Matías i Torres is a tiny operation set in the small town of Fuencaliente, on the island of La Palma. La Palma is one of the 7 Spanish-owned Canary Islands, a collection of mountainous, volcanic islands formed by the Mid Oceanic Ridge** that sit about 70 miles off the coast of Africa. La Palma is relatively small in size, and its topography is all over the place. Lush, green forests sit just up the hill from black, possibly active volcanoes. Banana plants, a major export, line the edges of the island. Vines sit directly on top of the soil here, and the bright green and yellow branches pop against the porous, black volcanic rock. The water surrounding the island is an indescribable color of bright blue, also amplified by the charcoal volcanoes and the black sand beaches that line the shore. It is an incredible place, and for now, less inundated by tourists than its fellow Canary Islands.
Victoria Torres owns or rents small parcels of these bright green vines all over the island of La Palma. At some points, her parcels are so small and scattered you wouldn’t know where her plot begins and another one ends. After walking through a few of her vineyards, however, her real estate becomes decidedly obvious. Her vines are healthy, strong and elegant, a result of being maintained by a woman with all of these qualities. They possess a powerful femininity, sometimes twisted and interlocked like the laurel wreath of a Greek goddess. They are only controlled in a way that grapes don’t touch the hot soils, or so vines don’t blow too much in the wind. Even in the extremely windy part of the island, where rows of vines are tamed by walls of volcanic stones, there is a sort of graceful, authoritative delicacy.
Maybe the moon was in Virgo on my visit…
Victoria is a 5th generation winemaker. It wasn’t until 1999 she and her father decided to bottle their wines rather than use them solely for bulk production. The wines are grown and vinified organically and pressed in a super old school wood press called a Lagar de Tea, a beautiful antique press that, in most other wineries, has been replaced by newer and faster machines. Negramoll and Listan Blanco make up most of the plantings, but Malvasia, Diego and Albillo Criollo are planted, as well.
Victoria’s father became ill and passed away two years ago, and in the digestion of that process she has also taken over process of working the vineyards and running the entire winery. As Victoria and I drive through the island, we talk about everything from recycling, to life goals, to Riesling. She is in a constant effort to turn her neighbors and fellow La Palma winemakers on to organic farming. Unfortunately bananas are the king here, and conventional farming is a hard habit to break. She can only lead by example, slowly but surely proving her method effective- a process that like most politics on the island, moves at a pace that is less than ideal. The vineyards here are no joke. On hillsides, on rocky, volcanic terrain and on hands and knees, Victoria spends the entire day working these tiny parcels of land. She loves it. Everywhere she looks she wants to purchase or plant more vines. She rents from people who are no longer able to work their vineyards. If there is an old vineyard next to hers, she searches for a way to recuperate it. She is in constant motion, always thinking about the next step, yet seemingly content.
I immediately want to move to her island.
Not all of the Matías i Torres wines make it to the US and production is small, so get your hands on any wines you can find. Listan Blanco and Negramoll will probably be the easiest to track down, but look for her Malvasia Seco, unusual for La Palma as most of the Malvasia is vinified in a sweeter style. It is aromatic, like honey and wildflowers but super dry with minerals for days- a unique benefit of being grown on the side a volcano, on top of an island.
**The Mid Oceanic Ridge is an underwater volcano chain formed from millions of years of plate tectonics. It is the largest mountain chain in the world- just one of it’s faults makes up the entire San Andreas fault. I learned about the Mid-Oceanic Ridge in my first year of Geology at Los Positas College in Livermore. Miss Hannah was my teacher, and I will remember it forever because, having gone to a Christian school, it was my first interaction with a shit ton of scientific facts they decided to leave out at Redwood Christian Schools. It was one of my favorite classes in college, and Miss Hannah was one of my favorite teachers. I’m happy to use it in my writing some years later.
Blogged at: Hotel Beri, Llança, Costa Brava
Soundtrack: Enrique Iglesias, Spotify