Talking with Antonio Diez Martín, his boundless energy and upbeat charisma are the first thing you notice. He’s got that thing in his voice, that glimmer in his eye that people who simply enjoy life just have – and it’s intoxicating. He’s the type of guy that will climb up a 30-foot wall of wine barrels to give you a taste of the one at the top, and then climb back down with a full wine glass – literally … that happened.
First, a good portion of his vineyard was planted in the wrong direction. Various business hiccups and the general struggles a winemaker can deal with followed. But the biggest blow came in September of 2013, when lightning struck the Martín Berdugo winery facilities in Aranda del Duero, setting fire to their offices and wine making equipment. While they would have to rebuild a significant portion of their operation, the fire took place after hours, so thankfully nobody was injured. And, in another stroke of good luck, their cellar and aging area were spared.
“I could not believe what had happened. I cried a lot,” Antonio tells us. But giving up on the winery wasn’t an option. “I knew we had to rebuild. I looked out at the vines, remembered my family and all of the work we did here, and said ‘We need to rebuild.’”
And rebuild they did – because the Martín Berdugo mantra is simple: Make people happy. Without the winery, Antonio would have lost his vehicle for putting smiles on people’s faces, and that’s something he simply couldn’t live with. He’s a natural at it. See for yourself:
The poems and comics he proudly shows off in the above video are a great way to spark a conversation over a glass of the finished product Martín Berdugo offers. But the actual process of growing the grapes that eventually wind up inside the bottles that the poems and comics live on is not exactly an easy-breezy task.
Take, for example, the “green pruning” that takes place in early summer – which we were able to see first-hand during a June 2015 visit. In order to maximize the quality of their grapes and ensure proper ripening and growth, green pruning is a ridiculously manual process that requires lots of squatting, snapping branches and shoots along the way to make sure there are only two grape bunches per vine. This is a plant-by-plant job – and there are roughly 217,500 in the Martín Berdugo vineyard. If you have a backyard garden with, say, ten tomato plants, you know how much work that can be. Imagine the undertaking of doing this on 200 thousand-plus plants with temperatures soaring in the 90s , soaking humidity and no shade to speak of.
“Your sight gets lost looking in the lines [of vines and plants], but it’s the most important thing to keep a natural balance and trying to get light that can go inside the fruit,” Antonio explains in the video above.
Antonio loses half of his potential harvest in order to keep his quality up. It’s hardly a smart economic choice, but it’s necessary to make sure the final product is up to snuff.
Once that task is complete, there’s another very manual – and very expensive – step that happens at Martín Berdugo. Just before the grapes turn from green to purple-black (generally in late August), one of the two grape bunches on each vine is cut off so that the plant can spend all of its energy concentrating the fruit of the one remaining bunch. Basically, Antonio loses half of his potential harvest in order to keep his quality up. It’s hardly a smart economic choice, but it’s necessary to make sure the final product is up to snuff.
Sure, the comics and poems on the bottles make for great conversation starters, but for Martín Berdugo, it’s all about the quality. It’s the contents inside that make a wine – and similarly, it’s what’s inside of Antonio that makes Martín Berdugo special. It’s passion, it’s pride, it’s panache – it’s the soul of Ribera del Duero.
“Here in Ribera del Duero and especially here at Martín Berdugo,” Antonio says, “we keep all of this very strictly and our production is very limited, but we can offer very good quality.”