Brainchild of Jérome Bougnaud – a down to earth pioneer despite his status as long-time former vineyard manager of nearby mythical and rather exclusive Pingus – this immaculate, panoramic 17-hectare south-facing vineyard plus six north facing is adjacent to the spare and minimalistic village of Sardón del Duero.

Of serious French vigneron pedigree, Jérome wanted his own personal project and so, at the tail end of the 1990s, he roped Peter Sisseck and eight like-minded devotees into chipping in to the major financing of his very own estate on the famous Golden Mile. When sounded out in the early 1980s as to whether he’d like his community included in the Appellation that would come into force in 1982, the local mayor simply said no.

Here, therefore, on a fantastically varied yet ultimately quite poor soil mix of 11 different types (including chalk, limestone, marl, clay, loam and gypsum) at lofty and well-ventilated heights of between 750 and 820 metres, there is primarily Tinto Fino/local Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon with a smidgeon of Malbec, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc to mention just a few – with the liberty of variety variation afforded by not being in the DO.

Individual plots are harvested separately and the vines, fertilised with the property’s own compost, are picked not by variety but by soil type to be co-fermented most exactingly in some 15 to 20 lots.

Jérome was also a bit special in taking the decision from Day One that his wines would be biodynamic – a misunderstood platform that often results in majorly unpredictable offerings (see Box) and whose ultimate objective is purity and balance. While1999 through 2000 saw the first plantings, 2003 was the first release of top cuvée QS which has been garnering a serious audience and major critical acclaim ever since. By 2010 it was clear that Jérome, not just with no sales staff and a single admin assistant – the charming María Enciso – had taken on quite a handful and so with pressing family interests to look after back in his native Cognac, he sold the estate to the family-owned Terras Gauda group in November 2010.

In order to assure the continuity of his splendid project he nonetheless stayed on till 2016 and, although 2014 was his last vintage, he had in September 2010 secured the services of another very talented winemaker – Christian (Xose Rei Oubiña) – and remained as a hands-on consultant during the 2015 and 2016 vintages, his dream essentially in more than safe hands.

The transition has therefore been seamless, for as relaxed and laid back as he may appear to be, Christian is a consummate professional. I last saw him in late September for fifteen minutes in Sardón village for a coffee during which time, with the harvest in full swing, we talked. He made and smoked a roll-up while at the same time calmly fielding a call roughly every 45 seconds with questions from his harvesting team.

Born in Cambados, the capital of the Rías Baixas heartland (the Salnés Valley), he moved to Burgos in 2002 to try his hand at reds and when he eventually met up with Jérome, they clicked, as Christian is also “a passionate advocate of biodynamic agriculture.” His philosophy is that “the soil is the key part of winemaking and terroir, influenced by rain, heat, cold, sun, and the moon.”

He continues: “In the same way that a musician never renders the same piece of music in exactly the same way, the biodynamic producer interprets, observes and learns from nature, and comes to understand her rhythms to try and achieve balance year upon year. Yet each interpretation is always slightly different for though the score may appear to be the same, both we and the space that we inhabit are in a state of flux and ever-changing, developing and mutating in our respective ways.”

Biodynamic Wines

In essence these form part of an alternative integrated agriculture now practiced in some 55 countries that utilise organic farming methods (ie. neither chemical treatments nor pesticides) and naturally formulated compost – often supplemented with herbal and mineral additives – as fertiliser and for field sprays. This system developed from the early 1920s ideas of Rudolf Steiner. They also follow an astrological sowing and planting calendar that depends upon astronomical configurations and treats the earth as a living and receptive organism.

Within this, soil fertility, plant growth and livestock care are ecologically interrelated tasks in a single system, labelled by enthusiasts as sympathetic magic given that in many ways this philosophy harks back to ancient mystical practices and rites, but by detractors as pseudoscience given on the one hand its overreliance on esoteric knowledge and mystical beliefs and on the other sparse scientific evidence for its efficacy.

One important convention is, for example, to bury ground-up quartz stuffed into a cow’s horn at a certain time each year in order to glean the cosmic forces in the soil.

Sardón 2017 (14.5%)

95% Tinto Fino, 2% Garnacha, and 3% Albillo, Syrah, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. Short vatting time, minimal extraction, with the various components subsequently aged in a combo of third-year barrels, 1,200 litre foudres, concrete eggs and steel deposits for 6 months followed by 6 additional months in concrete tanks to bring out its fresh, fruit-driven side.

From one of the driest vintages ever, this is most aromatic, medium bodied and has a rich, concentrated blackberry, raspberry and cherry character together with elements of chocolate. Soft tannins however, it´s agreeably fresh, minerally, and upbeat.

Production 105,000 bottles.

Quinta Sardonia

Top cuvée QS is another proposition entirely, described on the one hand by excellent wine writer Margaret Rand as “the concentrated, sleek essence of a particular spot on our planet”; and conceptually by Jérome Bougnaud in his alluringly down to earth fashion as ‘usually between 35 and 75% Tinto Fino/Tempranillo – ‘good mouth´ – 10 to 30% Cabernet Sauvignon – ´the spine’; with the other varieties providing ´the nose and seasoning’.

Quinta Sardonia 2015 (15%)

60% Tinto Fino, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot and 2% Malbec. Made from the estate’s finest bunches derived primarily from calcareous soils but with a small proportion from gypsum. Aged for 20 months, 30% went into new French oak barrels and the rest into ones previously used for one vintage.

Ripe, rounded and of medium intensity with a plethora of discreet, condensed primary fruits – typically red cherries – wrapped up in fine, pervasive, custard scented oak and with a twist of liquorice. Great texture, fresh, with no uncertain minerality, plump friendly tannins and an outstanding finish.

Production 24,200 bottles.

Quinta Sardonia 2014 (15%)

60% Tinto Fino, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot and 2% Malbec. Made as above, using as ever native yeasts and with malolactic fermentation in barrel, just 16% went into new French oak.

In accordance with the nature of the vintage, though following a similar profile to the 2015, this is rather finer and more nuanced with notes of dense plum and its customary red cherry hallmarks topped off by an immense finish.

Production 24,900 bottles.