Discovering the Wines of Groupo BSVBy Marisa D'Vari | June 21st, 2010 | Category: DO Cariñena, (Zaragoza), News, Spain | 2 comments
San Valero Winery (Groupo BSV) is a cooperative of 700 winegrowers who grow mostly garnacha vines, and collectively pool their grapes. They are launching two wines specifically designed for the US market: Sierra de Viento Garnacha old wine (Garnacha 100%) and Sierra de Viento Tempranillo (Tempranillo 100%) and I was invited to see how they grow their grapes and make their wine
It is thrilling to visit this mega-winery in the very tiny yet important Denominazion de Origeon (DO) town of Carinena for a few key reasons. The first is that it is one of the oldest DOs at seventy-five years, and second, because the producers are so passionate about their grapes, their care of their grapes, and their city.You will find 15,925 hectares under vine (accordining to the 2010 Penin guide) and tempranillo and mazuela (also called Carinena) the most popular after garnacha.
Now you know garnacha - of course you do. It is the second most popular grape in Spain after tempranillo, and is famous for being so wind-resistant and hearty. It grows in a traditional “bush” shape (the official name of its training method is En Vaso) and can often be recognized by the strawberry flavor in a blind tasting.
“Gastronomy” is the other message they want to share with the world, because if you did not know this before, the Spanish people love to eat. And even though Carinena is a small town, much of their high-end cuisine rivals the best chefs in the world. You will experience the same foams and modernistic presentation, save that the portions for multi-course meals are much larger than you'd find in cities like New York or Paris.
To get to Carinena, one flies to Madrid, and then takes the high-speed train to Zaragoza, one of the biggest cities in Spain after Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia. The train itself is fast, modern, and clean, and the glitzy new Zaragoza train station a gorgeous and expensive expression of the city’s pride.
This being my first day, the main focus was of course dinner, which was held in Le Rebotica Restaurant located in the old city of Carinena, known for its gastronomic cuisine and also the building, for it is the site of a 100 year old pharmacy.
When Americans think “pharmacy” they think CVS or Duane Reade, but in days gone by the pharmacists needed many rooms to actually make the compounds used in medicine. Nati Lacal and her family bought the building twenty years earlier and turned it into a restaurant. You will find tables in many private rooms, decorations including antique plates and old wine bottles, and lots of charm.
Joining us for dinner was winemaker Javiar Domeque from the cooperative San Valero Winery, its President Felix Baguena Isiegas, and Luis Gutirrez Andrews, its Director.
You can find many hotels in Zaragosta, but our accommodation this evening was in the "old winery" itself -- gorgeously remodeled rooms in a structure dating back to 1944 when the cooperative was first formed with just sixty growers.
My bedroom in particular is a study of high tech creativity as it features an open floor plan with glass "bricks," a whimisical picture of 'old Spain' captured in stained glass that overlooked the old winery, and actual foliage in the bathroom.
8:30 am and we are already in the modern new winery, where we are greeted in the very gorgeously designed, yet efficient, front office.
Here we also see wall after wall of awards the wines have won over the years at festivals around the world
From here we walk to the start of our tour at the visitors center (the circular structure below ....)
...where we see attractively arranged bottles of wine, many of which we enjoyed the previous night at dinner.
The two roses, one garnacha and the other a syrah blend, are available for about three Euros and quite a bargain. The visitors center also includes a large private tasting room with spitoons and gorgeous chandelier made of wine bottles...
...and a short film in a variety of languages about the history of the Grupo BSV. We are given white lab coats (making me feel very official) and sent off into the factory.
The first space we see is the vat room, and if you ever read or heard of the book Willa Wonka in the Chocolate Factory you can imagine the sounds and giant hoses and huge stainless steel vats. Hoses are everywhere
Here in the winery, grapes are quickly de-stemmed and crushed and sent through the pipes into the giant stainless steel fermentors, where according to variety they spent a minimum (for red) number of hours in masceration.
From the vat room we entered the laboratory, where scientists in white coats more elegant than our own disposable coats went about their work analyzing random bottles of wine to ensure uniformity and stability.
If you have seen the TV show CSI, some of the wine was treated like a blood sample in that it was put in different vials, and the different vials were put into a tray inside a machine that was hooked up to a computer. Just like the blood samples in that TV show, the wine had an instant analysis of the various chemical components that showed up on the computer.
After the laboratory we saw the bottling area ... quite fascinating as the winery makes wine for a UK airline in the tiny airplane bottle size, as well as making regular 750 ml bottles. A machine lined the empty bottles up, filled them, and then put screwcaps on the airline bottles and corks in the 750 bottles, then put a label on them.
In that Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory analogy, machines were all over the giant packaging area, doing any number of things such as grouping bottles together and putting them two by two into boxes, then lifting and stacking the boxes.
There was also an area where - gasp, village women! Actual humans! - sat wrapping bottles by hand as these were the “reserva” wines and deserved special attention.
