Juan Bulnes is the fourth-generation owner of Bernabeleva, located in central Spain, on a granite outcropping of the Sierra de Gredos. Juan’s great-grandfather, Vincente Alvarez-Villamil, a doctor in Madrid, purchased the land in 1923. When the family first visited the estate, they discovered carvings of bears—offerings to the gods made by Celtic hunters a thousand years earlier. Hence, the name and logo: Bernabeleva means “bear’s forest.”
By the end of the 1930s, economic and political disruptions forced the family to flee the land, and their dream to make wine was put on hold for decades. In 2006, Juan and his cousin Santiago Bulnes returned to the land to discover now-80-year-old vines still in place and plenty of neighbors eager to sell.
With help from consulting enologist Raúl Pérez and Catalan vineyard manager and winemaker Marc Isart, the Bulnes family reaffirmed their vision to create a family winery. Juan’s ambitions were well supported by the terroir. The vineyards are more than a half-mile above sea level, with warm days but cool nights and with poor, sandy soils. The family is committed to organic and biodynamic viticulture, with the intent of making soil-driven wines of elegance and purity with the deftest touch of oak. Others have copied the idea, and the Gredos is now a hotbed of young producers.