Alright guys, I’m finally starting to dish out the deets about my latest wine adventures in Spain. If you follow me on Instagram you may have already had a little sneak-peek into this, but I’ve got SO much more to share with you that I’ve actually decided to release this in parts. Are you ready?
Location: Penedès – Winery: Albet i Noya
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of working with Marc Farré-Escofet, the founder and owner of a totally rad wine tourism company called Barcelona by Road, who offer individualised experiences throughout the Catalonian wine regions. Now, just to give you an idea of the kind of thing they do, it’s pretty much ‘the sky is the limit’.
But seriously, I’m not kidding…
If you feel like ripping out into wine country in a Lambo, these guys will drop one off to you at your hotel in the city, and then meet you at the winery of your choice later on for a tasting. You may then decide after a glass of wine or two that you feel like touring the vineyards on horseback – no problem. What’s next? Why not hop in the back of a 4×4 and Indiana Jones your way up 800m of rugged backroad vineyard sites to the top of a mountain, where ‘Voila!’, you are greeted with a white table cloth lunch and wine tasting overlooking the region? Well, that’s what they do!
Now, as gangster as it would have been to have had a Ferrari 458 Spider waiting for me with the keys in it outside my hotel in Barcelona, I thought it would be even more fun to bring the girls along, so we opted for the SUV and let Marc take care of the rest!
He picked us up on Tuesday morning at 10am sharp and we zipped out of the city towards the first stop on our 2 day adventure, Albet i Noya -the pioneers of organic winemaking in Penedès.
After losing his father in a car accident, Josep María Albet i Noya, a teenager at the time and now owner and winemaker at Albet i Noya, was expected to take on a lot of new responsibilities; one of which, was to be the slaughtering of the farm’s livestock for meat. Josep refused and quickly became a vegetarian!
It was the 1970’s and organic farming trends were beginning to catch on across the United States and Western Europe; particularly in Scandinavia. It was around this time that a Danish company approached the council of the Penedès DO (Denominación de Origen – ‘designation of origin’ is part of the Spanish classification system used mainly for wines) looking for organic wines to take back to their market. The board, knowing Josep as being a bit of a vegetarian hippy, pointed the Danes in Albet i Noya’s direction.
Thrilled with the fact that the business people of Denmark respected sustainability, paid upfront for their orders and wore rings and leather pants, Josep immediately made the choice he likely would have eventually made regardless, and began to transform the Albet i Noya organic philosophy into what it is today.
Now, that all sounds a little too easy, right? But keep in mind that, otherwise, sustainable farming trends hadn’t made their way to Spain at all yet, so trying to sell organically grown grapes in the surrounding area wasn’t easy. People were used to conventional farming methods using the application of chemicals to fight off vine disease and pests. They frowned at Josep’s grapes and thought his natural methods were unhygienic. However, undeterred, and with the support of the Danish market backing him, Josep continued his organic practice for an entire decade before any other producer in the region followed suit. Atta boy Josep!
Okay, so you’ve got this rockstar winemaker who isn’t afraid of change, and he’s doing his thing running the family business, and though people are slowly starting to take him more and more seriously, back then you have to admit – it couldn’t have been easy.
I mean, just to break it down in a nutshell:
The costs of organic farming are a good deal higher than the costs involved in conventional methods. Growing organically relies heavily on good growing conditions, and leaves crops more vulnerable to disease and pests. So, you get less crop and you have to price higher than the conventional products you’re competing with in order to make ends meet. So, if your customer base doesn’t love what you’re doing, it’s pretty hard to convince them to spend more money on your wines than they would spend on a non-organic producer’s wine around the corner.
Anyway, it isn’t only A.i.N’s organic philosophy that impressed me. It’s that on top of being the pioneer of the organic winemaking movement in all of Spain, Josep decided he should take it a step further.
So what does he do? He starts a project that I think is the real cherry on top of it all. He sets off into the Catalan countryside, a young visionary and his backpack, in search of something old that he might be able to make new again.
He was looking for wild vines. Lost grape varieties, abandoned after the Phylloxera plague. He began collecting these ancient vines in the 90’s, in hopes that some of the autochthonous varieties (likely abandoned because they were too low-yielding to prioritise in times when the demand for volume was high) could have the potential to become good, or better yet, great. After all, the less fruit a vine produces, the more concentrated the aromas in each individual grape will be. Makes sense to me!
By 1998, he and his team had chosen seven varietals for experimentation with a focus divided between the perspectives of vineyard management and, of course, overall winemaking potential. Of the seven (4 whites and 3 reds), they planted 500 of each to be vinified separately in small batches in the cellar.
And guess what they did (and still do) with the samples?
Every year they send bottles to over 100 different wine professionals from all over the world. The tasters send back their notes on the wines and that information is then used in the final decision making process to determine which varietals have greater potential than others, and which ones should be planted more! Very cool.
So what have the results been?
After 5 years studying the wines, the first recovered single variety wine was introduced. It’s called ‘Marina Rión’ after Josep’s great-grandmother and it’s really delicious! As I’ve been writing this article I’ve been getting thirster and thirstier thinking about it’s refreshing acidity and stone fruit notes. It’s a little bit like Riesling actually, which is a pretty great grape to be compared to if you ask me!
But Marina Rión wasn’t the only grape to emerge commercially from the project. After that came my favourite – they named it ‘BeLat’ and it is nothing short of amazing.
BeLat is a rediscovered red grape that they make into a beautiful, elegant Burgundian style wine that coats your mouth in velvet tannins and has a delicate, but prominent acidity. The nose reminded me of raisins and the oak was really well integrated. I love, love, loved it! They gave me a bottle of the 2009 vintage to take home with me and I just couldn’t wait to open it. I finished it yesterday and clung nostalgically to every last drop. The empty bottle is now sitting on my counter as a reminder to order more.
Anyway, SUCH a unique producer. Well worth visiting if you are planning on being in the Barcelona area and are interested in Spanish wine; or if you’re riding the organic wine wave and are looking for some authenticity behind it all; or if you want to taste something rare that won’t break your bank account! All great reasons to hit up Albet i Noya!
Oh, and if you’re going to do it, don’t forget to check out Marc’s website (click here). He has a ton of different experiences in all kinds of price ranges that will make your trip hassle free and super memorable! Also, he’s HILARIOUS! We had such a blast –often at his expense, poor guy– but he’s a great sport and knows so so much about Catalonia (and British rock bands…). Tip: he may even sing to you if you can convince him that you haven’t heard of his favourite bands.
Well, as usual that was a lot longer than intended, but once I get going it’s pretty hard to shut me up. 😉
Thanks so much for reading and stay tuned for Part 2!
Huge thanks go out to:
Marc, for reaching out in the first place and for making our trip so memorable! Find him on Instagram at @barcelonabyroad
to my amazing momma (who travelled all the way from Halifax, Nova Scotia) and momma-in-law for taking the time out of their busy lives to come and hang out with me in Spain – you were both so much fun to have around ❤
and of course, my gratitude goes out to the entire team at @albetinoya for all that you have done and are still doing for the wine world.