step-by-step, I made a wine — a couple of wines — and then I aged them. This was an older style of Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero. It was a ‘Super’ Tempranillo.”
This very first vineyard planted was ‘Almate’ (an acronym for Al-fredo; Ma-estro) on the Rio Duraton near his home town in the Ribera del Duero, planted to 100% Tempranillo. With this first experimental cuvée came the realisation that both his friends and family enjoyed his wine—really enjoyed his wine.
And then, by chance, an elderly man from Peñafiel offered Alfredo his old vineyard. He was no longer able to maintain the vines because of his age.
“I began to recuperate the land because it was completely intoxicated from the herbicides and other things that it had been fed. I put my knowledge of biodynamics and natural farming techniques into practice. I began to take these grapes from the very old vines, and started to experiment with making different wines: white with Albillo Mayor, and rosé with Garnacha Tintorera.”
And despite his very first foray into wine being fairly classical, it didn’t take long for this self-trained grower/winemaker to veer off-piste—not only by working organically and against the grain, but also in his inadvertent decision to start making wine to sell.
“This kind of winemaking is not often allowed in Ribera del Duero but I’m not defined by Ribera del Duero; I’m in Castilla y León. From then on I began to make different wines using local varieties. In Ribera del Duero, they only permit Tempranillo. But I use Garnacha Tintorera, Albillo Mayor, and of course a little bit of Tempranillo, and Garnacha.”