THE WINE BUFF
Have you ever thought, gosh, wouldn’t it be wonderful to own a vineyard? Somewhere in France, Spain or Italy, with sunshine, vines, a nice villa and of course your own estate-bottled wine. Some people actually do it, quit their day job and head off into the rosé-tinted sunset. But mostly, it’s people with wine running through their veins. They’ve grown up with the rhythmic patterns of vineyards all around them, they feel the connection to the land and the urge in their hands to nurture grapes from vine to bottle, year after year. And yes, it’s a big industrial business too, but let’s not shatter this picture of the artisan. For me, when I taste wine, this is the way I most want it to have arrived in my glass.
I was back in Galicia in the north-west of Spain recently, this time in Monteforte de Lemos in the province of Ourense in Ribeira Sacra. Meaning ‘ sacred riverside’, the Ribeira Sacra DO was established in 1997, and has been attracting a new wave of young winemakers over the past few years. One of whom is Miguel Coca, who started a joint winemaking project with Andrea Obenza in 2013 at their Tolo de Xisto vineyard, meaning ‘mad about slate’ in Galician.
Heading up the steep, wooded hillside in a 4x4 with Miguel, if felt like we could be in Wicklow. Lush and verdant, with forests of pine trees spilling down the steep slopes, this region has more rainfall than we do in Ireland, but they also have more sun. When we arrived at the vineyard, all I could think was, people may dream of owning a vineyard, but here? This is an absolutely insane place to plant vines. And I’m not the only one to think that. Because of the risks and difficulty of farming and harvesting here, the region is one of the few in Europe to have the ‘heroic viticulture’ seal.
The plots at altitudes of 200m to 500m are tiny, having been divided over the years. Looking down from the precipitous edge to the River Sil cutting through the gorge between the mountains; ancient terraces supported by hand-built, dry stone walls, weave their way around the contours of the mountain on one side of the river; while the hotter south-facing slope is covered in trees.
Built by the Romans — well, the hard-working Galicians at the behest of the Romans, who knew a good site when they saw one — the slatey terroir means that the roots have to dig down deep to access water.
The grapes that have made this region one of the darlings of the hip set are Godello, an indigenous white grape variety similar to Albariño; and Mencía, a black grape variety that originally hails from nearby Bierzo. Recently revived, the old Mencía vines are farmed using methods that are as close as possible to organic, and produce stunning low-volume wines which are a bit lower in alcohol but have a good concentration of fresh fruit.