The founder of Pago de los Capellanes left an indelible mark on Ribera del Duero, and on all the people whose hearts he touched.
‘Would you like a great Spanish wine?’ I asked the American dressed in shorts and a short-sleeved T-shirt who had just ordered a foie dish.
‘Of course, what is the best you have by the glass?’
‘Pago de los Capellanes, sir. It is a promising brand, and they make a really spectacular wine.’
‘I’ll go for it!’
It was 1999 and I was having this conversation with a friendly customer in La Viña del Senyor, a wine bar in Barcelona where I was taking my first steps as a sommelier. At the end of the bar, another gentleman, this one elegantly dressed in a suit, raised his hand to get my attention.
‘Hello, I don’t want to be indiscreet, but may I know what you offered that customer?’
‘Of course, sir. A Pago de los Capellanes, a Ribera …’
‘Don’t go on!’ he interrupted me. ‘I’m getting ready for my daughter’s wedding, which is taking place at the Cathedral del Mar, right there in front of us. But you’ve just given me another great present. I am Paco Rodero and I run Pago de los Capellanes.’
It was only three years earlier, in 1996, that Paco Rodero and his wife, Conchita Villa, had embarked on their shared dream: to create a winery from the small vineyard that Rodero had cultivated since he was a child with his father Doroteo. It had been called the ‘vineyard of the chaplains’ since old times, and that would be the name of the new winery.
That day in 1999 I fell in love with Paco. He had the balance of humility and acumen that is inherent in those who have travelled through life. It is the look of the emigrant. When he was very young he had to leave his beloved village of Pedrosa in search of opportunities and his character was forged in a land that was then foreign to him, Barcelona. A strange land that ended up becoming his second home.
Pago de los Capellanes was successful from the very beginning. The vineyard, located in the heart of what’s known as the ‘golden diamond’ within Ribera del Duero, provides extremely high-quality fruit – small, concentrated black berries that Paco’s hands treated like the most precious caviar. Believe me, I have never seen a neater grape harvest in my life, nor a more meticulous selection of grapes.
With every time we met, every visit I made to Ribera del Duero, my friendship with Paco grew. So did the prestige of his brand, yet he remained open, honest, transmitting vitality. He was a well-loved person because if there was one thing about him that stood out, it was his charming attitude, the way he went out of his way to make everyone feel at ease.
Under his leadership, Pago de los Capellanes has marked some of the milestones of Spanish wine. He has been the main catalyst in the progress of Ribera del Duero. His El Picón was the first great single-vineyard wine of Ribera del Duero. I still remember the first case we bought at elBulli restaurant. It was the purest and most intense expression of the territory, and of Pago de Capellanes, but with a freshness never before seen in Ribera del Duero.
And Paco never lost his emigrant spirit. Instead of looking towards the Mediterranean, he looked towards the Atlantic, heading 300 km (186 miles) west to Valdeorras in Galicia to open O Luar do Sil in 2014, and which today produces some of Spain’s most spectacular Godello wines. The emigrant is like that: he accepts the land that welcomes him and gives his effort and tenacity in return.
Paco’s influence extended beyond the wine world. Once, I asked my best friend, Albert Cabanas, who is not professionally involved in wine, what he’d like to do for his 40th birthday. (Albert and I are from the same year, 1981. So we both turned 40 not so long ago.) He answered:
‘I want to do something extraordinary and something I’ve been dreaming about for a long time. I would like to replicate the film Sideways. You and me, hand in hand.’
‘And which place would you like to go and see?’ I asked him, half amused, half stimulated by his witticism.
‘Ferran, I just want to eat a tasty suckling pig and go and see a winery, the one that makes my favourite wine.’
‘Let’s see, Albert. You are 40 years old. You can order whatever you want. We can go to Singapore to eat suckling pig if that’s what you want; or we can go to Mendoza for a roast.’
‘Ferran, I only want one thing: to visit Pago de los Capellanes and eat with Paco and his family.’
You may think that I am making this up for the purpose of this text, but I assure you that this is an absolutely real conversation and it was followed by an unforgettable celebration of Albert’s 40th birthday, who, out of all the options in the world available to him, just wanted to sit at the Pago de los Capellanes table, look at the old Tempranillo vineyards and listen to the stories of how Paco and his family built the now-legendary estate.
I used to think that when we talked about wine as a reflection of the person who makes it, it was in a figurative sense. After this, I am not so sure, having witnessed how Paco and his wine were able to place themselves so deeply in the heart of my friend.
From today, Paco’s steps will follow his firm providence thanks to his daughter Estefanía. It has been like that for some time – she came home to join the famly business in 2015 – but now she might be tempted to think that she will do it alone. This is not the case. Paco’s most private legacy is still here among us, in the family he was able to build throughout his life: Estefanía, Marian, Conchi, Alessandro, the little ones, and the rest of the Rodero Villa family. In them we continue to see warm-hearted souls, with a gift for people and great kindness.
But sadness is inevitable. A great person, much admired and even more loved, has left us. The sorrow with which we bid farewell to an affectionate man, devoted to the vineyard and to his people, with an eternal smile and a kind heart, is truly profound.
Paco, we will continue to hear and see you in each of the Pago de los Capellanes wines we open and treasure in our cellars to keep your spirit alive.