Anson on Thursday: The New Spanish Manifestó
|Harvest at Raventós I Blanc, who left the Cava appellation altogether. Credit: Andrew Jefford|
Not that you’d know it to look at the label. It has a wax stamp on the side of the bottle and the name Recaredo will be reassuring to those who recognise it, but for most drinkers, there is little to suggest just how different this is from the usual Cava fare.
‘The Spanish DO regulations for Cava don’t allow us to indicate that this is a wine made by a single family only from our own vines,’ owner Ton Mata is telling me. ‘There is no equivalent to the grower-bottler status that French winemakers can use. It is still true that 90% of Cava is run by two big companies, and the local rules take their interests into account above all else’.
We are standing in the walled side-garden of Remelluri up in the foothills of the Tolono mountains in Rioja. Behind us is Jonatan Garçia of Suertes del Marqués, a man who has made the wines of Tenerife part of the late night conversation of sommeliers worldwide. To our right is Eduardo Ojeda, co-founder of Equipo Navazos, a small negociant business that is jolting the Xeres region forward one bottle at a time with brilliant ‘rama’ or ‘raw’ wines straight from the cask like La Bote de Florpower. Head through a 15th century cobbled corridor to the back garden, and you find the good-humoured exuberance of Francesc Grimalt and Sergio Caballero from 4 Kilos in Mallorca standing side by side with a few dozen other producers who are all champions of indigenous grape varieties, traditional viticulture, the restoration of rural trades and above all distinctive flavours that have a sense of truth.
This is white hot Spain; pretty much most exciting group of new generation Spanish winemakers that you will find anywhere. They are here – even though the sunshine and the irrepressible natural warmth may make it hard to discern – because they are fed up, and they hope that this might be an answer to their frustrations.
It’s no secret that the wine scene in this country is undergoing a serious period of turbulence. There have been isolated revolts against the status quo all over Spain over the past few years, and it was only a matter of time before those privately-held feelings of unease would collide. This happened back in November 2015, when Remelluri owner Telmo Rodriguez brought a group of like-minded winemakers together in Madrid to talk about the failure of most governing bodies in Spain to recognise the country’s top terroirs.
A few months later, in January, 150 winemakers, writers and retailers signed the Manifesto in Defense of Spanish Terroir. It stated in no uncertain terms that, ‘the Spanish appellation system has been oblivious to soil differentiation and quality levels’ and that entrenched systems such as Rioja’s Consejo Regulador organising its wines by length of barrel and bottle ageing rather than geographic location was no longer working for many producers.
Many of the signatories made it to Remelluri this weekend (although not all – Peter Sisseck of Pingus wasn’t able to attend) for the First Encounter of Viticultures. Topics discussed ranged from ways for viticulture to help reclaim the increasingly empty rural communities across Spain to the responsibility of winemakers to fight environmental destruction. French and German winemakers (Domaine de Trevallon, Domaine Alain Graillot, the Grosses Gewächs) talked through their own experiences of putting lesser known regions and wine styles on the map.
It was a fascinating and inspiring few days. But what struck me was the level of conviction that this is meaningless unless it moves beyond simple conversation.
‘It’s not just about the romance of terroir,’ is how Pepe Raventós put it, as we listened to a panel discussion held by winemakers who were fighting to revitalise forgotten corners of Spain.
Raventós is certainly someone who knows what he is talking about. He is the 21st generation of Raventós I Blanc and a man who, like Ton Mata, is making a quality-focused, terroir-driven sparkling Spanish wine. He has gone even further than Mata by leaving the Cava appellation altogether and creating his own distinctive version on the family farm just outside of Barcelona with a new appellation, Conca del Rui Anoia, that has stricter production rules.
‘This could be the start of something important,’ he says, ‘but only if we can bring about radical change’.