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Comando G

Comando G is the inspiring tale of two close friends united in a mission: to rediscover the terroirs of the Sierra de Gredos mountain range, and to nourish and protect the old vines rooted there. It may sound idyllic — and indeed the views are — yet this is also difficult and at times back-breaking work. With most slopes being so steep that mechanisation is simply impossible, this is a true labour of love.

Not only is this about the conservation of old vines and the landscape, but this duo has also been creating wines that entirely reimagine what the region is capable of. For almost two decades, they have been travelling together across Europe, taking inspiration from what they learn, and applying their newfound knowledge to their own fruit, soils and climate.

The results are nothing short of spectacular. These are some of the most soulful and simultaneously elegant examples of Grenache found anywhere in the world. Comando G has mastered finding power in lightness.

LITTLEWINE spoke to Fernando García and Dani Landi for this article

Meet Fernando and Dani

As we speak to Dani and Fernando, they are in the midst of pruning, on a lunch break. They greet us with,

“We are very happy here with the whole team; we have beautiful things ahead for us to do. After 20 years, we’re finally starting to build our winery! We’re going to stop being both pilgrims and vagabonds, and we’re looking forward to planting new vineyards for future generations, too.” 

We can sense their joy through the phone. It’s a new chapter; the roots of their winery are now being laid down in a more permanent manner.

The two met at university in 2005, while studying viticulture and winemaking. Dani comes from a family of winemakers and farmers who have worked organically since their own beginnings. Fernando, meanwhile, does not come from a family of winemakers, but rather came to wine through his love for nature. He says,

“Since the beginning, we have approached organics from our heritage in different ways. For Dani, this is what he had been taught when it comes to viticulture and wine, and for me, it was from my way of living and eating, and my approach to nature. I love nature, the mountains, the weather… Then, after we met, we began to drink lots of French wines together, many of which are today now considered natural wines. We were looking for a sense of place in all the wines, and we decided to take our van to go and visit and to speak with these winemakers.”

Thus began a vinous road trip, one which would continue for many years, and still meanders today.

The Vineyards

Sierra de Gredos is located to the west of Madrid, with Ávila to the north, and Toledo to the south. In Spanish, Sierra means mountain range, and the vineyards are very much defined by their high elevation, which sits between 600m and 1300m. This high elevation is what enables Comando G to create fresh wines in what is otherwise a very warm part of Spain. It is a lush area that remains very rural and green, with meadows and forests all around. The vineyards are located essentially in the wilderness, with animals and an abundance of plants growing around them. This makes it the ideal place to farm organically, as there is no chemical interference from neighbouring vineyards or other forms of agriculture.

Already certain they wished to work organically, it was while travelling in France that they began to gain an interest and knowledge in biodynamic farming. They learnt about the Maria Thun biodynamic calendar, and also took inspiration from Australian techniques regarding seaweed and algae preparations. They took a course with the renowned Jura-based geologist, Yves Hérody, who is very focused on the link with biodynamic farming and soil health, and they also learnt from biodynamic pioneer Pierre Masson. Pierre has sadly since passed away, but they continue to follow his teachings. Fernando explains,

“Over time, we’ve changed our methods. We work organically, as well as biodynamically in our single vineyards. Gredos is a very mountainous area — we have to do everything by hand, with backpacks — so we can’t yet afford to do everything biodynamically. We need many people to be able to work the whole domaine organically, without machines.”

The vineyards in Gredos are located around six different small towns, and it can sometimes be an hour’s drive from one to the other. It is incredibly time intensive work, and hence they have a team of 12 people for 14 hectares: representing just a little more than one hectare per person.

Almost all their vineyards here are planted to Grenache (Garnacha in Spanish). They also have a special plot planted to white grape varieties, which they discovered in 2010. It sits very high, at 1200m elevation, facing north on poor, quartz-dominant soils. The owner used to work in Avignon, grafting vineyards, and when he returned to his village here 70 years ago, he brought some wood with him from different varieties to plant. Discovering their special vineyards, many of which are truly hidden gems, has been a life-affirming experience. Dani says,

“They were incredible years. It was like climbing Everest and discovering treasures in the mountains, yet nobody was working there! Spending time together in the afternoon, driving around looking for new vineyards in very high, crazy places — abandoned places — it was amazing. You never know if the plot is going to create a great wine or not, but they were crazy discoveries. When you find vineyards like these, it brings you sudden, great happiness.”

Depending on how the vineyards had been treated in the past, some were easier to bring back to health than others, and recuperating them is still very much an ongoing process. Dani explains,

“It’s always a challenge. It depends; sometimes it takes three years, sometimes five, sometimes eight, depending on the state of abandon the vineyard was in. It’s also about intuition. You find the place — you’re there — and you feel like this place might create a great wine. Then, you need to help it to recover. It’s like a person in front of your eyes; you can’t live if you don’t do anything to help it to live!”

They work with a variety of plants and treatments, such as wicker, melaleuca, alder buckthorn, horsetail, chamomile, dandelion and comfrey. Their horsetail comes from the other region in which they work, Ribeiro, in Galicia.

Ribeiro and Sierra de Gredos are very different in terms of climate, but also varieties. Here, they tend Brancellao, Caiño and Sousón for red, and Treixadura, Albariño and Loureira for white. Fernando says,

“We have a 1.5-hectare plot in Ribeiro, which we work biodynamically. It’s very difficult as there is high humidity and in the summer it’s very warm, so there’s lots of fog and rain, which means lots of fungi. We’ve learnt a lot by working there, and we’ve learnt which plants to use in which vineyard. They are opposite climates: Atlantic vs Mediterranean. Gredos has rain too, but mainly in spring and autumn, so it’s not as hard to work organically as it is in Ribeiro.”

