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“When you work the organic way, the vineyards are more beautiful—there’s a spontaneous cover crop and flowers. When you look at vineyards treated with herbicides, they look like a dark desert of dead things.”

Suertes del Marqués

Can you imagine creating wines that set a new bar for aroma profile? Wines that make heads turn and that make you & your friends say – hang on, can wine really taste like this? Well, that’s exactly what Jonatan from Suertes del Marqués has done. His work with the black, peppery variety Listán Negro and the white, saline variety Listán Blanco (Palomino) has put these varieties centre stage. In addition, his current experimental work with two plots planted to 25 indigenous varieties of the Canary Islands, among which is the unique Volcanic Torrontés variety – only discovered last year, will one day soon uncover the story and potential of these varieties.  

You might think of seaside resorts when you think of Tenerife, but there exists an entirely different world up in the hillsides and mountains; an enclave of organic viticulture and ancient vine material promoted by Jonatan García Lima and the team of Envínate. Together, these two wineries have created an international reputation for the island of Tenerife. 

Meet Jonatan 

“I want to make a wine I’m happy to drink. I first consider myself a wine consumer, and then a wine producer. Wine is my passion.”

Jonatan García Lima

These humble words are enough to give any person working in wine a reality check. Too often, people in the trade focus too much on winemaking techniques or analysing flavour compounds, when in reality, the most important question should be: do you like it?

This desire to make wines that are simply delicious, together with a focus on indigenous varieties – no matter how difficult they are to pronounce – combined with a love for organic farming, is what makes the Suertes del Marqués wines really stand out. While organic farming produces wines of a higher quality, it’s the feeling of working in a living place that drives Jonatan forward. He explains, 

“When you work the organic way, the vineyards are more beautiful—there’s a spontaneous cover crop and flowers. When you look at vineyards treated with herbicides, they look like a dark desert of dead things.”

The Suertés del Marques Story

Jonatan’s father, from Tenerife, began purchasing vineyards here in the 80s, such as the vineyard that produces El Esquilon, which sits right next to the cellar. Today the family works with 11 hectares spread across 25 plots. They are all planted to indigenous varieties and on their own roots, instead of being grafted onto American rootstock. European vines were ravished by the root-eating louse phylloxera (which almost destroyed all vineyards in the 1800s), so to see them ungrafted is an extreme rarity. Jonatan thinks this is due to a gap in wine trading that occurred here between the 19th and 20th centuries. He explains,

Old vines trained to the ancient trenzado technique of braiding

“We have a long history – winemaking began here in the end of the 15th century. On the north side, the Portuguese introduced their grapes and training system, and from the 16th century until the start of the 19th century there was a big wine business here. Commerce collapsed in the 19th century when the UK imported more Madeira and Portuguese wines, but the tradition of making wine continued for the locals. I think that gap was an advantage, as we avoided phylloxera. This means I am very lucky, because when I plant, I plant straight into the soil. I don’t need rootstock.”

He goes on to explain that volcanic soils are often inhospitable to phylloxera, but that there is a lot of clay in the north of the island; where phylloxera may actually be able to live. However, fortunately, it has never arrived there and now there are strict measures to prevent potentially contaminated plant material from entering the country. In addition, the lack of trade with the island in the 19th and early 20th century meant that very few foreign grape varieties ever made it to Tenerife, while mainland Spain saw a huge growth of French varieties in place of the Spanish. 

The Vineyards 

This very lack of trade is what makes Tenerife so individual. Here, the black grape variety Listán Negro is King, and the white variety Listán Blanco is Queen, and many of the vines are 100 years old (or more - nearer 200 years old in some cases). Other varieties found in these ancient vineyards of extraordinarily diverse DNA include Vijariego Negro, Baboso Negro, Castellana Negra, Malvasia Rosada and Volcanic Torrontés. 

All the vineyards that Jonatan works with are in the Valle de la Oratava, in the north of the island. While people might associate Tenerife with sunshine and beaches, the north and the south could not be more different from one another. Jonatan explains,

“The north side and the south side are like night and day. Depending on the vintage, the average rainfall is around five times more in the north than in the south, where it is warm and dry. The north is green.” 

Towards the east of the valley, on loamy clay soils, it is almost solely Listán Negro – 95% or so – whereas in the west, where the soils are sandier with more basalt, it is around 95% Listán Blanco. In the middle, it tends to be around 80% reds and 20% whites. 

It is persistently cloudy here; winds come from the north Atlantic, rising up with the higher-elevation mountainous terrain in the north, eventually cooling and forming the clouds. 

“The fresher style of our wines is caused by the influence of these winds, and we consider this the Atlantic style.”

