Envínate: Wines of Terroir from Tenerife

5/18/20 -

Roberto Santana, Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos, and José Martínez are the winemakers behind Envínate, one of the most exciting winemaking projects in Spain. The four friends, who met in oenology school, are making wine throughout Spain with a focus on regions influenced by Atlantic climates: in Ribeira Sacra, and Tenerife in the Canary Islands, but also a small project in Almansa, west of Valencia. Focused on the character of these sites and their native grape varieties, they have eliminated all invasive chemical treatments in the vineyards and are producing wines with methods in the cellar that transmit the character of their plots. To this end, they pick by hand, ferment with native yeasts, and ferment and age in old wood and concrete.

Today's wines are mainly those from Tenerife, where the team is working with plots and growers in three distinct microclimates. Each of these areas has a specific viticultural heritage that reflects their unique situations but also the complex overall historyof grape-growing and wine-making in the Canary Islands as a whole. There have been waves of influence from Spain and from Portugal and Madeira that have led to a unique and widely varied viticultural heritage including grape varieties, training methods, and styles of production. All of these inform the present state of viticulture in Tenerife and throughout the Canaries.

Tenerife and the other Canary Islands have been sheltered entirely from the impact of one of the most important and damaging events in the history of viticulture - phylloxera- and ungrafted, centenarian or older vines are abundant throughout the islands, as grafting is unnecessary without the threat of the aphid. Further, training methods in Taganan may remind the astute observer of those in Colares, as Santana notes in his interview with Brian McClintic of Viticole. The traditional method is different in the Valle de la Orotava where vines are traditionally trained in the uniquely Canarian braided Cordon Trenzado method. This method requires skillfully braiding the vines to keep them off the ground, protecting them from mildew in the wet climate.

The varied viticultural heritage can be seen in the wealth of grape varieties that are grown throughout Tenerife and worked by Envínate and the growers that they collaborate with. A large part of that heritage comes from mainland Spain: perhaps most famous (and certainly most widespread) is Listán Negro, but there is also Listán Prieto (genetically the same as mission and Chile's Pais) and Listán Blanco (genetically the same as Palomino Fino, but certainly quite different in character), as well as Tintilla (identically, genetically, to Trousseau from the Jura and northwest Spain's Bastardo/Merenzao) and Albillo Criollo (another name for Albillo Real).

However, the islands' heritage of grape varieties is almost equally Portuguese and particularly Madeirense, with Negramoll, Verdello, and Gual (better known as Boal), all hailing from Madeira; while Baboso Negro is genetically identically to Alfrocheiro Preto of the Dão. Other grape varieties defy such attribution: Marmajuelo, Vijariego, and Malvasia di Lanzarote are either distinct and native uniquely to the Canaries, or have not been conclusively matched to other grapes or ancestors from the rest of the world.

Envínate works with three sites with very distinct microclimates on Tenerife. From East to West they are Taganan (and its two parcels which produce their own wines, Margalagua and Campanario), the Valle de la Orotava (here, the team works with three vineyards to produce two wines: San Antonio and La Habanera are the vineyards for Migan, and the Palo Blanco vineyard is used for a single vineyard wine of the same name), and the vineyards near their winery, in Santiago del Teide, which produce the grapes for the Benje wines. These three zones are quite distinct visually, and even more so in terms of terroir, with differences in farming methods, climate, soil, elevation, and grape varieties.

Taganan is perhaps the most visually striking of the three areas, with views of stunning rock formations, ancient terraces, and some very ancient vines. Perched on the far northeast coast of Tenerife, the climate here is quite typical of sites north of Mount Teide: windy, cooler, wetter, and more humid than the drier south. Most of the vines here are planted to Madeira varieties and to Listán Negro and Listán Blanco, and the vineyard's seaside terraces are perched on a cliff so steep that they must be worked very carefully by hand. Further, the humid climate necessitates careful farming and in some cases methods of training that raise the grape bunches into the air to avoid mildew. The soils are volcanic, with red clays, and elevation ranges from almost sea level to 300m.

Margalagua is a single parcel in Taganan, planted to very old vines of Madeira varieties and perched on ancient terraces and buffetted by sea winds. It's extremely iron-rich red volcanic soils yield a uniquely robust wine, with silky tannins, that Envínate bottles separately from the rest of Taganan. This year, they've also separated a Campanario, a special parcel of centenarian vines of white grapes planted on sandy basaltic soils. Beyond the two single parcel wines, they produce a Tinto and a Blanco that express the volcanic, sea-infused character of Taganan.

Moving west, the Valle de la Orotava also exemplifies the northern Tenerife climate with plenty of humidity and wind, though at higher altitudes a bit further from the sea. Once, this was the land of Malvasia, used for sweet wines that were popular in America and in Britain. Today, these sites and are planted to Listán Negro (La Habanera, San Antonio) and Listán Blanco (Palo Blanco). San Antonio, owned and worked by Dolores Cabrera Fernandez, is about 350-450m above sea level and planted on volcanic soils with a large amount of clay, lending more generosity and fruit character to its Listán Negro grapes; La Habanera, at 500-650m, is sandier and has poorer soils and the Listán Negro from this site shows a spicier, more mineral character. The vines in San Antonio are older than the vines in La Habanera, but all average around 80-120 years-old and are largely trained in the local Cordon Trenzado method. Together, the grapes from these two sites are blended for the wine Migan. Palo Blanco comes from a vineyard of the same name, which is mainly Listán Blanco planted on rich black volcanic soils at around 600m of elevation. This special site produces wines of beautiful intensity and linearity, infused with Atlantic winds and volcanicity.

Finally we reach Santiago del Teide, which is also the site of the Envínate winery. The climate here is informed by its position: high on the western side of Mount Teide (1000 to 1200m) there is far less rain and humidity, and more variation in temperature, from very hot to quite cool. Here, the Atlantic influence recedes and the climate is more Continental. The sun beats hot on this arid spot, where vines are interspersed with fruit trees and grapes need to be sheltered from the sun's rays to avoid scorching. 70-100 year-old vines of Listán Prieto, Listán Blanco, and Tintilla are planted here on volcanic sandy soils, largely untrained bush vines or pruned in the gobelet style. The character of the Benje wines that are produced in this area is strongly informed by the altitude: bright, linear, and fresh.

In addition to Envínate's wines from the Canary Islands, a few wines from Galicia are tucked into the end of this offer. Envínate's production ethos is the same in Ribeira Sacra as in Tenerife. Please see the wines' individual notes for more information.

As has been the case for the past months, these wines were impacted by the 25% tariff on Spanish wine. Nonetheless, I feel that these are some of the most exciting and interesting wines from Spain and I'm excited to be able to offer them to our customers.

Thank you to Liz Fayad and José Pastor Selections for much of the information and many of the photos in today's email. And thank you Ariana Rolich for pictures, as well. Brian McClintic of Viticole Wine has two very informative podcast episodes about Envínate and their wines, which were very useful for this email. You can listen at https://www.viticolewine.com/listen. And thank you especially to Envínate: Roberto Santana, Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos, and José Martínez and their growers and others involved for their beautiful wines!

Ben Fletcher

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