Yecla is one of Spain's smallest wine regions. Established in 1975, the Yecla DO surrounds the city that shares its name. Like many small wine regions, Yecla has survived because of a fierce dedication to its traditions and heritage.
Yecla lies in the southeastern province of Murcia. The DO is surrounded by other Spanish wine regions, specifically Jumilla, and Almansa. The city and vineyards of Yecla are ringed by a series of low mountain ranges which help to give the region its particular microclimate.
Yecla's Winemaking History
Although Yecla was founded as the city of Yakka during the Moorish occupation of Spain, winemaking predates the city by almost 1,000 years. Local legends claim that the ancient Phoenicians brought wine grapes to Yecla, and archaeologists have discovered the ruins of a first-century wine cellar near Fuente del Pinar. After Roman rule ended, wine production in Yecla continued, flourishing during the Moorish occupation and expanding as Spain's rulers consolidated their power. By the reign of King Philip II, Yecla was designated as a "bodega mayor" ("major winery").
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By the late 19th century, Yecla's winemaking tradition was firmly established. Yecla's wineries produced mainly fortified wines during this period. When phylloxera finally arrived here, some vineyards escaped devastation; even today, you'll find areas where grapevines have never been grafted onto new root stock.
In the early and middle years of the 20th century, Yecla was best known for bulk wines with high alcohol content. Yecla winemakers refused to be absorbed into one of the neighboring DO's; instead, they fought to establish their own appellation, which was granted in 1975.
Winemakers from this tiny region have big plans. The Castaño family, owners of Bodegas Castaño, has worked tirelessly to propel the Yecla DO onto the international stage, and their efforts have paid off handsomely. In fact, about 85 percent of Yecla's wines are exported. Yecla is no longer one of a collection of unknown wine regions; instead, Yecla's wines are known for their quality and value.
Geography, Soil and Climate
Yecla's vineyards are planted on hills that range from about 1,300 to 2,600 feet in height. The DO's climate, while considered to be continental, is tempered somewhat by its southeastern location. The region's temperatures range from about 23 degrees Fahrenheit in winter to 102 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer months. Rainfall averages about 12 inches per year. Most rainstorms occur in the spring and fall months. Yecla is known for its heavy, if rare, downpours.
Yecla's soils lie on limestone bedrock. In most areas, there is a thick layer of subsoil topped by sandy or silty topsoil. Some vineyards are planted on stony topsoil, while the topsoils of other vineyards contain clay or loam. Typically, Yecla's soils are poor, with low nitrogen levels.
The Yecla DO includes two sub-regions, Campo Arriba and Campo Abajo. Campo Arriba lies north of the city of Yecla. This sub-region's vineyards lie at higher elevations than those of Campo Abajo. Campo Arriba is best known for its red wines, while more white wine grapes are grown in Campo Abajo.
Yecla Grape Varieties
In spite of the region's small size, Yecla winemakers produce a wide variety of wines. Yecla winemakers don't confine themselves to still whites, rosados and reds; they also make sparkling and fortified wines. About 15 percent of Yecla's wines are rosados (rosés).
White grapes planted in Yecla include airén, merseguera and macabeo. Yecla's red wines are better known, and most of these are made from monastrell grapes. Approximately 85 percent of Yecla's vineyards are planted in monastrell. Garnacha tinta and garnacha tintorera are also planted here, and some winemakers have recently been experimenting with syrah grapes.
Visiting Yecla Wineries
While the Yecla DO Web site lists just 11 wineries, don't let that small number keep you away. There's a lot to do and see in this congenial part of Spain. While you're taking in cave paintings at Monte Arabí, plan a wine tasting break at one of Yecla's wineries.
According to wine writer Jan Read, Bodegas Castaño is "the best [bodega] in Yecla." The Castaño family, led by its patriarch, Ramón Castaño Santa, has created a top-notch winery, producing award-winning wines and working diligently to bring Yecla into the spotlight. Bodegas Castaño offers vineyard walks and wine tasting; contact the winery to arrange your visit.
Bodegas Antonio Candela y Hijos and the Candela family's newest venture, Bodegas Señorio de Barahonda, are doing their part to put Yecla on the Spanish wine tourism map. You can take a tour of one of the Barahonda vineyards, visit the winery and its original cellar, book a wine tasting session, and cap your visit with a delicious meal in the Señorio de Barahonda restaurant, all in one day. You will need to arrange your tour and tasting at least two weeks in advance. The winery's Web site includes a convenient booking form.
Bodegas La Purísima, is one of the largest cooperatives in Spain. La Purísima produces both organic and traditional wines, including award-winning wines bottled under the winning Trapío label. The winery also produces and sells olive oil and dessert wines.
Yecla's future as a DO shows great promise. The region's winemakers have upgraded their equipment, embracing modern technology and refining their aging processes to get the best possible results. They are also aggressively marketing Yecla wines, not only in the European Union and North America, but also in Asian countries. Wine writer John Radford summed up Yecla's situation perfectly in his book, The New Spain, when he wrote, "Yecla is definitely on the move."