A week in Galicia

Galicia

Jose Luis Mateo of Quinta da Muradella

Erin Drain and I just finished a week in Galicia focused primarily on the wines of Jose Luis Mateo and Quinta da Muradella in Monterrei, and those of Alberto Orte in Valdeorras. Erin represents Olé Imports, which brings regionally specific producers of Spain into the United States. Quinta da Muradella and Alberto Orte are each focused on understanding and preserving the viticultural heritage and quality potential of their respective regions, and as a result stand out as top vintners in each of their areas.

Traveling with Erin was an opportunity for me to take the deep dive approach I prefer, giving in depth time to understanding the work and approach that go into wines I respect and love. We had a fantastic trip. Both projects have been important to the development, as well as the preservation of heritage for their respective regions. It turned out too that our willingness to slow down and be with the producers to see what they wanted to show us meant we witnessed and tasted wines not previously seen by people outside the region. Some of the vineyards we visited were unbelievably remote and difficult to get to through hand-cut mountain roads. We even had to drive through a waterfall pool that went more than half way up the wheel-well of the jeep we were driving for one of them. It was outrageously fun, and felt incredibly special to see the vines once we arrived.

Here’s a look back at photos from our trip as shared along the way via Instagram. (I’m currently traveling German wine. If you want to follow along, check out the trip live as we go there directly on Instagram here.)

Galicia

 

Welcome to Vigo. #spain

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Walking Gorvia vineyard in the village of Pazo with Jose Luis Mateo. The site was the first he planted thirty years ago to make wine for his parents’ bar in Verin before going on to start his Quinta da Muradella winery. Gorvia sits at 410 meters in elevation in impressively rocky soils. The vines grow in a mix of alluvial soils full of granite, quartz, and shale rocks. The site grows a mix of varieties indigenous to Galicia. When phylloxera moved through the region in the 1890s it destroyed the region’s vineyards and afterwards entirely new varieties were planted through the area. At the heart of the Quinta da Muradella Project is Jose Luis’s commitment to preserving the region of Monterrei’s rich viticultural history. In his hunt for old vine sites he successfully rediscovered older indigenous varieties almost lost to the area and has focused his vineyards and winemaking on them ever since. #spain #galicia @erindrain

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For the wines of Quinta da Muradella Jose Luis Mateo has found focusing on the farming, using organic methods and focusing on the health of the soils, also matching the varieties to the conditions of the site, all for the sake of vine balance, also means there is less work to do when making the wine in the cellar, and to make interesting wines. Here he shows us a site where the soils had been depleted through previous farming practices. In the first photo (with the white flowers) you can see the naturally occurring cover crop that appears when the soil has begun to regain nutrients and be less compacted. The second photo shows the grasses that are the only plants that will grow when the soils have become compacted with little air, and less available nutrients. #spain #galicia @erindrain

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Tank tasting Candea wines with Jose Luis Mateo. #spain #galicia #wine @erindrain

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Visiting Chaves, Portugal for a walk around the old city. #portugal @erindrain

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Jose Luis Mateo at the top of the Castelo de Monterrei discussing the history of winemaking and the geological history of Galicia as it relates to vineyards through the area. Winemaking began in the region during the Celtic era of the 5th century. The Castelo de Monterrei itself was built during the 12th century atop fortifications that go back to the Celtic period. The Celts occupied these southern areas of Galicia through Monterrei until the arrival of the Visigoths just before the 7th century. People of the Celtic era are considered the first Galicians. Winegrowing through the area goes through several important stages of development here in Galicia with this ancient Celtic period being the first. Phylloxera arrived to Monterrei in the 1890s and radically changed what was grown in the region as many varieties do not take easily to grafting. Contemporary commercial winemaking shifts importantly – from being primarily for home use as part of a general subsistence lifestyle – beginning in the 1970s but more earnestly in the 1990s. Jose Luis works to document the winemaking history through the region while also searching out the oldest vineyards through the extended area to find older varieties of the region. As a result several varieties indigenous to Galicia he has successfully recovered and for a few of them he remains the only person to grow and bottle them. He has recently found several varieties we are so far unable to identify as they had been lost entirely, found again in an abandoned vineyard in the mountains near Monterrei. Here we see Jose Luis, he and Erin, overlooking the valley, the hospital in the Medeval castle for pilgrims on the O Camino de Santiago, part of the fortification, the castle itself, and an ancient Roman road up the hill to the castle. #spain #galicia @erindrain

