Wine Makers

Matías i Torres. Island Time.

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in a super old school wood press called a Lagar de Tea, a beautiful antique press that, in most other wineries, has been replaced by newer and faster machines.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 



Celler Frisach- Drink, Drink, Drink

Bodega Celler Frisach is in Corbera d’Ebra, a small town in the region of Terra Alta about two hours southwest of Barcelona. Corbera is your typical 1,000 person community. Everyone knows each other, everyone says hi to one another and at some point throughout the day everyone occupies a seat at one the two cafes on the town’s main drag. There are even a couple cool bars in Corbera, one of which I’m particularly fond in that it reminds me of a dive bar in Missoula Montana, Al’s and Vicks, for which I hold a number of heart-twisting feelings.

Directly above the main drag of Corbera, above the small groups of abuelos who sit outside for hours on summer evenings, above the tight knit community and the Montana-like dive bars lies the Poble Vell, or, the Old Town. The Old Town, an official historical site, is a chunk of history that represents the 1938 Battle of Ebro- probably the deadliest battle of the Spanish Civil war. Almost everything in the Old Town was destroyed in the 115 day battle, save the old church that been restored as a rotating art gallery and the ruins of old stone houses and cellars. There’s an unequivocal weight of sadness in the Old Town. You feel the sensation of terror in the dry wind that blows through the pine trees, you almost experience the grief in the silence that sits at the top of the hill. But walk down the road a bit to the “new town” and you find business as usual. You find both young and old generations occupying life, you find bars and restaurants filled with local community and you find Celler Frisach- a tiny Bodega making some of the best wines coming out of Spain.

I’ve been doting on this lineup for a while now. Winemaker, Francesc Ferré takes Garnatxa Blanca and makes you wonder where the hell it’s been all your life. The L’Abrunet red, white and rosado (which just got some major press ) are the bright, energetic, quaffable workhorses. The Vernatxa is the old vine Garnatxa Blanca with texture, salt and complexity that gives white Burgundy a run for its money. The Foradora is a shout out to the ancestors, to an old school style of winemaking with the proper amount of skin contact that takes you all the way from entremesos to the main dish. And the Sang de Corb is the serious, yet restrained red blend with elegance, muscle, a moniker and a label that depict the bloodiest battle in the Spanish Civil war. I tasted all of these wines, from tank to bottle to barrel in my 5 day stay in Terra Alta last week, and they are fire.

There is a new project at Cellar Frisach, however, that’s going to need the bulk of your attention. In an effort to save old vineyards parcels from certain destruction, Francesc is sourcing fruit from old school farmers in the region. He’s vinifying and bottling monovarietal wines from old vine Garnatxa Peluda, Morenillo, Grenache Gris and Cariñena and adding zero sulfur- purely as an experiment. The experiment is working. The wines are fresh, clean, thorough and energetic. Were I forced to pick a favorite, the Garnatxa Peluda comes in first. It is bright and full of acid and fruit, perfect with the tomatoes and lamb chops we fixed for our backyard BBQ. These wines taste like the Old Town, the New Town, the local swimming hole and the Montana dive bar. I hope the wines make it stateside in time to taste like a Bay Area summer. But, while you patiently wait, grab yourself a bottle of the L’Abrunet, throw a blanket down at Lake Merritt and in the words of Francesc himself: “drink, drink, drink.” Miss ya’ll something fierce.

Blogged at: The tiniest, cutest Air bnb ever. Bajamar, Tenerife.

Soundtrack: John Legend, Love in the Future


Clos Lentiscus, Wild Thoughts

Last week’s Catalonian travels took me to Penedés, the land of Cava for a vineyard tour, an aura reading and a tasting at Clos Lentiscus. Clos Lentiscus is a biodynamic operation run by brothers Manel and Joan Aviñó. They produce both still and sparkling wines made from an assortment of indigenous varietals.

The Bodega and vineyards of Clos Lentiscus are historic, wild and energetic. They sit in the Protected Parc Natural of the Garraf Massif- a coastal mountain range south of Barcelona, between the towns of Castelldefels and Sitges*. The vineyards are surrounded by forest and planted around the 1,000 year old Mastic tree (Pistacia Lentiscus) that has become their trademark. Coastal marine wind is a major component in the freshness of the wines here. It blows through the vines, combats the summer heat and regulates temperature and acidity. They are Bio-D to the fullest extent. Poop cones, moon cycles, quartz crystals and dowsing rods are just a few tools that are used to find minerals, water and energy in the vineyards. The vineyards are trimmed as needed by local sheep and the Bodega’s horse, Ringo (a favorite Beatle of mine.) They farm their own colony of honey bees, both to pollenate the vineyards and to make honey for dosage in some of their wines. Fennel and wildflowers grow throughout the vineyards. Water basins are left out for the wild boars, a calculated solution to prevent them from eating the grapes. The wines are natural- no herbicides or pesticides, no chemicals, no added sulfur- and every one of them is on point.

Winemaker, Manel Aviñó drove me through the vineyards and the nature park, taking me to high elevations to experience the wind that blows up from the Mediterranean and to look over the various landscapes of the Penedés. The Bodega itself is lined with amazing antiques- shelves of old stemware, an armoire for which my mom would murder, a tiny room full of ancient amphorae. The wine cellar is dark and capacious, a place for the wines to hibernate before they are hit with dosage and smacked back to life again. Before tasting the wines, Manel even used the dowsing rods to check my aura, something I’ve never had done. I was thoroughly frightened for the public inner beast reveal, but he simply told me I read “strong woman”- so we’ll leave it at that.