Below the packaging area was the aging room, where wine patiently sat in cask until it was time to be bottled and sold. Every six months the barrels were racked, meaning that the wine was transferred into new barrels. This was also an automated process.
I have been in over a hundred wineries, and never had I seen such an extensive, highly automated process. It was very exciting and earned many points of respect for this cooperative.
The next two hours were spent in the vineyards, as members of the cooperative drove us through the vineyards to see their plots and to explain the soils and training methods. Right now, garnacha is trained by the “bush” method, also called En Vaso.
Basically, the vine is grown like a bush, quite low to the ground, with the idea being that the leaves shade the grapes and protect them from the sun. Traditionally getting hired help to pick the grapes was not a problem, but now the world is moving towards mechanization so the grapes are being trained with the double guyot method which would allow a machine to harvest the grapes.
The soil in the area is of two types: a brown soil with calcarious outcrops, and a stony rocky soil where the vine roots dig deep into the ground. Mildrew is not a problem since the wind quickly dries the grapes after a rain, but odium is a danger. Right now the grapes are still flowering. The bunches of garnacha look very tight, but we were assured that the flower buds fall off on their own, and the grapes can grow in an uncrowded fashion.
To literally give us a taste of what life is like during harvest, we were taken for lunch at a cottage in a vineyard. It was an ancient, simple structure of just two rooms where a famiy would sleep during the harvest. Jamon and cheese and, of course, wine was brought in for a feast.
I thought it was lunch until we were taken to yet another finca (farmhouse in spanish) filled with dogs, cats, chickens, horses, and lambs.Here, we were given yet another feast, this one featuring traditional dishes of the area including fried rice with garlic, lamb chops, pork, and very fresh tomatoes, onions, and lettuce.
After a brief afternoon break, we went to the city of Zaragosta and we parked in the old city and visited the Cathedral, the square, and a charming tapas bar where the servers wore smart uniforms and pictures of bullfighting stars were framed in hundreds of pictures.
The name of the bar is El Marpi and it is highly recommended ... very bright and vibrant, with delicious looking food. I had mussels with a sort of salsa, and can also recommend the octopus. Our wine was, of course the premier wine from San Valero winery, 8.0.1, a limited selection of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah from different harvests. The first 8.0.1 was specifically produced for the 60th anniversary of the cellar, and the winery decided to continue with the same brand and same varieties (with different harvests for each one).
If that was not enough food for the day, dinner awaited, this time with officials from the department of agriculture and tourism. It was held at Casa Montal restaurant, an ancient renaissance palace with Moorish archways. The bottom floor is a fine wine store and below that, a gallery for art related to the leaning tower of Zaragosta that was torn down in the late nineteenth century. You can see - and buy - prints, and even photographs.
The clock of the learning tower is also for sale here (at least, you can make an offer) with its inner workings fashioned into a display trolley. In the square outside the restaurant, a statue of a young boy looks up at the empty space where the leaning tower once stood.
During dinner, we enjoyed various courses of delicious cuisine paired with more of San Valero Winery’s wines
During the formal tasting of all their wines, I appreciated and valued the Group BSV philosophy which was to listen to the market (specifically, their customers) and make wine people want to drink.
This is crucial to understand. In many wine regions, people buy land, hire a winemaker, and make wine to suit their personal palate. Or they make wine in the same way their families have been making wine for generation, and sell to the same markets year after year.
In the course of the tasting, we tried Groupo BSV’s many styles of wines ... mostly garnacha in various forms (unoaked, oaked, light and fruity, more substantial with higher alcohol) as well as syrah and tempranillo and some expensive new styles of wine, aged in French oak, that the company is trying to market. Joining us for the tasting was a Spanish wine writer for the respected Heraldo newspaper in nearby Zaragosta.
After the tasting, journalists and the Groupo BSV staff gathered together to have lunch catered by The Patio restaurant. Spectacular cuisine & many courses that would rival the best international restaurants in the world.
That evening we strolled as a group through the village of Carinena. I remember studying this regions in various wine schools for a variety of diplomas, and little prepared me for how small it is. Perhaps the view from my bedroom window was the most active, as it represented a park where people would traverse in the course of their daily life. On the stroll, we saw scenes typical of village life - the church, shops, and city hall. Yet was perhaps most remarkable was the fountain, which we were told splurts wine on a day symbolizing the harvest. Apparently producers also set up tables and give away wine on the streets during these days.
That night, at the winery, the winemakers and owners banded together to create a feast for us starring Paella (rice and seafood). Though it was not traditional in this area of the world, it was a lot of fun to see the Paella being made and to sip wine and chat with various people during the many small tapas style plates we enjoyed during its preparation.
Carinena is a delightful small town and the San Valero Winery is exceptional in its ability to support the families of so many growers and enjoy so much prestige as people around the world .... the patrons of British Airways, the customers of a myriad of supermarkets in many different countries ... enjoy the fruits of its labor.