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.
Blogged at: My girl, Miriam’s flat. Gràcia, Barcelona.
Soundtrack: Shakira, El Dorado