While watching Carlos Caruncho siphon wine out of a barrel, one can see that the man is in his element. A slight serene smile crosses his face, and as he sniffs the offering, swirling it around in a large vessel of a glass, his delight is evident.
Caruncho is a winemaker local to Nevada County and has spent much of his life seeking out the idyllic wine. Using sustainable, local grapes and no additives, he seems to have created his ideal lineup which he bottles under the name Arquils.
On his website – arquils.com – Caruncho explains: “Arquils is short for Arquiles (Achilles), my first name. My Achilles heel is the grape juice beautifully fermented and aged. My last name, Caruncho, is from the Latin language, ‘Carum’ (meaning), among other things, loved or lover of, whereas ‘Cho’ in Chinese means Autumn harvest time.”
Growing up in his native Cuba, he remembers distinctly when his mother shared with him a bottle of Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon which enticed the young man from his first sip.
“At first the label really caught my eye. The label was white and red and we tasted it and I liked it,” he said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this stuff is good!’
“That is my first memory of tasting any wine at all. Then when I came to California my love for wine sparkled even more so I decided to get into the wine business, gently.”
His extensive travels have only further developed his passion for wine and all things vineyard-related. He’s visited 25 countries, lived in a number of them, and even served several stints as a winemaker’s assistant.
Throughout his travels Caruncho has sampled many varietals, but settled on making his own name in wine once he moved to Nevada County with his wife and three children. The terroir, he said, is key to creating what he considers some of the best wine he’s tasted – his own.
“They are not the common California red wine or the cold Chardonnay made with artificial yeast or tons of sulfites, which gets into your head and your brain,” he explained. “The wines express the terroir that they come from and the great variety – the fruit is there telling you, ‘Here I am. This is me.’”
“There is the saying ‘En Vino Veritas’ (which translates to) ‘wine is incapable of lying.’ I think when people taste my wines they can see that they are true to themselves.”
Currently Arquils offers five different varieties: a classic Sauvignon Blanc, the relatively fruity Albarino, Maestro 1 (a blend of 50 percent Tempranillo, 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Cabernet Franc), GSM 1 (Grenache 50% Syrah 40% Mouvedre 10% handpicked), and GSM 2 (Grenache 40% Syrah 50% Mouvedre 10% handpicked).
Much of Caruncho’s work takes place at a private vineyard in Nevada City, a four acre parcel of land he manages with loving care while enjoying the sounds of goats and chickens in the distance. He also works with other local growers in Chicago Park,
“I strongly believe that the quality of the wine depends on what happens in the vineyard,” he said. “There’s the saying (that) the wine is in the vineyard and that is absolutely true. You truly take care of the vineyard by not using pesticides or herbicides; just treat them well and give them organic food or even biodynamic preparations, all the time taking care of them. Then the grapes will be of great quality and therefore zero intervention in the cellar takes place.”
Arquils’ production level is a far cry from some of the more well-known California selections. In fact, Caruncho would like his wines to be something sought after, something that resonates with the taster and is unique from other offerings.
“My production will stay small. My aim is to stay small like a boutique winery, maximum of 12 barrels per year. I don’t want to produce any more than that because I want to keep the love for it. I don’t want it to become a burden. The moment it does that, I will stop altogether.”
Much of Caruncho’s pride stems from the way he grows and treats his grapes and barrels. The wines are fermented in French neutral oak barrels (although the Arbarino has a sight amount of natural oak, the barrel having been recouped). In addition to the land he maintains, the grapes come from different areas of Nevada County – not necessarily organically certified vineyards but those that are sustainably kept.
“The reason I do this is because I don’t want to have to correct the wines in the cellar,” he explained. “If you use heavy chemicals in the vineyard you have to add chemicals to the wines to keep them from spoiling. So I only use grapes that are cared for. That’s the only way I can do it.”
Caruncho said he uses the smallest amount possible of sulfites in his wine when he bottles them. In general, wine ranges from about five parts per million to about 200 parts per million. The maximum legal limit in the United States is 350 parts per million. A full barrel contains 59 to 60 gallons;
Caruncho uses at bottling 4.13 grams per barrel. He attempts to create wines that register at about 13.5 percent alcohol by volume.
“You don’t get headaches. I don’t filter. I don’t refine my wines. I don’t rack wines. Let the wine speak for itself.”
Above all Caruncho wants people to know that the agriculture for which Nevada County is well known doesn’t end with vegetables and meat products.
“I like people to know that this whole area has great potential for great local products,” Caruncho said, “and also to know that there is such a thing as great wine in Nevada County that is accessible to them – wines that are vegan friendly, wines that do not have horrific chemicals or additives. I want them to find that out for themselves and take advantage of it.”
Arquils wines are currently available online at arquils.com, at Cosmic Roots Market in Nevada City or Briar Patch in Grass Valley and will be soon at various locations throughout the Bay Area.
Jennifer Nobles is a freelance writer based in Grass Valley. She can be reached at [email protected]