Sunday, September 10, 2017


Javier López in the Bodegas Hermanas López Lavado, Mijas.

Javier López is a winemaker and he’s making really good wine. His is the first bodega (winery) in 138 years to be established on the Costa del Sol, a touristic region in southern Spain. The bodega and the vineyards are located in the village of Mijas in the province of Málaga, The wines’ label, Viña Tamisa, comes from the Roman name for Mijas.

Mijas is my pueblo, where I have lived for the past 50 years. Which is why, when I heard about wine being produced in my own village, my curiosity was piqued. The vineyards are less than a mile from my home, yet I never knew they existed. It was when I attended a cata, a tasting of the wines of Bodegas Hermanas López Lavado that I got excited to know this young winemaker in my community.

A day before the vendimia, grape harvest, vineyards near Mijas (Málaga) on sloping land with views to the Mediterranean.

Javi’s plan when, in 2004, he planted 100 vines on a sloping plot of land just below the village, was to bring back wine-making to Mijas.

Mijas, historically, was one of the most important wine-producing districts in the province of Málaga The municipality, which stretches from high sierra to river bottom to the shores of the Mediterranean, had hundreds of vineyards. Almost every small farmstead had a wine press and the wines were exported as far away as England.

Then, in 1879, phylloxera, a parasite that attacks vine roots, wiped out all of Málaga province’s vineyards, once famous for raisins as well as sweet wines. Over the succeeding 138 years, parts of the province have recuperated, notably the Axarquía, east of Málaga; Manilva, at the western end of the province, and, since the 1980s, the Sierras de Málaga around the inland town of Ronda. (These have Denominación de Origen Málaga and Sierras de Málaga.)

But in Mijas, landowners replanted in olives, wheat, citrus, and, in recent years, avocados, golf courses and tourist resorts. Grapes were grown on an arbor on the patio for consumption fresh, not for making wine.

Javi grew up in a Málaga family connected to wine making there and claims he was interested in wine making from a young age. He married a Mijas girl, Ana María Lavado, and moved to the village.

Javier López, garagiste.

Ana María’s family had grown avocados on a finca below the village for two decades, but lost the entire plantation in a drought in the early 2000s. Javi’s father-in-law put up the land for the vineyards as well as his garage in town, where the bodega is located. The winery is named for the couple’s two daughters, the hermanas (sisters) López Lavado.

Is there a Mijas terroir? Javi absolutely believes so. "La tierra tiene memoria," he says.The land remembers. It has a unique geography and climate. Mijas was once a great wine producing region and it promises to be again.

Javi learned the basics of viticulture and vinification in a two-year professional course at the Instituto Las Viñas in Manilva, a Málaga town known for its wine and raisins. But, in addition to training, it takes instinct, experience and passion to create good wine, Javi says.

Javi’s day job is as a police officer. He works a five-day week, from 8 to 3 in the afternoon. He comes home after work, hangs up his uniform, and heads to the bodega or to the vineyards.

“I’ve learned to compartmentalize my life,” he says. Summer into fall is the busiest time, preparing for the vendimia, readying equipment, monitoring the progress of fermentation, finally bottling and labeling.

Although production is limited by the size of his garage-bodega, Javi has launched his wines commercially. So far they’re available in a few select restaurants and wine shops in the Málaga region.

Javi says he has saved and sacrificed in order to finance the bodega operation but has no plans to expand. He needs to sort out the bureaucracy of legal certification as a vino de la tierra, “wine of the land” for Viña Tamisa. He can’t join up with the Denominación de Origen Málaga, because the Mijas bodega is geographically outside its legal parameter. 

Vendimia (Grape Harvest)

Vendimia, Chardonnay grapes.

The vendimia (grape harvest) came very early this year. On August 5 Javi and a few friends were up at dawn to hand-pick the Chardonnay grapes. To decide the ideal time for harvest, he uses traditional methods of testing the grapes’ sugar content as well as biodynamic charts showing when the alignment of sun, moon and planets will contribute favorable energies for the harvest. 

In the bodega, Javi combined the Chardonnay with Moscatel (bought from vineyards near Málaga).

Javier López in his vineyards.

Tempranillo (red) grapes also were early (August 22), but the Syrah from Javi’s vineyards is late maturing, still to be picked. He also buys grapes--Muscatel, Petit Verdot and Syrah--from other growers.

