NESTLED in the heart of Andalucia you can find the Sierra de Montilla (Cordoba), an unexpected paradise for wine lovers.
Often eclipsed by the nearby historically famous wine region, Jerez, Montilla-Moriles is actually where the best vines in the world of the Pedro Ximenez variety are cultivated.
And right in the heart of the Sierra de Montilla, surrounded by stunning rural landscape with endless vineyards and rolling hills sits an elegant and timeless winepress called ‘La Inglesa’ (The Englishwoman).
A 19th century mansion built in the purest English style, perfectly preserved by its current owner, the Moriles winemaker Nicolas Doblas.
The history of this unique building is no less interesting than its appearance. Its name refers to the English Lady, Luisa Rebeca Ward Hopwood, who was the second wife to the brigadier of the Royal Navy, Diego de Alvear y Ponce de Leon (1749–1830). And the story behind the illustrious sailor from Montilla is as tragic as it was triumphant.
After reaching the rank of general he married Maria Balbastro in 1781, with whom he had nine children.
On August 7, 1804 Diego de Alvear, embarked on a fateful journey from Montevideo en route to Spain in the frigate ‘Mercedes’ carrying with him the riches accumulated after those many years of service in the River Plate area, and also his wife and his children.
Four months later, on October 5, 1804, near the Portuguese coast of Algarve, the Spanish ships were attacked by English warships, despite a truce at the time between both countries.
On that tragic day, a cannonball fired by a Royal Navy carronade hit and sank the ‘Mercedes,’ carrying with her Don Diego’s riches and the life of his wife and children.
The brigadier himself was taken prisoner (but with honours and privileges) and held in England until he was granted his return to Spain from King George.
During his captivity he met, whilst going to mass, the young Lady Luisa Rebeca Ward Hopwood, whom he began to court and woo with images of a picturesque white village set in the heart of Andalucia, which he called home.
So besotted was he with the young Englishwoman, that, after their marriage in Montilla on January 20, 1807, he built an English-style mansion in the heart of the Sierra de Montilla.
Together, Don Diego and his young wife had seven children and would spend their days horseback riding through the undulating chalky hills which were, and still are, covered by green vineyards and silvery olive groves.
A place famed for its Fino wine, where once upon a time, a British noblewoman and a Spanish nobleman fell in love.
And if you close your eyes it’s easy to imagine these timeless lands which smell of bread, olive oil and wine, a land rich in cultural, historical and gastronomic heritage.
Today, the house contrasts sharply with the rural surroundings in which it stands. A tour of its halls, bedrooms, church, wine cellar and reading room keep alive the memory of The Englishwoman.
- BODEGAS ALVEAR SPAIN: A dive into the dark cellars of Andalucia’s oldest bodega where eight generations of a family dynasty have cultivated the prestigious wines of DO Montilla-Moriles