He continues,

“We work to have living soils by using the biodynamic preparation 500, and we use the 501 at the end of autumn to stop the cycle of the life. In cold vintages like 2020 and 2021, we use the Mimosa plant to help us to combat mildew.”

“We are on the road,” Dani says, speaking metaphorically as well as literally.

“Every year we learn one step more… or not!” He laughs, humbly adding,

“Maybe when we retire we will know something! The first idea here was to have a blank piece of paper. We had no reference in Gredos, nobody was making wine here at the time apart from cheap wine, bulk wine and the cooperative. For us, we wanted to figure out, how can we express the terroir and the place? So, as Fernando said, we started to open bottles and to travel around Europe for inspiration and to learn, and to finally find our own way to work. The first thing you must know is the style of wine that you love to drink, and that you’d love to make. We went to northern Europe with a lot of questions, and we came back to our place with more questions, more thoughts, and no answers!”

They laugh together. It’s like they had done all of the planning and the research for a novel yet hadn’t begun to write it yet: they needed their own, unique approach.

They explain that in Gredos, their soils are composed of granite, quartz, sand and silt. In Burgundy on the other hand, the vines are famously rooted in limestone and clay. Dani says,

“We began to make Grenache in more of a Burgundy style — but in terms of philosophy. We love the Burgundian philosophy of respecting terroir, single vineyards, as well as their love for the landscape and the place. But we weren’t going to do the same in terms of winemaking — if you have a different climate or terroir, then you must adapt to it.”

The Wines

Their significant differences in varieties, climate and soil types meant they needed to reflect on what the best techniques in the cellar would be.

“We have an entirely different type of rock model, and a different climate. So, since the beginning we understood that although we love Burgundy, we must adopt a different philosophy and style of winemaking to achieve freshness in our wines. Here, it wouldn’t work for us to do two or three-week fermentations at 30 degrees.”

Instead, they do much longer periods of maceration (typically a minimum of 30 days, often 45 days), but approach extraction as gently as possible, choosing to work with a winemaking style that is more like infusion — like making tea. The wines are aged in large oak tanks of between 15hl and 100hl in size, which impart no oaky flavours, simply allowing the fruit to speak for itself. They also reflected on how to achieve the freshness in their wines they desired, and discovered that they had a simple secret ingredient to do so: the stems of the bunches. Dani explains,

“Grenache works better here when we ferment with 100% stems, as it brings freshness. Our biggest challenge in this region is acidity, and all our work in the vineyards and in the winery focuses on that. Acidity and freshness is the key, and we love the elegance the stems bring.”

It is a true minimal intervention approach; disturbing the fruit as little as possible, hence allowing it to express itself in a pure manner.

“We do as little as we can in the winery. If you rack [racking is the process of moving the wine from one barrel to another] many times, for example, you lose the finesse.”

They emphasise that this is simply their vision and way of doing things; they are always humble:

“We don’t know if it’s the ‘good way,’ but it’s our life. It’s the connection between the land and yourself, your intuition, and how you can express this. Of course, every year, we learn a lot of things — especially in bad vintages — and sometimes we make little changes. It’s about precision. Little changes might sometimes give you big changes in the wine.”

It is a vision that starts in the vineyard:

“You must understand every plot. Sometimes they might be quite near to one another, but there can be a big difference in the soils. In Gredos, we have granite with sand, silt and quartz, and it depends on which type is the ‘captain’ of that specific plot. If you have more quartz, for example, you have more minerality and straightness. If you have more sand, you have more elegance and a sweeter kind of mineral than silt. If you have more silt, then the wine is more complex and rounder. It’s like the difference between Chambolle-Musigny and Vosne-Romanée. Everybody knows about that, but it’s the case here, too!”

The concept of ‘minerality’ in wine is an abstract one. The train of thought surrounding the term varies from winemaker to winemaker. For Comando G, they interpret it to be the textural element of the wine; a certain graininess that feels a little like salt; and something that makes you salivate. This is more predominant in their wines that come from quartz, particularly on soils which are very rocky with little organic material.

They also contribute much of the mineral quality to Grenache as a grape variety:

“Grenache is elegant, and it requires respect. It is very delicate; we always say it’s a red variety but with the soul of a white variety. It has a texture more like the one you find in white wine — straight, high and mineral — so you need to be very gentle with it.”

He continues,

“It is delicate in the same way that Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Poulsard, Bastardo (Aka Trousseau) are delicate. For me, these are the terroir translator grape varieties. Like in Burgundy, we have many climats here too; different villages, different types of granite (in our case), different slopes, etc… so it’s about finding the personality of the single vineyards. The wines are always made with the same protocol, so the difference is really in the fruit.”

It is this sensitivity and deep care for their craft that has seen Fernando and Dani create some of the most compelling wines to be found in Spain. Step by step, they have made tweaks, learnt new methods, and embraced new thought, to not only care for their vineyards as meticulously as possible, but also to ensure that the wines they create reflect the essence of their place. The word terroir is used very often when we discuss wine, but when it comes to Comando G, it couldn’t ring truer. Their wines are the vision of their thoughtfully tended vineyards, and they transport you directly there via a single sip.  

 

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