Veleta Wines brings a little bit of Spain to Dayton
By Paula Johnson
Photo: Veleta Wines vineyard in Ugijar, a village in Granada, Spain; photo: Juan and Nola Palomar
Ugijar is a tiny village municipality located in the province of Granada, Spain. According to the 2005 census, the city has a population of 2,524 inhabitants. It’s now up to almost 3,000. Ugijar is located in the shadow of Mt. Veleta, one of the peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. If you look on Lonely Planet or other Europe travel sites, you won’t find much in terms of tourist information. So, what’s the significance of this little Spanish enclave to Dayton? It’s the part-time home of Dayton’s Dr. Juan Palomar and his wife Nola, who together make and import wines, olive oil, and products from Spain.
Juan Palomar grew up there on the family’s agricultural estate, but went to boarding school at age 9. He made his way to the United States to study medicine, eventually landing in Dayton. Spanish food and culture—particularly the way the Spanish cook and eat—have always been close to his heart. It seems natural that wine and olive oil making have become not just a passion, but also a thriving business. I recently spent some time with Juan and Nola at their home, sampling an array of Veleta Wines (named for the mountain peak that can be seen from the vineyard). I had the pleasure of tasting not just the wines and olive oil but also Juan’s fabulous tapas spread, which he prepared himself. By the end of the evening, it was hard to believe I wasn’t in Spain.
I chatted with Juan and Nola to find out more about what they do and why, starting with asking Juan about the olive oil produced on their estate. (It’s worth remembering and is something that people are now becoming aware of—most olive oil you buy in the supermarket is adulterated, and in some cases, not olive oil at all).
Your family was in the olive oil business and there are olive trees hundreds of years old that still produce the olive oil you make today. Tell me a little about what makes your olive oil special.
Juan: Our trees have been here since the time of the Moors, around 1400. Over the years, they were tended by the Franciscan monks. The variety of the olive we use is rare in Spain—it’s called lechin. In the Tuscan region of Italy where the olive oil is considered the best in the world, it’s called leccino. So like wine, which depends upon the grape, the taste is dependent upon the olive used. Ours is delicious, buttery soft, and velvety in your mouth, with notes of herbs like thyme and rosemary.
Nola, your career was in health care, as well. Did you anticipate this change? I understand you are local (from Waynesville). Did you grow up in a wine-
Nola: No, but of course it’s an agricultural area so I grew up with a love of growing things. As for transitioning to a new career, it wasn’t very hard since it was a gradual easing over several years. Juan and I slowly assimilated into the wine culture together, so I wasn’t alone. But I still stay current and keep up my nursing credentials!
How much has the business grown since its inception in 1992 when you did your first planting?
JP: Back then, I had the idea that I wanted to try making wines by grafting California vines onto the wild root stock, and I only thought it would be for me and my friends. It’s gone beyond what I could have ever imagined!
How many awards have the wines won so far?
JP: At this point, over 130—too many to list all of them. One of the ones we are most proud of is winning gold and double gold at the San Francisco International [Wine] Competition, one of the most prestigious in the western hemisphere. We’ve also been cited as producing some of the best wines in Spain by the country’s leading wine critic. No small feat when you consider that Spain produces millions of liters, annually. Volume wise, it’s the largest producer of wine in the world.
I’ve tasted your wines, and I have to say I am so surprised at how unbelievably affordable they are with the level of quality you’ve attained. How are the price points decided, and do you feel that does justice to the quality of the wine?
JP: It’s very difficult for us since we aren’t known, and we are competing against California wines and similar wines from Spain. Take, for example, our double gold-winning Veleta Tempranillo Privilegio. That’s a $100 bottle of wine, value-wise, but we simply couldn’t sell it for that. If you’re going to spend $100 for a bottle, you’re going to spend it on one you know. So, we sell it at a drastically reduced price.
Do you have a favorite?
JP: My rose is the wine I drink for all occasions! And the Nolados is so elegant—it could compete against any California or Bordeaux blend.
NP: No. They are like my children. Some have more merits and more recognition, but every wine has its place in the family.
You are growing your business to include other Spanish products. What else are you looking to introduce here?
NP: We are bringing in products we hand-select under the Veleta label. We have started with canned tuna and sardines and sherry vinegar, and plan to add more in the future.
Giving back to the place you came from is important to you. You’ve made a commitment to the town of Ugijar, and I know you go back regularly and even have a medical practice there for the local residents. You’ve mentioned expanding what is happening with the winery.
Can you elaborate?
JP: Yes. I am working with a group of investors to create a special boutique wine vacation experience. Our town is located within 45 minutes of the seaside, and just a bit further to a leading ski resort. We have riding stables and we are looking to create a golf course. Of course, our first priority is producing amazing olive oil and wines, but I’d like to share Ugijar with the world!
Veleta wines are available at Dorothy Lane, Arrow Wines, The Little Store, Rumbleseat, A Taste of Wine, and Kroger, or through distributor Wine Trends. To schedule a tasting or for more information, please visit VinosVeleta.com.