Valdepeñas Wines: Value and Quality from Spain's Valley of Stones

Valdepeñas, which translates to "valley of stones," has been part of Spain's winemaking heritage since at least the 4th century B.C.  The area is known not only for its long history of exporting wines but also for its tradition of fermenting wines in huge (1,600 liter) jars called tinajas.  In centuries past, winemakers partially buried these large earthenware vessels in the earth, which helped keep the wine cold throughout the fermentation process.  Today, of course, the jars have been replaced by modern equipment and production processes; Valdepeñas now sells more wine than any other Spanish DO except Rioja.  The Valdepeñas region has long held a reputation for producing quality, value-priced wines.

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Valdepeñas Winemaking History
As mentioned, archaeologists have discovered winemaking artifacts dating from the 4th century B.C. in Valdepeñas.  The region shares Spain's ties to ancient Roman winemaking tradition.  Valdepeñas quickly made a name for itself as wine production expanded during the Middle Ages; the region became one of Spain's top wine-producing areas.

The medieval Caliphate of Toledo gave the wine producers of Valdepeñas special permission to continue making wine while the area was under Muslim control, in spite of the Islamic prohibition against drinking alcoholic beverages.  After the Reconquista (retaking of Spanish territory from Muslim rule), Valdepeñas wines were shipped to Madrid and other parts of Spain in ever-increasing quantities.

Valdepeñas' exports continued to grow; by the time railroads arrived in Spain in 1861, the region was ready to take full advantage of this new way to get wines to foreign markets.  In fact, the Valdepeñas – Madrid run was called the "Tren de Vino" ("Wine Train") because its main cargo was wine from Valdepeñas.  The railroad allowed Valdepeñas to export wine to faraway places, including the Philippine Islands and South America.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.

Inevitably, phylloxera came to Valdepeñas.  The vineyards were decimated in 1911, but growers were prepared because the pests' effects in other parts of Europe were well-documented.  As vineyards were replanted, growers concentrated on grape varieties that could handle Valdepeñas' climate, particularly airén and cencibel (tempranillo).

Although the days of earthenware jars are long gone, Valdepeñas is still an important Spanish wine region.  Today, wine producers are using modern equipment and incorporating innovative techniques into their winemaking processes.