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May 27, 2017

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Reign in Spain
by D.J. Blanca
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 5.5


Jordi Puxeu, Morlanda


Miquel Salarich,
Bodegas Valdubon

With an encouraging number of 20-something winemakers, Spain’s wine industry is starting to adopt a younger outlook. Leading a trend that’s infusing new blood into the country are the wineries of the Heredad Collection, a group of boutique estates located in Spain’s hottest appellations and owned by sparkling wine giant Freixenet. Two of these winemakers, Miquel Salarich, of Bodegas Valdubon in Ribera del Duero, and Jordi Puxeu, of Bodegas Morlanda in the tiny appellation of Priorat, bring their own brand of passion to their work.

WINE X: Why don’t we get a quick bio on everyone before we start.

MIQUEL: I’m Miquel Salarich and I’m 29. I was born in Barcelona, but throughout my 20s I’ve traveled and lived in a lot of different places.

JORDI: Jordi Puxeu. I was born in Falset, Priorat’s capital, in 1974. While most young people leave this area, I love it, and I can’t fathom living anywhere else.

WINE X: How’d you end up as winemakers?

MIQUEL: I pursued an engineering degree in agronomy and specialized in the food industry. But I realized early on that making wine was going to be infinitely more interesting than making homogenized milk! Way back when, my family had been grape growers, so I felt the calling and have been lucky enough to have made wine in various places throughout the world.

JORDI: I always wanted to stay in the Priorat, a rural area that has historically been one of the poorest in Catalunya. Coming from a family of vintners and wine merchants, the wine industry was the most practical choice.

WINE X: What exactly is it that you do? Give us the glamour, the romance.

MIQUEL: It’s a job with a lot of facets. You follow the evolution of the wine through the summer, the intensity of harvest in the fall, the joy of tasting. And on the other side, there’s the technical aspect that rounds it all out. It’s fantastic because you’re doing something different each season, which is so invigorating.

JORDI: There’s not much glamour in our work. That comes later, when the wine is tasted. On the other hand, there’s a big dose of romanticism, emotion and passion tied up with working surrounded by vineyards and seeing the vines change with the seasons — how the clusters emerge, grow, mature and change in color. And finally experiencing harvest at the peak of the cycle. For me, wine is a way of life. I can’t consider it just work.

WINE X: Are young adults in Spain drinking as much wine as their parents and grandparents did when they were young adults? If not, why?

MIQUEL: Not really. Our society has changed a lot, and so have our habits. My life doesn’t bear much resemblance to my grandfather’s. It used to be that wine was consumed more than water, sometimes that’s all that was drunk because there was nothing else. In my generation, wine is still consumed... less perhaps, but better quality.

JORDI: I agree. We’re drinking less, but better quality.

WINE X: I got into a discussion a couple days ago with some Spanish wine industry professionals who wanted my opinion on what your industry needed to do to gain more ground against the “new world” producers. I think the laws governing the Reserva and Gran Reserva designations are choking your industry. The vast majority of people who drink wine world-wide want something fresh and fruity, not earthy and exhibiting the characteristics of an “aged” wine. There’s really only a small number of wine drinkers outside your country that appreciate those qualities. What are your feelings about this? Should Rioja and other districts rethink their laws to help compete against the new-world producers?

MIQUEL: It’s true. At times, the regulatory agencies can be roadblocks, in both production and marketing. I believe if they focused their efforts, they could give a united image and become catalysts for information in the face of domestic and international competition for the good of all. It seems that each “Consejo Regulador” agency has a unique philosophy; some are dynamic, some strict. Regarding the Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva designations, many leading wineries are actually now leaving them off their wines and promoting their brands simply with the DO (Denominacion de Origen) on the back label. I agree with them! With the recent barrel renovations in Ribera del Duero and changing consumer tastes, these designations have lost some of their original importance. However, there are classic Rioja Reservas and Grandes Reservas that will always have a passionate following and a fixed market share. The classics never die; that’s why they’re classics.

JORDI: I believe wine should express itself and, more than anything, the land it comes from — the varietal, the character of those who made it, from the grower to the winemaker. The DOs must maintain the character of the different regions. The denominations are formed by the growers and wineries in each zone, so they’re the ones who should be responsible for making changes. I believe they should be open to change and improvement, whether imposed by the market or not, while always maintaining the character of each region. More and more, people are gaining better understanding of wine, and are consuming better and more expensive wines. Everyday wines will always have a lot of price competition because there are so many of them, but there will always be a market for, and a value placed on, quality wines. In the end, it’s the wine that speaks for itself — and it should be sold as such, always within the context of its DO. If you belong to a DO, your wines should fall within the parameters of that DO. You can always break away and make a non-DO wine.

WINE X: If you could make changes to the image of wine, what would they be? Remember, we have an American audience that doesn’t grow up with wine on the table.