After picking, the grapes are quickly chilled to preserve their freshness and prevent run-away fermentation. Then it’s all hands—friends and family—for the vinification process. I joined the team in the Mijas bodega as crates of blue-black Tempranillo grapes were unloaded through the garage doors.

A family friend, Cristobal Moreno, helps unload crates of Tempranillo grapes.

Sweet, ripe Tempranillo grapes, ready to become wine.

Javi and a friend climb onto a platform alongside the despalillador, the machine that removes stalks and stems from the bunches of grapes. Another helper lifts the crates up to them. Javi picks out any bunches that appear damaged or under-ripe and drops them into a box below.

Village friend, Miguel Romero, checks the connections of the pipes that pump juice into the stainless deposit tanks.

On one side, Ana María Lavado, Javi's wife, monitors the flow of grape juice and pulp that begins to pour out of the machine. The juice is pumped into a stainless steel, temperature-controlled tank, where it will undergo the first, alcoholic, fermentation.

On the other side, the woody stalks are pushed out. They will later be carried to the vineyards for composting. 

María, left, and Ana, the two hermanas López Lavado, join the mopping brigade.

Miguel Romero, Jr., draws off a glass of mosto, the first sweet grape juice.

The grapes are not crushed, but slowly release their juices from their own weight. The whole process—resulting in about 2500 liters of mosto, grape juice and pulp—takes only about 45 minutes. At a later time, the wine will be pumped off the sediment and the lees will be pressed to squeeze out the last, concentrated juices that add potency to the wine’s organoleptic profile.

Chardonnay-Moscatel bubbling away.

Javi gives us a peek into a deposit tank where the Chardonnay-Moscatel wine, processed several weeks before, is bubbling and frothing. It’s in the second, malolactic, fermentation that changes the fruit’s malic acid into smooth, creamy lactic acid. Once it stops bubbling, he’ll keep it hermetically closed to prevent oxidation until he’s ready to bottle it. 

The Tempranillo has a way to go yet. Javi needs to decide if it’s going to be bottled joven, as a young wine, or as a crianza, with time in oak barrels, and if he will make a single-varietal Tempranillo or a coupage, combining the Tempranillo ,with Petit Verdot and Syrah, yet to come. 

“Normally, I know before picking whether the grapes will be joven or crianza,” he says. He keeps a daily log of lab analysis of sugars, temperatures, humidity. “It takes instinct and experience to produce fine wine."

For young wine, he picks early to keep the grapes’ freshness and acidity. A crianza needs fully ripened grapes to give enough sugar to develop the wine’s expressive characteristics during fermentation and ageing.  This year’s Tempranillo, he thinks, will work best in a coupage with Syrah and Petit Verdot with crianza time in barrels of new French oak.

Although production is limited by the size of his garage-bodega, Javi has launched his wines commercially. So far they’re available in a few select restaurants and wine shops in the Málaga region. “I think I make good wine,” he says. He is gratified when knowledgeable wine experts think so too. 

Javier López presents Viña Tamisa at a cata, wine tasting.
I first tasted the Viña Tamisa wines at a cata, wine tasting and pairing meal at a Mijas restaurant, La Fiesta. 

I tasted an elegant, structured Petit Verdot rosado (rosé) that had five months on oak. It had an intense pink color and paired beautifully with a shellfish timbale.

Rosado and seafood.

Tinto with tuna.

Next was Viña Tamisa Tempranillo-Petit Verdot-Syrah from 2014, with one year on oak and one year in bottles. The aroma of this tinto (red) opened-up with some swishing, releasing lovely fragrance of ripe woodland fruits, a touch of coffee. The intense flavor went nicely with tuna tataki.

Finally, we sampled Viña Tamisa Syrah, the first of Bodegas Hermanas López Lavado to be almost entirely produced with biodynamic methods, creating an expressive wine with more aroma, black cherry color, aroma of ripe fruit, a touch of chocolate, a long finish. The unfiltered wine had 16 months on oak and 12 months in bottle. Javier López is very proud of this wine.

Contact Javier López at . 
Visit the Facebook page of Bodegas Hermanas Lopez Lavado. 

Viña Tamisa vineyards planted in Tempranillo grapes.


  1. Nice article. The wines produced for the Viña Tamisa label are exceptional. Well done to Javier and the team.

    1. Bill: Exceptional, indeed. And, poco a poco, becoming better known.