There is a very long growing cycle here; the winter isn’t severe and hence the vines wake up earlier from their winter dormancy. In mid-summer, temperatures rarely surpass 30 degrees, surprising when you look at the south, where flocks of tourists appear as early as February. These cooler temperatures and a long growing season mean that grapes ripen with lower degrees of potential alcohol, and Jonatan can harvest them relatively early to ensure freshness. Over the years, he has reduced the alcohol more and more, and today the wines sit somewhere in between 11.5% and 13% maximum. 

“Now, the wines are more drinkable, and they have a higher potential for ageing. These are the styles of wine that we like - these Atlantic wines.” 

Listán Blanco harvest

Work here has been organic for over ten years. Moving away from chemicals has been a slow change for other growers on the island. Jonatan explains,

“The north side of Tenerife is a place that has a lot of humidity – lots of rain and rich soil. It’s very fertile, so the cover crop grows very fast. This means most growers still work with herbicides.” 

Suertes del Marqués represents around 80% of organically farmed vineyards in this area, and are encouraging neighbours and other cellars to convert. It’s more expensive to work this way, but the wines are better, and the vineyards are healthy once more.

“When we buy or rent some vineyards, even after five years you can see the cover crop still isn’t growing well. I think it can take ten years in some cases for a vineyard to recover.” 

Working organically also has practical benefits. The cover crop helps to maintain water in the soils, and the funnels of the root systems open the soils naturally for aeration. In the old vine plots on extreme hillsides, planted very densely where neither machines nor horses can reach them, this is a huge benefit. 

“When you work with herbicide, it’s like working in the street. The soil becomes very hard, like concrete. You lose water and you don’t have any life under there. When working organically I’m happy. Everything I see is alive. So, it’s for the landscape, and of course the wine, too. In a place with rich soil, the competition that the grasses give the vines means our wines are of a higher quality, with more acidity and better ripeness.” 

The vines here are trained to the ancient method called cordon trenzado. It is believed this was brought from Portugal, but Jonatan isn’t sure as historical evidence is lacking. They do, however, know that it existed here as far back as four centuries ago. It was initially introduced for Malvasia, as it needed a longer pruning system to make it more productive. Over the years, he has been able to adapt it for qualitative not quantitative viticulture. 

Cordon Trenzado vines in winter

The Wines 

The majority of the cuvées produced in the cellar are red, from Listán Negro. The whites, meanwhile, are the cuvées Trenzado, which comes from the vineyards closer to the Teide volcano, and the cuvée Vidonia, which comes from soils with more clay in the middle of the valley. Jonatan says,

“I think the volcanic soils bring more rusticity, whereas the soils with more clay brings a great acidity to the wine and elegance in the mouth. It's great to make them one by one, as you can discover the different profiles.”  

The Suertes del Marqués cellar

For the reds, already in May and June Jonatan analyses the vineyards and decides which sections of the single vineyards will go into the blends. The single vineyards have been kept separate for many years, in order to allow them to best express their elevation, orientation and soil type. He makes them all in the same way, explaining, 

“I try to show what I have in my vineyard by doing the same with regards to the winemaking. If I start to make them in different ways – some whole bunches, some destemmed, some with or without temperature control, then I start to lose the soil.”

Thus, the name of the game here is natural fermentation in open vats, ageing in 500L and 228L neutral vessels. All single vineyards are vinified with whole bunches at cool temperatures, except for La Solana and Candio, which are produced with 50% whole stems, for easier drinking styles, and the blends, which are produced with just 10% whole bunches. They are always bottled unfined and unfiltered with very low sulphur additions, to keep the expression of the vineyards as natural as possible. He shrugs, adding,

Whole bunch vinifications

“The vineyards show me. The clay soils tend to give more fruity wines, whereas the sandier parcels tend to give more minerality and complexity. Then, it depends on the orientation – east gives more freshness whereas west more ripeness. What I want to do is to show the place through the grapes and the wine.”

The east facing vineyards, already with cool temperatures, have even less sun exposure. For the already pepper Listán Negro variety, this seems to produce even more peppery wines. The El Chibirique vineyard, which sits on clay on volcanic rock, produces an astonishingly peppery wine: pink, white and green peppercorns are abundant in this bottling. 

The most recent addition to the Suertes stable is a fortified Listán Blanco - a nod to the original wines of Tenerife. The juice is foot trodden four times per day, then pressed, after which the fermentation is stopped by using alcohol and sulphur. It is then aged in old Madeira barrels for 25 months in barrels in a warm place.

These are breathtakingly honest wines that are true to their vineyards; not a single cuvée resembles its brother or sister cuvée, and that’s what makes the wines of Suertés del Marques so thrilling: their true uniqueness and transparency.

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