The wines benefit from radiant aura of their own. From the still xarel.lo to the vintage dated sparkling samsó (cariñena) they are lively and enthusiastic. A couple favorites were the Greco de Suber Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature- a método tradicional sparkler made from malvasia de sitges, the local variety of malvasia. Dry, refreshing and focused with a hint of fruit and white flower. Also the Sumoll Reserva Familia, a sparkling monovarietal Blanc de Noir made from the indigenous sumoll grape. A little more savor, a little more pensiveness, still knows how to party. Whichever bottle of Clos Lentiscus draws you in, grab your crystals, get your boots on and pop a flower in your hair. You are about to have a wild good time.


*Pro Tip: Sitges has a pretty fly beach. It’s a little touristy, but there’s a bar that serves a nice Aperol Spritz and manages not to interfere with the overall atmosphere. The train will take you right there, but I parked easily in the surrounding neighborhood. Great for swimming and chilling the F out.

Blogged at: Miriam’s flat, Gràcia, Barcelona

Soundtrack: DJ Khaled, Rihanna- Wild Thoughts (possibly on repeat)


Succés Vinícola and the Power of Positive Energy

There is a lot of emotion that goes into making bottle of wine. You feel it when you watch someone drive through their vineyards the morning after a hail storm, when you watch someone trimming vines at 7am and continue to work until they are wrapping up cases at midnight, when you see a winemaker smiling after hours of talking about and pouring her/his wines at a tasting. We’ve all got our shit, but good, passionate winemaking emits a vibe that gets passed along from the vineyard, to the winery to the glass. As a somm, this enthusiasm is transferable on my end, as well. The more I believe in a bottle of wine, the more I smile and sing along to Beyoncé while I’m pouring someone a glass, the more people genuinely dig it. It’s a powerful energy, my fellow humans, and along with a little abv it can really make ya warm on the inside. (more…)

Vegetable Water: The wines of Escoda-Sanahuja

An hour or so south east of Barcelona lies the region of Conca de Barberà and Celler Escoda-Sanahuja. The winery, complete with 10 hectares of farm and vineyard land and a full restaurant, sits right outside the town of Penafreta, close to the municipality of Montblanc and completely undetectable by my TomTom.

Winemaker Joan Escoda is stocked full of energy, somewhat of a francophile and totally obsessed with natural winemaking. Upon my arrival he quickly threw on some American rock ‘n’ roll, which he dubbed “music without sulfites” and we got started on a cellar tour. Joan has a myriad of grapes- some in steel tank, some in amphora, some in underground cement tanks. He makes a handful of wines, mostly using the same varietals every year but employing no hard rules. Joan is always experimenting. He changes varietal percentage, aging process, cork or crown cap depending on the vintage, the grape or possibly how the wind blows- the jury is out. He grows French varieties like chenin blanc, merlot and cabernet franc, but indigenous varieties such as sumoll, sumoll blanc and parellada are a large part of his catalogue, as well.

“People tell you their wines are natural, but people lie,” says Joan. And no matter how many f@#*s you give about natural wine, speaking from experience, he’s right. Joan hasn’t added a sulfite since 2005. He will wait for months for fermentation to start naturally and when it is finished, it’s finished, even if the wine contains a little more residual sugar than it did the year before. When first opened, some of the wines have a hint of reduction or even mouse cage on nose, a quality in natural wines to which I’ve become accustomed and an attribute that does not come through on the palate. The wines are lively, energetic and clean. Joan places huge importance on water, in both human life and in vine life. He refers to his wines as “vegetable water” because the sap feeds the grape, because they are a liquid derivative of his plants and because one after another they are vibrant, fresh and complete.

Besides Escoda-Sanahuja, Joan partners with other French and Spanish winemakers to create various labels. He operates an on-site restaurant called Tossal Gros with Chef Kaya Jacobs, a San Francisco transplant who shares Joan’s passion in fresh, organic ingredients. He, along with winemaker Laureano Serres, founded the PVN, an association of natural winemakers that believes in neither adding nor taking anything away from their wines. He is a busy guy, always thinking, always innovating. The vineyards are beautiful, wild, surrounded by mountains on all sides and blessed with a marine wind that keeps them dry and cool in what can be very extreme weather. Escoda-Sanahuja can be found in various spots around the Bay Area or online, but Ordinaire in Oakland always comes correct with a variety of these wines.

¿Vamos? ¡Vamos!

Blogged at: My girl, Miriam’s flat. Gràcia, Barcelona.

Soundtrack: Shakira, El Dorado


Fazenda Prádio Merenzao

Anyone who really knows me, knows I’m not much of a romantic. I’m not into candlelight, I don’t actually know how to use a fork at a nice restaurant and I’ve never clamped a love lock on the Pont Neuf. That’s not to say, however, that I have never felt romance. In 2012, when the A’s swept both the Mariners and the Rangers to win the division- romance. My first taco truck experience (85th and Edes), the first time I saw Beyoncé’s XO video and the first time I tasted the Merenzao from Fazenda Prádio; all of these moments, romantic as hell. (more…)

Priorat, the Power Hitter

In 2012, Yoenis Céspedes knocked a 462 foot bomb into the left center field of the Oakland Coliseum. It was probably the longest home run Oakland had seen in 13 years- possibly ever, and it’s certainly the longest it’s seen since. Now the size of Priorat may be arguably smaller than the size of the All-Star Cuban power hitter, but the wines are just as muscular, just as handsome and come just as equipped with la potencia to clear the bases. (more…)