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A month ago, we had the pleasure of hanging out with Oriol Artigas as he passed through New York on a quick tour/vacation. We tasted his new wines and talked about the vineyards and the coastal mountain villages of Alella (a small wine region north of Barcelona).
Oriol has an infectious type of energy and passion for his craft, and it's hard not to get excited about life and wine when he is around. The wines were unique and delicious, but the best part of Oriol's visit was talking with him about his farming and the vineyards that surround his home town of Vilassar de Dalt. He has such a connection to the land and to the old farmers in the area, and though he has great pride in what he does, he's first and foremost humble and soft-spoken. He's the kind of winemaker who would rather thank nature than take credit for the wines, but some credit is definitely due!
I believe as many winemakers do, that wine is made in the vineyard, but there is still the undeniable necessity for someone to make the wine. With natural fermentation, and without the use of any sulfur dioxide (as is the case with Oriol's wines), it is even more important that there is someone present who understands the vineyards, the ripeness of the grapes, and the levels of acidity, and has an idea of how to vinify the wines in order to allow the grapes from these different sites to give an honest impression of the place they're from. Speaking with Oriol about the wines, it's immediately evident that he has almost a spiritual connection to each wine as he describes the characteristics of each vineyard, and you know that if anyone could make a wine that would taste like that place, it would be him. Each wine tells the story of a local variety (or sometimes dozens in a mixed vineyard) and the terroir which ranges from granitic sand, to gneiss, limestone, or slate, with fossils and seashells scattered about. . All of the wines we tasted were fascinating in their own right, so we had to get a bit of everything! Eben Lillie
*For more information about Oriol's story we highly recommend the bio on the Jose Pastor Selections website: http://www.josepastorselections.com/oriol-artigas.html.
Many thanks to Liz Fayad from the Jose Pastor team for helping with info on the wines!
La Bèstia is Pansa Blanca from a very steep, west-facing vineyard called Vinya d'En Mundu. Soils here are Gneiss, and vines are almost 80 years old. The grapes are destemmed and there are five days of skin contact, but Oriol doesn't pump over or punch down, preferring an infusion style. Since the berries have very thick skins, he didn't want to extract too much tannin during maceration. There's a subtle oxidative lean to the wine, mixed with the characteristic saline quality inherent to Pansa Blanca. Delicate, but enveloping and layered with light tannin, and a mineral finish.Tasting this again in November of 2019, it has come together really beautifully - showing more stability and more intensity. A great expression of Pansa Blanca with skin contact.
This is all Pansa Blanca from three different vineyard sites. It's a perfect introduction to the grape, and a gateway to Oriol's single-vineyard expressions. The parcels are all on granitic sand, which lends a particularly salty and spicy character to the wine. Mostly de-stemmed, with 20% of the grapes left on the skins for a short period (1-2 weeks), and aging for 10 months on the lees in stainless steel. This is beautifully textured and also zippy and fresh. Though I'm no expert of Pansa Blanca, I'm convinced that one must at least try this wine to understand the characteristics and potential of the grape. Eben Lillie
Pansa Blanca from the Vinya d'En Costa vineyard, this is the companion wine to La Bestia. The vineyards for the two wines are quite close together, but La Bestia comes from South-West/West facing parcel on Gneiss, and La Bella is from a sandy Granitic site that faces North. There's twice as much skin contact here (12 days vs. 5 days for La Bestia), but the wine is perhaps more delicate and perfumed, and is lower in alcohol (mostly due to exposition). 10 months aging in stainless steel. The granite from this site lends the wine a crystalline minerality and vibrant spice that lingers in the mouth. Though it feels almost like tannin in the finish, it's actually the granite from this site giving structure and grip to the wine. A lovely and complex Pansa Blanca if I've ever met one! Total of 957 bottles produced in 2016.
Oriol Artigas and his friend Pep have a small winemaking project they call Els Bardissots, and this is one of the wines they make together. Beier is the name of the grape, and also the word for "bee house," as there is some history of beekeeping that is intertwined with the history of the variety. As far as Oriol knows, there is only one remaining site in Catalunya, owned by an old man who makes wine for personal consumption. Oriol and Pep managed to befriend this old man over time and now help with the farming and make a small amount of wine that they bottle and sell. Whole cluster fermentation for 1 week, followed by one week with the skins before pressing. Color is almost like a dark rosé in the glass, with a very pretty and floral nose, and a palate that is exploding with fresh minerality and zingy spice.
Let's start with the list of grapes from Oriol's website: 50% Pansa Blanca, 15% Sumoll, 8% Beier, 8% Garnatxa Blanca, 5% Sant Jaume, Muscat, Malvasia, Pansa Rosada, Garnaxta Rosada, Garnatxa Negra, Bona Llavor, Ull de Llebre, Macabeu, Subirat Parent, etc. Yes that's an etc. In all there are somewhere around 30 different grape varieties in this wild amber hued wine. The idea here is simple: take an on old vineyard (vines are about 105 years old), get a bunch of friends together to harvest, and then have a party! Every year on the national day of Catalunya (when everyone has the day off), Oriol and his friends harvest all of the grapes from this mixed vineyard. After 12 hours of skin contact, the wine is aged for 10 months in stainless steel. It's a very special and uplifting wine, and with only 288 bottles produced, quite rare as well.
Don't be scared by the name! Mostly Pansa Negra (about 70%), with a bit of Pansa Blanca and Pansa Rosada, this is certainly a more monstrous wine than Oriol's other reds, but do keep in mind that his other reds look more like dark rosés than reds, so it's all relative! Whole cluster fermentation for 11 days, followed by 10 months in stainless steel, with a small amount aged for about 8 months in old 225L barrels. Alcohol is 13%, so it's not a big wine, but there is definitely a kind of powerful brambly fruit and rustic tannin that Pansa Negra provides. When I first tasted this wine, it reminded me of Grolleau from the Loire Valley. There is a similarity for me as both Grolleau and Pansa Negra have big fruit, ample acidity and enough tannin to give a bit of backbone. Oriol chose the spiky blowfish for the label of this wine, because it reminded him of Pansa Negra. It was a touch volatile when we tasted a month ago (in June) so I'd recommend drinking in the fall rather than right away. As the one red with more material and substance, it might need a little time to "come together" in the bottle. Eben Lillie
3 Porcs is a collaboration between Oriol, Francesc Ferre from Cellar Frisach, and a mutual friend who mostly makes wine for family and friends. Pansa Blanca from Alella meets Garnacha Blanca from Terra Alta, and Parellada from Penedes. Grapes were co-fermented (whole-cluster) for 5 days, and the wine was aged for several months, during which some flor formed. It wasn't intentional, and it's not evident from tasting the wine, but nonetheless an important detail. Only in mag and from a very limited bottling, this is all we got! Eben Lillie
On the national day of Catalunya, Oriol and a big group of friends get together to harvest grapes and make a wine called La Prats. In 2016, the harvesting went quickly and the team had some free time, so they decided to head down the road and harvest a vineyard of young vines Syrah! Whole cluster fermentation for 7 days, followed by 10 months in stainless, this is a ridiculously fresh red, and a fun expression of Syrah. The faces on the label are of all the people who helped with the harvest (according to our friend Liz from Jose Pastor Selections, Oriol's mother and father were a bit perturbed that they were not included on the label!).