Bodegas Bhilar is a small winery located in Elvillar (Rioja Alavesa), run by husband and wife team, David Sampedro Gil and Melanie Hickman. Their goal is to make terroir-driven wines with soul, respect the land, work only with indigenous grapes, and to share their unique wines with passionate wine lovers.
Bhilar blanco (Viura, Garnacha Blanca)
Phinca Durmiente (Rufete Blanca)
Terca (Viura, Malvasia)
Costa de Santa Mariña (Albariño)
Phincas Thousand Mils (Viura, Garnacha Blanca and Malvasia)
Kha mé (Garnacha Blanca)
Phinca Hapa Blanco by Melanie Hickman, (Viura, Garnacha Blanca and Malvasia)
Bhilar tinto (Tempranillo, Garnacha, Viura)
Phinca Hapa Tinto, by Melanie Hickman (Tempranillo, Graciano)
Phincas (Tempranillo, Graciano, Viura)
Phinca Abejera (Tempranillo, Graciano, Garnacha, Viura)
Phinca Lali (Tempranillo, Viura)
Phinca Encanto (Rufete)
Lágrimas de Graciano (Graciano)
Lágrimas de Garnacha (Garnacha)
Vina Amalia Castropol (Garnacha)
The winery took shape in 1999 at a time when David Sampedro started learning about the biodynamic philosophy and changed how he cared for his vineyards. He converted to organic farming and then began following the tenets of biodynamic grape growing, going back to the holistic approach to farming developed by Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s: aiming to restore the natural harmony between man, earth, vines, and cosmos.
After several projects where he gained more knowledge and expertise in winemaking, David went solo in 2006 and decided to build his brand, DSG, by producing “garagiste” wines as the operation was minuscule.
His home base is in Euskadi (País Vasco or Basque Country), just south of the Eastern tip of the Cantabrian Range, almost at the border of Álava and Navarra.
Equipped with an intimate knowledge of his vineyards and the soils where they lay, initially all located on the outskirts of the small village of Elvillar (home to less than 500 people), he decided to build his dream winery. It’s one of the higher areas in Rioja Alavesa at just under 600m above sea level. His family has owned much of their land for five generations, and some of the vineyards located near the winery were planted by his grandfather in the 1930s. The name, Bodegas Bhilar, is derived from the Basque word for Elvillar.
His vineyards have all been converted to organic farming ever since he ventured on his own in 2006 and he is currently working to make them biodynamic. Still unsure if he wants to pursue the Demeter certification, his standards are no less. He’s a firm believer of these practices and the impact has been quite visible in the vineyard. The yields range between 3,000-3,500 kg/hectare, well below the appellation maximum allowable yield of 6,500 kg/hectare, and sulphur and milk whey are the only treatments applied to his vines.
When he started the biodynamic conversion, the look of his vineyards was strikingly different from others in the region and earned him the reputation of “the village’s worst vine grower”, enough that fellow vine growers were visiting his mother, wondering if David was ok (as in, “is he crazy?”). They had never seen a vineyard where indigenous plants were not pulled or mowed down. The “natural” look was not in fashion nor understood.
Although his intent is to go back to growing grapes the way his grandfather did (who contrary to David, he had no formal training as a winemaker), David is perceived as abandoning reasonable modern wine making techniques. When he got rid of his tractors in 2014 and switched to horses to farm the vineyards, his mother tried to explain to him that tractors had been invented for a reason. People in the village thought he was nuts, but the wines prove them wrong.
Aside from his work in Rioja Alavesa at his winery, David works with some friends in San Martín de Unx (Navarra). While helping Australian winemaker Dan Standish find some vineyards, he discovered old Garnacha vines on the slopes and ravines that he now rents and farms a few plots to make the Pasolasmonjas cuvée.
Another project took him on the granite and slate soils of Sierra de Francia, on the Southern edge of Salamanca, where David makes two wines with two indigenous varieties: Phinca Encanto (100% Rufete) and Phinca Durmiente (100% Rufete blanca, also known as Verdejo Serrano).
His most recent wine, Shanela, originates from the D.O. Rias Baixas. It is a saline and mineral Albariño aged on its lees for 16 months. The grapes are grown in Val do Salnés, in the heart of the Rias Baixas appellation. The Atlantic Ocean views enjoyed from the vineyard give this wine its name (in Galician: xanela means window) although the spelling has been changed to suit the North American market.
Bodegas Bhilar’s dynamic team (duo!) is firing on all cylinders with several vineyards to tend to, wines to make and to market… and raise two kids.
All this effort is paying off as David’s reputation now precedes him, being recently described as one of “Six Producers Who Are Leading the Way” in Rioja by Wine Spectator (2012). The reviews of his wines are not only more frequent, but always scoring in the top ten percentile (see Decanter, March 2018).
Get ready to be blown away.