Often in life I am drawn to humans that could be considered as outsiders and when I first met Diego Losada back in September, 2018, I could instantly see that he didn't feel he had much in common with his surroundings. Hailing from the industrial mining town of Ponferrada in the North of Spain, Diego grew up listening to Punk and Heavy Metal and it's the spirit of these subcultures that run through the wines that he now makes under the name Bodega La Senda, a far cry from the conventional (and often boring) wines that the Bierzo valley is usually known for. He grows grapes organically and makes wines without additives such as sulphur, filtration or fining. These methods are either unheard of or ridiculed in the region.
(Diego at his winery)
I was travelling with Fernando who imports Spanish natural wines through his company Otros Vinos and a good friend Luke who just has a general interest in farming and loves being out in nature. We had helped out at a harvest with Marenas in Andalusia before making the long drive across the whole of Spain to see Diego. But we didn't have long as we needed to fit in a quick stint to Galicia to meet another winemaker, Constantina Sotelo so when another year had passed, I was eager to pay Diego another visit and get to know him a bit more.
(Sample bottles at the winery)
In August 2019, Luke and I flew to Santiago de Compostela for a night of maximum fish consumption before driving to Diego's town in the region of Castilla y Leon. Ponferrada is a strange place. I have never been to Spanish town that seems to care very little about food and drink but thats the impression you get here. Diego explained it's because of the industrial history of the town (mining) and I imagine that if it wasn't for the fact the town is situated on the Camino de Santiago, there wouldn't be many visitors. When we arrived, Diego had some bad news. The weather had pushed back the harvest date so it was unlikely we were going to be able to destroy our knees and backs in a very hot vineyard for hours each day. Terrible. So on the first day, we visited the town's main (only?) attraction, Las Médulas, a Roman gold-mining site which is protected by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
(Las Médulas, UNESCO World Heritage Site)
Fortunately, it appeared we were visiting Ponferrada in its most lively week of the year thanks to the annual festival La Fiesta de la Encina and we were staying right on the main plaza so evenings were pretty cool even though there was no natural wine to be seen and food options were very limited.
The next day it was Diego's birthday so he kindly invited us over for lunch with his wife and son before we toured his vineyards. He has a very loving family and his wife was really interested in life back in London, particularly what we eat for breakfast. Diego is always visibly disgusted when London breakfast habits are discussed which really makes me laugh. He doesn't think complex food should be consumed so early in the morning but his wife seemed quite excited by the idea of eggs and avocado to start the day!
(Diego in one of his vineyards)
It was great to be back in his vineyards that are so wild and green and it's funny/depressing to see his neighbour's non-organic plots that more resemble a barren desert than a place where fruit grows. They think Diego is crazy for not using chemicals on his vines but when you see the results of two completely different approaches alongside each other, it seems really obvious who has the right idea.
Diego took some grapes to test sugar levels in order to calculate how far harvest was away. Mencia is the main variety here and it makes wines with red fruit flavours and fragrant aromas. Alicante Bouschet and Trousseau are other red varieties grown by Diego whilst the white varieties (that make up a much small percentage of total production) are Doña Blanca, Godello, Palomino and Malvasia. It was cool to be able to eat all the different varieties in the vineyard and try to identify different characteristics. They all come from old bush vines, sometimes on quite steep and uneven slopes which made me even more grateful for that delay to the harvest. We went back to the winery where Diego crushed the sample grapes in a freezer bag so he could test the juice.
(Testing sugar levels)
On the final day it was good to actually be able to offer some sort of help so we cleaned out boxes in the winery that were to be used for harvest to a soundtrack of death metal. A statue of Baphomet, the symbol of the Satanic Temple, looks over the barrels inside the winery which made us laugh. Diego gave us loads of wine for us to take for the rest of our trip and although we didn't get to be part of the harvest, it had been great to hang out with him and understand his approach to what he does. We went for breakfast with him and his wife the next day before leaving and it was really nice that he had found the only place in Ponferrada to offer eggs for breakfast! He remained unconvinced but the meal left his wife ready to book tickets on the next flight to London.
(One of Diego's Mencia vines)
Usually, I love that a wine reminds me of the place it comes from but I'm not sure I could say that about Ponferrada. Instead, when I drink Diego's wines, it's a feeling of rebellion that comes to mind. His story, the labels and the vastly different wine style to a typical Bierzo come together to embody a message of "Fuck You" to the people that tell you "that" can't be done or "this" can't be changed. It takes belief and bravery to create something like this. That's what I love about Diego and his wines.