We all stared, fixed on the computer screen displaying the rural Andalusian landscape – in Lucainena de las Torres, to be particular – from an aerial photograph. “This is protected forest,” declared the official from the environment department. The image exhibited in fine detail my farm’s long-treeless slopes pockmarked with occasional bushes, called retama, and lower vegetation, including fragrant native thyme and sage. “No, this is agricultural land, classified as vineyard,” shot back the agriculture official, whose office lay a few doors down the corridor in the squat, 1980s Junta de Andalucia government building. As far as I could tell, the two bureaucrats had never met before.
I had just delivered the paperwork declaring new vine plantings, an integral part of capturing a few approved hectares of Andalusia’s quota of Spain’s quota of the European Union quota for vineyards destined for wine production. Mine was one of two official Protected Designation of Origin sites in the perhaps ironically-named “Desert of Almeria” viticulture region of Spain’s most arid province. I had provoked the inter-departmental consultation and at that moment hoped that my over-cautiousness did not spell disaster for the first-year garnacha bush vines flourishing there.
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Charlie Leary earned his PhD at Cornell University. He has served as a wine director for restaurants in New Orleans, southern France, Canada, Costa Rica and Panama since 1995. He is a certified Spanish Wine Specialist, Cava Educator and Expert and has studied wine through Washington State University, the Wine Scholar Guild, California Wine Institute, and the Rioja Academy.