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Ben Caldwell & Mauricio Ruiz Cantú Somos

Somos is the McLaren Vale based label of Ben Caldwell and Mauricio Ruiz Cantú. The pair work primarily with less-known Italian and Spanish varieties, and they make them in entirely unconventional ways, with a lo-fi and sustainable ethos.

Caldwell and Ruiz Cantú met at the University of Adelaide while studying oenology. “We became great friends, lived together for a few years during the degree. Drank a lot of good wine, ate a lot of good food and had some great times. In 2012, as the degree came to an end, during a particularly heavy celebratory wine night we registered a company, and decided to make some wine and send it to Mexico,” says Caldwell.

That was the launch of their first venture, Juguette, which is based on making Australian wine for the Mexican palate and to match the cuisine – soft, varietal, approachable. Not a project just anyone could take on. And given that it was hatched during a night of heavy drinking, one that might have been shelved in the morning. Not so for this pair, and given that Ruiz Cantú is from Mexico, not quite as random as it first sounds. That brand, which began with 1,200 litres of 2013 vintage shiraz, has become a raging success and grown exponentially. In Mexico, that is. Here, the pair founded their second brand, Somos, which stands in stark contrast to their first.

“Somos, meaning ‘we are’ in Spanish, is the opposite of Juguette. We focus on using alternative and obscure varieties from sustainably farmed vineyards, and making them in a natural/minimal interventionist way. Native ferments, no additions except minimal SO2 and incorporating techniques that produce more interesting styles, such as early pressing reds, whole-bunch fermentation, skin contact and extended maceration whites and playing around with co-ferments and field blends from time to time,” says Caldwell.

Caldwell originally studied Computer Programming in Games Technology at CSU, before moving to a Bachelor of Science (Chemistry) at Melbourne University. That didn’t really capture Caldwell’s imagination either, and his job in fine dining in Melbourne eventually led to a little work experience at Wild Duck Creek, which saw Caldwell apply to study oenology in Adelaide move and start his degree all in a two-week period. He has worked at d’Arenberg, Hardys Tintara, in Oregon at Bergström Wines and at Akarua, in Central Otago.

Ruiz Cantú was similarly diverted. He was studying systems engineering when a vintage stint at Casa Madero in Coahuila, Mexico, encouraged him to study oenology. Ruiz Canto has worked as a winemaker at Richmond Grove, and also vintages in Spain with Campo Viejo, in Rioja. He has been based in Mexico of late, making the small Somos project in Baja California, building the Juguette brand and planting a vineyard with his family in Ojos Negros, in Baja.

For Somos, the pair work with a tapestry of growers, regions, varieties and techniques, crafting wines of surprising diversity and breadth. “The driving philosophy is to make delicious, approachable wines from varieties that are less familiar to many people, that we want drink, making them naturally, but in a clean and consistent way to allow everyone to enjoy them,” says Caldwell.

“Currently we make nine wines: the ‘itos’ or little wines, ‘Blanquito’ (the little white) a blend of arneis, garganega and verdelho; ‘Naranjito’ (the little orange) a biodynamic orange verdelho; and ‘Tintito’ (the little red), a blend of grenache, touriga nacional, tinta cao, carignan and cinsault. In addition to this, we make a cortese, incorporating flor yeast and extended skin contact; …a textural but acid driven rosé from the naturally high acidity and Campari-like zestiness of barbera; …a varietal, aromatic yet juicy cab franc; …a biodynamic vermentino, barrel fermented with a rich texture and that seaspray saline quality that is so attractive in vermentino; …a lifted, spice and floral-driven aglianico with soft tannin. And finally, we make a wine in Mexico called ‘The Nebbicholo’, this comes from the vineyards Mauricio planted in Ojos Negros and is a co-ferment of nebbiolo, malbec and syrah. The wine is very unique and very aromatic with heaps of wild thyme and smoky almost mezcal notes.”