The Picos de Europa are a subset of the Cantabrian mountain range, which runs parallel to the north coast of Spain through Asturias, León, Cantabria, and into the Basque region. Nestled in an amphitheater just inland from the coastal city of Santander and over the Picos lies the Valle de Liébana, where picturesque villages and verdant green mountainsides resemble Swiss postcards more than the popular image of Spain. Liébana’s vertiginous mountain vineyards are co-planted to red and white varieties like Merenzao (Trousseau), Mencía, Garnacha Tintorera, Albarín Negro, Palomino, Albillo, Godello, and more, and are commonly used to distill orujo, northern Spain’s local grape spirit. Isabel García is a third-generation orujo distiller at Orulisa, the first artisan distillery in Liébana. She is the steward of an ancient distillation process, carried out on medieval copper stills and updated and patented by her mother, Carmen. Her elegant, certified organic orujos and delicate, heady liqueurs are found on the menus of dozens of Michelin-starred restaurants that line Spain’s northern coasts. In a corner of the distillery, some of Spain’s most fascinating natural wines are resting in a cluster of small tanks. This is the winemaking project started in 2015 by Isabel’s husband, Sabino Quirós. Together, they vinify fruit from Isabel’s family's organic vineyard next to the distillery, as well as 2ha of steep, old parcels planted at 500m altitude on the slate, limestone, quartzite, and sandstone slopes of Pumareña (the most planted mountain zone in Liébana) that Sabino and Isabel have painstakingly recuperated with the help of horses and mules. Despite a long winemaking history, wines from Liébana are relatively rare and unknown. They express wild mountain aromas and freshness, with taut fruit and firm structure, similar to wines from old mixed plantings in Bierzo Alto, Ribeira Sacra, or Valdeorras. Yields are low, weather is tempestuous, and the project is small (total quantities produced are in the hundreds of bottles) and labor-intensive. Their deep wines and epic vines have lured natural winemakers to Liébana from all over Spain to learn more about their vision and region and (who are we kidding?) to drink Isabel’s next-level orujos!
2018 was a disastrous vintage in Liébana. There was so much rain in the summer that Orulisa could produce only 300 litres of wine from Pumareña (the wine called PUM). They were heartbroken not to be able to make more than one wine after so much hard work in the vineyards. Thankfully, their friends at Microbodega Alumbro, a few hours southwest in Zamora, were able to spare some organic Godello grapes for this special orange wine. The wine was gently stomped and macerated for 30 days on the skins, bottled with no added SO2, and named for Isabel and Sabino’s adorable daughter, Marina, and her favorite greeting: “¿Cómo te llamas?”
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