It’s amazing what a Jewish mama will do to spend more time with her children. When Spanish matriarch Annie Molco found her three grown-up sons (and grandchildren) scattered across the globe, she needed something to keep her boys close.
So, she invited her sons to join her and their father in founding a winery, Vina Memorias, in their hometown, Cuenca, close to the Spanish city of Valencia.
“We were living all over the world and weren’t in touch enough, so we decided to do this together to build stronger links.” explains Armando Caracena-Molco, whom I met with his mother at the London Wine Fair last month.
“My older brother, Ramiro (Rami), is an oil trader living in London, and my twin, Victor, lives in Peru where he’s a commercial pilot and also distributes our wines.”
Armando lives with his wife and two children in Tel Aviv, where he deals with the import and distribution of their wines. “Now we’re tied strongly — I speak to them all of the time,” he smiles.
The family’s decision was also financial. For years Annie (French born and of Tunisian heritage) and husband, Enrique Caracena Murciano, had been harvesting smaller and smaller quantities of grapes from their estate. The land (inherited from Enrique’s mother) was rich with ancient grapevines as well as fruit and nut trees.
“My grandmother, Marciano Carazena, my father’s mother, had made wine from the grapes grown on her land for many years. She also grew almonds, walnuts and other fruits and had a grocery shop.
‘After the Spanish Civil War finished, anyone who had food was rich,” says Armando.
The family had taken over the land, but according to Armando, although the quality of the grapes from these vines, which were established for more than 60 years, was high, the amount of fruit they produced was diminishing. They had to charge increasingly high amounts for them, which buyers — often wine cooperatives — would not pay.
Annie decided they would make the wine themselves and her family were happy to get on board. It was she who also decided their wine would be kosher as she’d always been proud of their Jewish roots, despite living away from any community. “We were the only Jewish family growing up in a town of 50,000 people” says Armando.
They celebrated the festivals, but she did not pressure them to follow their religion. None of the boys was bar mitzvah until their mid to late teens in 2004. They’d been on a family holiday to France when Armando and Victor were 15. “We saw our cousins doing their bar mitzvahs and they asked why we had not done it. For a year after that we drove to Madrid (roughly two hours each way) every Sunday to study Torah, and when we were 16 and 18, the three of us did our bar mitzvahs together. The chief Rabbi of Spain, Moshe Den Dahan oversaw it, and the wife of the Israeli ambassador came.”
Keeping kosher was not been easy for Annie, living where they did, but about 13 years ago, a Chabad rabbi came to Valencia. The family were happy to make him welcome and in turn the community has grown. “We bought him a freezer so he can import kosher chickens and meat.” They are still waiting for a permanent synagogue but use a commercial building for chagim now.
Making kosher wine has also been a challenge. “Our rabbi is the mashgiach but staff who are shomer Shabbat also come from Valencia, Israel, from France and Brussels to help when they are needed.”
The family use a range of local grapes, some of which have not always been fashionable in the wine world. They have pioneered using bobal – which means bull in Spanish — a local grape unique to that region, with great success.
Each plays their part in each area of the business. “Our parents are the owner founders, but everyone does everything — harvesting, bottling, labelling, social media, logistics, purchasing of bottles and more,” Armando explains.
One thing they don’t do themselves is make the wine. Their secret weapon is award-winning winemaker, Daniel Exposito, “one of the best sparkling winemakers in Spain but you never see him in the media.”
Exposito has helped them make nine different labels. They include entry-evel Alenar (which translates as that sigh when you relax or chill) made in a red, white and rose some from bobal grapes and some from macabeo grapes, which may or not be named after the Maccabees; Yunniko (meaning unique); and the Memorias del Rambam, named for the Rambam (aka Maimonides, the legendary philosopher, doctor and rabbi) who recommended wine for good health. All of the Memorias label wines, including a Cava, are mevushal.
Many of the wines are aged in giant terracotta urns (tinaca’s) which have the benefit, Armando tells me, of keeping the flavours pure unlike wooden barrels, which affect the flavours of the fermenting grapes. By chance the craftsman who makes their urns has a star of David as his logo — even he isn’t sure why, but it seems beshert.
Annie’s father was a great patron of Provence artist Gilbert Rigaud who died in 2003. His art appears on more than one of their labels, and their Yunniko wine is dedicated to him. “It’s a little part of my mother’s family on our Spanish wines,”says Armando.