Oriol Artigas: New Arrivals from Alella!

3/2/19 -

Last year, I wrote a piece about Oriol Artigas and his wines, after he visited Chambers Street for a short tasting appointment. The wines - and his passion and joyfulness - left a deep impression on me, so I resolved to visit Oriol, as there may be nothing more important to understanding a winemaker and their wines than visiting the vineyards and seeing the terroir in person. This past February, I flew to Spain after my annual wine trip in France, and finally had a chance to visit Oriol in Alella, the tiny D.O. (Denominación de Origen) just 30 minutes north of Barcelona. 

Vineyards in the foreground, Barcelona on the horizon.

I can't put into words the feeling of being there, but if I close my eyes I remember: the sea breeze, a beautiful undisturbed land, terraced vineyards on a tranquil hill. A hilarious little dog who slowly led me to his master - an old farmer who was tending the vineyards with a small trowel - who told Oriol in his thick Catalan that I could have the dog. [Turned out this was the old man who Oriol has been renting from for several years and who Oriol may be able to buy the vineyards from in the future]. I remember the sense of peace, being surrounded by forest in a national park, with wildlife buzzing all around us and the city of Barcelona glittering in the distance.

One of the most tangible memories was feeling the decomposed granitic soils in my hand and scraping terroir off of the hillside as if it were pure sand. This granular, mineral rich, granitic sand - the result of millions of years of erosion - explained Oriol's La Rumbera white better than any tasting note or technical analysis. 

This is it. A few tanks and a press!

Visiting Oriol's garage/cellar was another treat. Here, a bit inland from the Mediterranean coast, we saw vineyards, mostly of red varieties, and felt the subtle change in climate in the valley. While tasting wines from tank, I spoke a bit with Oriol and was reminded of his humility, good nature, and passion for the tiny DO of Alella that he hails from. 

Lunchtime tasting, and Oriol's van with detailed map of his vineyards (check his website for map: www.oriolartigas.com)

He told me his story, how he was not a winemaker or from a winemaking family; how he developed this passion and wanted to do something to preserve the history of the region (it's grapes and the unique terroirs); how he spent years (and everything he had) on this project, starting with one tank...obtaining a second one... borrowing a press...spending the last of his money keeping his dream alive, and volunteering for over 6 months with no pay. As he reached this point in his story, he took the air of someone who feels truly blessed and thankful for their life. He told me how Jose Pastor had met him around this time and at this crossroads moment, paid him almost a years advance for wines that were not even flowers on the vine yet. "Jose was my angel," he said, as he went on to explain that this person believing in him gave him confidence and convinced him that he wasn't crazy! When I thanked him for the visit recently, he wrote back: "Eben!! I have enjoyed a lot your visit. For me it's incredible that sombody from the other side of the world came to my home to visit me!" He is undeniably grateful for every ounce of good fortune he's had, and his pride is pure, and without ego. Oriol is of this magical place. He's the embodiment of the tranquility of this sleepy DO in the hills of Catalunya and his energy and his smile are infectious. He is truly an amazing human being, and a gifted winemaker to boot! 

Oriol, his friend and fellow winemaker Pep (and the stoic old Catalan farmer in the background)

Big thanks to Liz Fayad and the entire team at Jose Pastor selections, and to Simone Rosetti (@simonerosetti) for the photos of the February visit (all photos except the one above of Oriol with his nose in a glass are by Simone). 

And now the wines!

-Eben Lillie

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