MIQUEL: We need to introduce younger people to the world of wine, which entails more than the simple act of drinking.

JORDI: The only way to change an image is to promote a new one. If we want to get away from the image of alcoholism and drunkenness that wine has in certain segments of the population, we need to communicate the behind-the-scenes effort that goes into a bottle of wine and the quality of the product. Wine isn’t made for drowning sorrows, it’s for enhancing pleasures.

WINE X: What do you guys drink when not drinking wine?

MIQUEL: It depends on the moment. Anything, really.

JORDI: Water, or gin and tonic.

WINE X: What music do you like listening to while working in the cellar?

MIQUEL: It really doesn’t matter to me. Whatever my mood is.

JORDI: Yeah, depending on the work I’m doing, any music is good, from Springsteen to Loreena McKennit.

WINE X: If you had only one wine to drink for the rest of your life, what would it be? And why? MIQUEL: That’s a difficult question. I like a lot of wines, from German riesling to Australian shiraz. There are different wines for different moments, and I hope to never find myself in that situation! I like variety, which is a great advantage that wine has over other beverages.

JORDI: Whatever evokes a memory or feeling. The ‘why’ doesn’t really matter.

WINE X: You’re familiar with Wine X and what we’re trying to do. There’s an advantage here to reaching young adult consumers because you basically grow up drinking wine from the day you’re born. So you have a huge head start over us in the States in getting young adults to try and accept your product. Do you think 21-year-olds (in the States or anywhere) are ready for wine? MIQUEL: Their purchasing power is somewhat limited, and perhaps they gravitate toward other forms of entertainment. I think it’s a matter of education.

JORDI: Even in a wine-dominated zone like the Priorat, it’s unusual for people under 18 to be interested in wine. From 18 on, that’s the best time to get into wine and learn, to experiment with the senses and try to understand what’s hidden in the glass — the history, tradition, dreams, emotions, sadness and joy. Little by little it draws you in, and you’re captivated before you even know it.

WINE X: What mark do you want to leave in your profession?

MIQUEL: I just try to meet my objectives, basically to make good wine... and to get along with those around me.

JORDI: Passion and the desire to work with the land I come from and its history. Wine is remarkable. It makes you feel something far beyond what’s in the glass. Everyone has dreams, passions, memories... wine is a means to be in touch with them, even if only for a short while.

THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW

Levels of Oak Aging

Crianza — wine that’s been aged at least six months in oak (12 months minimum in Rioja)

Reserva — wine that’s been aged at least two years in oak and one year in bottle

Gran Reserva — wine that’s been aged at least two years in oak and three years in bottle

Popular Grape Varietals Planted:

Albariño — white grape grown primarily in the Rias Baixas DO, producing aromatic dry white wine often compared to an Alsace riesling

Garnacha Blanca — white grape grown in Aragon and Catalonia, producing dry whites

Garnacha Tinta — otherwise known as Grenache; the most widely planted red grape in Spain

Macabeo — widely planted white grape that produces dry white wines

Palomino — large, juicy white grape grown in Jerez and used to produce sherry

Parellada — the white grape of Catalonia, used for both still and sparkling wines

Tempranillo — Spain’s indigenous red grape; used all over the country, especially for Rioja wines, which are primarily tempranillo

Xarel-lo — white grape grown in Catalonia and used to make still and sparkling wines

There is a five-tier system denoting wines in Spain:

Vino de Mesa (VdM) — equivalent of “table wine;” all wine from unclassified vineyards or wine that has been declassified by blending

Vino Comarcal (VC) — gives regional status to wines that fall outside the DO

Vino de la Tierra (VdlT) — Spain’s counterpart to the French Vin de Pays; covers wines from a specific, usually large, region, whose producers conform to local norms

Denominacion de Origen (DO) — regions regulated by a Consejo Regulador in their growing, making and marketing practices ensuring they comply with specified regional standards

Denominacion de Origen Calificada (DOCa) — equivalent to Italy’s DOCG. Rioja was the first region to be awarded the DOCa

Other Terms You May Need to Know

Bodega — wine cellar

Brut — extra-dry; used to describe Cava

Copita — small glasses used for drinking sherry

Cosecho — vintage

Seco — dry

Vino de Mesa — table wine

Types of Wines

Amontillado — sherry aged in oak that imparts a nutty flavor

Amoroso — sweet dessert sherry

Blanco — white wine

Cava — sparkling wine made in the methode champenoise (traditional Champagne method)

Dulce — sweet wine, with a sugar content of 50 or more grams per liter

Fino — pale, dry sherry

Manzanilla — fino sherry aged in the town of Sanlucar de Barrameda

Oloroso — dark, full-bodied sherry

Palo Cortado — type of sherry that comes between fino and amontillado

Rosado — rose wine

Tinto — red wine

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