Northwest Spain Series
Notes from the road:
Northwestern Spain in 2018
The changes I have seen in this part of Spain in the last twenty years are incredible. I started coming to the region in pursuit of Albariño, and that quest allowed me entry into one of the most magical viticultural areas in the world.
What is it that makes this corner of Europe so unique? Is it the people and their incredible graciousness, or is it the incredible landscape and the richness of its bounty? It indeed is a combination of all those things and then something else. Something almost mystical. You can feel it when you see the fog attempting to gain access to the Salnés valley in Rías Baixas. You experience it by exploring the writers and artists of the area. Once you visit, you know you will always return.
I have been returning for over twenty years. I will never forget first meeting Gerardo Mendez of Do Ferreiro in his land and seeing that contagious smile. That first meal of incredible seafood, that first time I set my eyes on the Salnés valley; all these moments are part of my incredible love affair with this place.
Today Northwest Spain is being explored by a new generation of young growers who are following the footsteps of the founders of the modern conception of this region, such as trailblazers like Gerardo Mendez. Some are sons of the founders such as Manuel at Do Ferreiro, others have been invited to participate in the dawning of a new age for Galicia such as Dani Landi and Fernando García making wine at Viña Mein in Ribeiro. Still, others are returning to their land to farm the plots of their ancestors in Bierzo such as Jose Antonio García.
A quick note on the culture of the region and why Bierzo, although in Castilla y León, I consider to be a spiritual part of Galicia. Galicia is defined by its Atlantic climate and Bierzo, just on the border, feels Atlantic. Although there is a clear continental climate in the summer (high temperatures) the environment still looks Galician. The rainfall and fog are very Galician, as are the people and their food.
Today the region is defined by its mountains, valleys, and waterways. Including Bierzo, there are six defined denominations of origin in the Northwest of Spain. Each of these areas has their own legislative body which guides the viticulture in the region. To understand Northwest Spain, one must dig deeper than just the denominations and pursue the individual villages and microclimates. In this multi-part series, we will explore the various mountains, valleys, and waterways which define each unique microclimate, as well as the innovators who give each microclimate a voice.
In Bierzo we are focused on the valley of Valtuille de Abajo and also the adjacent mountain region, Corullón with our grower Jose Antonio García. Bierzo is relatively young in its development as a promising new region. In the past decade, it allowed itself to be led astray by international press creating wines of gargantuan proportions with no link to their past. Bierzo is a region where people drank their reds cold in the summers to refresh themselves of the summer heat. Some leading winemakers like Ricardo Palacios and Raúl Pérez explored the different regions and with the objective to make world-class wines which reflect terroir. Jose Antonio García represents the groundswell of change and creative ideas coming from next generation.
Northwest Spain Series
The Bierzo wine region lies in an area of crossroads in the confluence of the departments of Castilla y León, Asturias to the north and Galicia to the west.
The spark in the movement towards quality in Galicia began in Rías Baixas. This region's success opened up the imaginations of local farmers who came to understand that they have one of the world's greatest wine traditions.
It is by venturing off the main road that you get a glimpse of the kinds of amazing treasures that interior Galicia has in store.