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As part of his work to understand his region, Jose Luis Mateo of Quinta da Muradella seeks out vineyards in different parts of and with different soil profiles of Monterrei. He vinifies the sites on their own, their varieties on their own as well in order to learn how the different growing conditions inform the typicity of both the varieties and of the place. Once the individual sites are made into wine he either brings them together with others as a regional blend, or if the site has really stood out and he has continued to work with it over many vintages then it can become a single vineyard bottling. Jose Luis sees this process as part of his work to recognize and record the current history being formed of winegrowing in Monterrei. Each vineyard planted serves as part of the larger story of this region. Here he stands in an alluvial soil vineyard in the valley of Monterrei that he has more recently been getting to know. #spain #galicia #wine @erindrain

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Huge portions of Monterrei consist of granite based soils. Granite is made as magma cools very slowly deep under ground (and away from oxygen) thus making extremely hard rock. In composition granite is primarily made of quartz (the glittering bits) and feldspar (the black flecks), as well as mica. Granite consistently also includes a mix of other minerals, which then lead to the overall color of the stone – white, pink, or gray granite. As granite erodes it creates a highly granular granitic sand, essentially, which can also combine with other conditions to form various soil structures and drainage. More transparent wines from granitic soil tend to carry a nerviness in the mouth that stimulates the front of the palate in a way we wine professionals like to call yum. #spain #galicia #wine @erindrain

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Large swaths of Monterrei include slate-based soils, which appear here in small orange-taupe slab-like rocks throughout the vineyard. Slate forms through a mild metamorphic transformation of shale (made of essentially pressed clay or volcanic ash). In its nature slate consists of fine particles. As a result, as the rock breaks down a fine powder is released that feels and smells much like talcum powder. The stone is also relatively easy to break even with your hands and will leave that powdery texture on your hands as you do. Thanks to this fine texture, slate parent materials are often associated with clay soils – the fine particles of the stone help form clay over time essentially. In hotter climates this combination of rocky soils with some clay serve the vines well. The rocks help maintain good drainage and oxygen access for the soils (can help keep it from getting overly compacted) while the clay presence helps the soil maintain enough water, and as a result also cooler temperatures, to reduce vine stress and create a more even ripening over the course of the season for established vineyards. #spain #galicia #wine @erindrain

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Walking old town Ourense. #spain #galicia @erindrain

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Public outdoor thermal baths, old town Ourense. #spain #galicia @erindrain

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Northern Spain is the world’s largest provider of slate. #spain @erindrain

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Vineyards of Bierzo – old vines, very rocky. #spain #castillayleon @erindrain

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Viticulturist Alfredo “Freddy” Vazquez standing in his 120-year old field blend vineyard perched at around 520 meters elevation far into a river canyon along the river Bibei. The area is so cold this site barely ripens and is harvested a full month later than the main parts of Valdeorras at higher elevation and further from the river. This is one of the most remote parts of Valdeorras. We had to drive a hand-cut mountain road down a cliff side and through a forest to get here crossing a waterfall pool on the way. 60 years ago the entire canyon was covered in vineyard terraces. Today this is the last one remaining. When Freddy purchased the site the vineyard had already been abandoned for decades. He has been able to resuscitate the vines. #spain #galicia #valdeorras #wine @erindrain

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Grateful for a wonderful week in Galicia. Thank you. #spain #galicia #wine @erindrain

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Champagne reset. Madrid airport. #spain #wine

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