Meet Your Makers: Dehesa de los Canonigos

Belen Sanz Cid is good at what she does. Really good. The wines she makes at Dehesa de los Canonigos in Ribera del Duero have won some serious awards of late, but if you ask her about it, the credit shouldn’t go to her. Instead, it’s a group effort spanning five generations of her family who have tended to the vines, mastered their winemaking approach and established themselves as force within the region and beyond.

Their winery is located in the infamous town of Pesquera del Duero that is also home to legendary producers like Emilio Moro and local legend Alejandro Fernandez’s Tinto Pesquera winery. With neighbors like that, you’d better be on your A-game. That’s created a sense of both competition and a bonded community for Belen and her family to feel a part of.

But the Cid family is not all about history and tradition. They’re shaking things up a bit with their winemaking mindset and techniques, even using the white albillo grape to blend with some of their Tempranillo wines as a signature touch.

She speaks to her winemaking approach, the Dehesa de los Canonigos history and how one visitor’s kind words brought her to tears in our interview below:

Dehesa de los Canonigos is a family affair. How has that influenced the culture of your winery?
In 1931, Idelfonso Cid and Vicenta Sánchez bought Dehesa de los Canónigos, and since then generation after generation have been instilling a love for the land and its wine. That is why the future of our winery is to give continuity to what our great-grandparents started when they bought the farm, as did our parents Luis Sanz and Mª Luz Cid. Now we’re building the winery even further, undertaking new projects to be better without losing inherited values. Transmitting to our fifth generation what our father taught us: “Grapes before the vats.”

Can you explain that “grapes before the vats” motto? What does that mean to you, and what does the final product mean?
The wine is transformed in the land where it is born, which is a consequence of the land and the life it houses, so the most important aspect of our wine is the vineyard. As our father reminds us “GRAPES BEFORE.” It means that a great wine is not obtained from one year to another but is the fruit of years viticultural work and respecting the laws of nature. The balance and connection of the vine with the medium allows it  to express its full potential.

There’s a lot of attention to detail when it comes to growing grapes and turning them into wine. What are some of the things you focus on to make sure your wine ends up as best as possible?
Our vineyards, in which we find vines that are over ninety years old, offer quality above all. We take care of them respectfully, we reduce the load, leaving a maximum amount of 5,000 kilos per hectare, which is below the levels stated by the D.O. We make an exhaustive selection during harvest, choosing only the best grapes for our wines. Having our own vineyards has given us, over the years, an in-depth knowledge of its vines and the fruit it yileds, its characteristics, which helps the oenologist to better understand the grape and to be able to conduct it in a correct way. This quality is linked to the knowledge of the parameters  that ensure the grape reaches its maximum splendor while respecting its personality.

It is like people: When you are a great person, the years make you wiser and you have to listen. Vineyards are the same.

Your winery is right in the heart of Pesquera del Duero, with some of the region’s great and historic wineries. Is there a sense of friendly competition among you?
Yes, Ribera del Duero has a beautiful story to tell, and we have to communicate it all together. We follow the example of our father. We are not rivals but companions and great friends.

What inspired you to blend Albillo — a white varietal — with your Tempranillo in some of your wines?
The albillo is a very glyceric variety, which complements  the Tempranillo variety quite well. I think it gives it a more expressive and velvety mouthfeel.

What is the balance between the intense, sometimes scientific process of winemaking, while also maintaining the romantic side of it?
Our objective in the winemaking process is to respect to the maximum the primary potential of the varieties that we use (Tinto fino, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Albillo). New technologies and research help us to know more and more how each variety behaves at the moment of transformation, and thus inform us  as we guide them through the process to ensure wines of great quality that maintain their personality and enhanced sense of terroir.

What maintains the romantic side, is that  each wine is unique and represents the character of each vintage. The experiences that each vintage give you makes it more emotional, year after year, and adds to the legend of a winery.

There are more women winemakers making their mark in Ribera del Duero. Technical skills aside, what do you think you bring to Dehesa de los Canonigos that’s unique to your personality?
I believe that the passion for the world of wine and its processes of winemaking don’t  have gender lines. Creating new wines brings me knowledge and enthusiasm to do things better every time. What I want to convey in our wines is the respect for the land and its grapes and the admiration for the continuity of this family business. For this reason my dedication is to maintain the personality of the Dehesa de los Canonigos wines while trying to reach the maximum expression of each vintage.

You’ve recently won some awards here in America – including a Gold Medal at the 2016 Decanter awards. How rewarding is it to see your hard work pay off with an industry award?

When you see the beginning of a new harvest, the nerves set in and, in parallel, the excitement of beginning to create a new wine. This means stress, tension, days without sleep and of course, new feelings and personal satisfaction for the work done. But this satisfaction is enhanced by the public recognition of your work. It gives you strength to keep going and increases your confidence that you are on the right track. It also adds to the desire to improve.

On the contrary, with all of the prestige that comes with awards, is the ultimate reward just seeing someone at a dinner table with friends enjoy your wine? Is that what is at the core of every winemaker?
The satisfaction of seeing other people enjoying and sharing a creation of yours is even more rewarding. You can feel their gestures, how the bottle is emptying and the wine is part of the enjoyment of an evening between friends. That feeling is difficult to convey in words.

What is the best compliment you have received on one of your wines?
I remember a woman who came to the winery. After we spent time together tasting the wines, she said: “Solideo has reminded me of the good times that I spent with my mother. She recently passed away, but this wine has given me a little light.” When I heard her, I could not help but wipe my tears away.

If I had to tell the story of the cellar Dehesa de los Canonigos in a tweet (140 characters), what would it be?
“A house with a wine cellar in which its wines represent the history, dedication, union and tradition of the Sanz Cid Family.” And there are 4 characters left!

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