15 years ago Clara Verheij and André Both moved from Holland to Sayalonga in the Axarquía region of Spain. Prior to their move they had spent their previous 3 years of holidays exploring different areas of Spain finally settling on a finca, badly in need of restoration in the hills of Sayalonga. Clara was a qualified Anthropologist and André worked as a building engineer. Clara knew that to find work she had to study Spanish to a high level in order to gain employment through translation and teaching work. Clara actually took this idea to the next level. Once permanently in Spain and competent in Spanish, she opened up a language school in Cómpeta. This is also where André has his Construction Company Santa Clara Construcciones operating from. In their spare time they both then set about restoring their Finca. They soon found out from locals that it had always been vineyard, now however completely abandoned. This sparked great interest in the couple as they both shared a common hobby of enjoying drinking wine and experimenting with tasting wines from different countries and regions.
Clara and André then decided that they would plant new vines, partly as respect to the land and partly due to a general interest in the process. Neither of them had any idea of agriculture or how to produce a crop in order to make wine, however the locals taught them how to work the soil, where to put what and when. A year later they bought a neighbouring plot of land with older vines on. Clara explained that the older the vines get, the lower they yield but the grapes are of a higher quality.
They became fully integrated in the local Spanish community as they frequently called on locals for their companies, as well as for help and knowledge about the grapes. Locals even taught them how to make a ‘Lagar’ where together they pressed the grapes traditionally using feet. They stored the wine in old wooden barrels and bottled it for friends and family. Clara admitted at this stage everything was very hit or miss with no constant quality or control it was just a bit of fun. The process had made them good friends and given them a fantastic hobby and sometimes great wine.
In 2003 they decided to take things more seriously by hiring a professional wine maker: an “Enólogo”. The Muscatel grape which they grow is an excellent basic ingredient in combination with the local ‘terroir’: the slate soil around their bodega gives excellent mineral content to the wine, along with the height and influence from the Mediterranean and the cool night breezes could provide excellent results just with the right help from an expert. The Enólogo advised of having a laboratory, buying large stainless steel containers, a powerful cooling system, new barrels to hold the wine and a vertical press and then not to expect their investment back for 10 years! Despite this, they decided to make a go of it!
They do everything on their land eco friendly and organically which often means work is very labour intensive. They also have agreements in place with other locals with vineyards who sell grapes to Clara’s bodega for production into wine. The wines are called Ariyanas which means “Aromatic”.
Clara invited me to the Bodega and talked me through the process of the wines she makes. If I am honest despite living so close I had never been to the Bodega before and thought it really only produced sweet dessert wines. Also, I must admit my interest in wine is more in drinking them socially with friends rather than how they are made. I am certainly no connoisseur; I leave that to my father and brother who incidentally will now be definitely visiting the Bodega on their next visit. My pre conceptions were certainly mis conceptions. The Bodega produces dry white wine from the Moscatel grape and a red wine which is a blend of different varieties including the local grape Romé in addition to their unfortified sweet wines. Also I found the whole tour extremely interesting; Clara’s story combined with the method of how the wines are made to their own special recipe is a fantastic one. I didn’t expect huge stainless steel containers, a big pneumatic press and whole bottling line and also to enjoy the sweet wines as much as I did. Clara talks with enthusiasm throughout the tour without dwelling too much on the technical, unless of course this is what you want. I won’t go into any more detail as I don’t want to tell you everything as a visit is a real must and of course you get to try all the wines at the end. The sweet wines were great not to sticky, light and fruity, the dry white wine was a real find for me thoroughly enjoyable. Unfortunately, the red 2008 had not been bottled yet so I was unable to taste this but it gives me an excellent reason to go back again. All the wines are bottled with glass stoppers as Clara believes corks can carry bacteria that give a bad taste to the wine (the ‘corked wine’ problem). The wine bottles themselves have been especially made in order to have these glass stoppers and they give the wine a sophisticated feel.
The wine tasting and tour is free but if you want to make an event of it you can pay 9 Euro per person (minimum party of 8) and have the tour with a more extensive wine tasting at the end whilst eating tapas that complements and brings out the best in the wines. This is what I will be definitely doing next time.
The investment, time and effort is definitely paying off for Clara and André as they have been featured and rated highly in many famous and prestige’s publications such as the Wine Report, The best 300 wines in Spain, Peñín Guide and many more which you can view on their website. The wine itself is now distributed all around Spain and exported to Germany, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and UK. George Barbier of London, their UK distributor reports that “Upon tasting the Ariyanas, we immediately knew that this would prove a success with our prestigious clients. Complex and elegant, the wine retains a pleasing freshness which leaves you wanting more! We have already introduced the wine to many top restaurants including The restaurant Gordon Ramsey, Pied a Terre, Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons, The Square, Tom Aikins, Savoy Grill – a resounding success”.