Juan Antonio Ponce (pronounced 'pon-thay') is a young winemaker in Manchuela, a little-known wine region inland from Valencia in Spain's south-east corner.
Though Manchuela is not yet a stellar name, Juan Antonio and other young-gun winemakers there have gone a long way to putting it firmly on the wine map. Some have done it with a passionate advocacy of local varieties too, in Juan's case bobal, Moravia agria, garnacha, and albilla in particular, with a little monastrell coming from nearby Jumilla.
Having learned a great deal from his father and his college studies Juan Antonio returned to Spain to work across the country for Telmo Rodriguez before settling back at his hometown of Iniesta in Manchuela. He was 23 when he established his own (rented) cellar with his father in 2005, adopting a biodynamic regime that can work very well indeed in this arid and well-ventilated climate.
He approaches the winemaking from a low-intervention point of view, particularly eschewing sulphur as much as he can. He uses very little mechanisation and harvesting is, not surprisingly, done by hand across the 40 hectares of sites from which he sources fruit, including his family's 17 hectares of widely spaced bush-trained vines that are unirrigated despite the low rainfall of the region, compelling the vine's roots to delve deep in search of nutrients and moisture. Many of the family vines are old, 50 to 90 years old in fact, already deep rooted and providing high-quality fruit, which he likes to pick about 10 days earlier than is the norm in the area to avoid jammy overripe flavours.
Despite the commonly hot summer temperatures in Manchuela, the vines grow high in the hills where the altitude provides respite from the heat and allows the development of acidity to temper the ripeness of the grapes. When the harvest arrives at the winery he chills the grapes, foot-treads some of them in wooden vats and, for the bobal, ferments with the stems utilising native yeasts. His aim is a gentle extraction to keep the fruit to the fore and he bottles after a short stint in barrel with no fining or filtration.
The albilla come from vines grown on various plots of boulder-strewn, granitic and limestone soils at 700 metres and the must is fermented, again using native yeasts, in used 600 litre barrels (the exact same barrels the previous wine from each plot was fermented in the year previously) before ageing on its fine lees for extra complexity.