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  • 24 June 2020

La Perdida — Nacho Gonzalez

Ignacio Gonzalez, who goes by Nacho, used to work as a fruit and vegetable farmer and gardener on an organic farm in his region of Galicia in Spain. When his grandmother passed away, leaving him a parcel of old vines, he instinctively felt that it was his duty to take care of them. This meant farming them organically just as his grandmother had, and just as he had learnt on the farms. The notion of selling the plot or of working with chemicals never even came into the equation. 

The same year, he began to discover other old vineyards in the area; whose fate was uncertain and which were likely to be ripped out to make way for younger vines of easy-to-sell simple clones of the Godello variety. If this happened, all of the genetic material belonging to the old vines would be lost forever (La Perdida means The Lost One in Spanish). Nacho didn’t want to let that happen, so he took those vines on too. Today, he is foster parent and bodyguard to 26 parcels, continuing to nurture them into their old age and producing pure, soul-searching wines from them; wines which the original planters would be proud of. 

Meet Nacho 

“I studied Biological Sciences, and had always made wine with my grandmother growing up. She sold some grapes and made some wine to drink during the year at home. It was always a world that attracted me.” 

Both nature and science had entranced Nacho from a young age. He remembers little with regard to the technicalities of winemaking, but the act of foot treading the grapes after they were picked always stuck in his mind. So, when the time came for him to take over the vineyards and begin making wine, he decided that if natural methods had been good enough for his grandmother, they would be good enough for him. When we speak about the birth of La Perdida, he says,

“It was planned in my future. It arose because it had to arise. When I started making wine, it was very clear to me that natural work in the vineyard had to have continuity in the winery. This meant no sulphites, no clarification, no filtering… Only fermented grape juice.” 

The Vineyards 

“O Trancado is special because I have memories from a very young age in that vineyard.”

O Trancado is the historic name of the area in which Nacho's inherited vineyard is planted. It sits in Larouco, a town in the Valdeorras DO of Galicia. The climate here is variable to say the least; one day it’s pouring with rain, the next it’s hailing, the week after it’s boiling hot, and somewhere in between there’ll be a storm with high-speed winds. Suffice to say, this isn’t the easiest place to be a farmer. 

The frequent rainfall in particular poses a certain problem for viticulture: mildew. When working organically, the two mildews (downy and powdery) cannot be treated with systemic chemicals. These chemicals “live inside” the vine and work as a form of drug to prevent infection. Instead, organic farmers may work with “surface sprays” made from organic compounds sulphur and copper, as well as several plant and animal-based preparations, both as preventatives and curatives. Sometimes, however, nature dishes him a tough hand and losses are unpreventable. It’s a struggle. He explains,

“Every year mildew causes some losses ... in 2016 and 2018 we lost a lot. 2019 was a good year regarding the climate. For now, we’re doing well in 2020, but there are still many days left…” 

The vineyard which produces A Chaira, planted to the white Doña Branca grape

Since day one, work has been organic in the vineyards. While he experimented with biodynamics previously when farming vegetables, it’s not something that he believes inherently in, as he is a pragmatic guy who wants scientific proof. He explains,

“I don’t do biodynamics. I tried it when I grew tomatoes and lettuce, but it was something that was beyond me…. I don't believe in anything that can't have a scientific explanation. When you ask those who practice it why preparation 500 produces a certain consequence, they do not know how to explain it.” 

However, it’s not just the simple “sulphur/copper” regime that Nacho practices. He also works with preparations created from garlic, salix (a type of willow), yarrow and nettle. Together with his fellow winemaker friend Bernardo Estevez, from Ribeiro, and a Mexican microbiologist, he is also working with yeast and fungi preparations (he tells us that fungi is very prominent in the biodynamic preparation 500). He says,

“They have been working in tropical agriculture in this way for years… We are seeking protection and fertility with mountain microorganisms, acidolactic bacteria, bacillus subtilis, chelates and bio fertilizers.”

Old bush vines of La Perdida

Many of the parcels Nacho farms are field blends; planted to many different varieties. In the old days, almost all vineyards were planted in this manner; firstly it minimised risk in case a variety was lost to disease or didn’t ripen properly; and secondly this added many different  aromatic qualities to the wine. They are planted as bush vines (literally resembling small bushes), which was the historical method of planting, before wires were introduced in the region in the 1980s. 

The most prominent varieties in Nacho’s parcels are the red variety Garnacha Tintorera and the white variety Palomino, despite the fact they are not the most common in modern day Galicia. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, the region took the brunt of phylloxera - the root-eating, plant killing louse that invaded Europe in the late 1800s - which meant that nearly all vineyards here were wiped out. This brought financial ruin for the growers of the time. This, combined with the development of clonal propagation, meant that vast swathes of vineyard land was replanted to dependable, high-yielding varieties. This might have seemed ingenious, but in the name of quality it resulted in fairly dull and monotonous wines.  

Secondly, some varieties fell somewhat out of fashion as the world seeked techno-made entry level white wines. The black variety, Garnacha Tintorera (also known as Alicante Bouschet), an offspring of the varieties Garnacha and Petit Bosuchet, is red-fleshed, known as a teinturier variety. This is a rarity in the world of wine grapes given that 99% of wine grapes are clear-fleshed (this explains how white wines and sparkling wines can in fact be made from black grapes). Historically, the red-fleshed teinturier varieties were used to darken red wines which were otherwise pale, and to give them a little extra tannin. Therefore, they’ve often been unfairly perceived in the past as “filler” varieties, and often haven’t been given the chance to produce quality wines. However, in the hands of the right farmers and winemakers, Garnacha Tintorera can produce some of the most vibrant, crunchy red wines that are similar to Garnacha but with a little more depth. 

Meanwhile, Palomino, an ancient white variety born in the Middle Ages, also hasn’t had the easiest ride in terms of being viewed as a “serious” white grape for still white wines. This grape is most widely known as the “sherry grape” - as it produces a vast array of sherry styles and thrives in the soils of Jerez.  This has positives and negatives; the positive of course being that it gives us so many wondrous forms of sherry; but the negative being that it’s often overlooked for unfortified wines. In addition, it has naturally slightly higher pH levels, which means if not handled correctly it can be tough to manage in the cellar. Thankfully, growers such as Nacho and Laura Lorenzo of Galicia, Envínate and Suertes del Marques of Spain, and Abe Schoener and Rajat Parr of California, are creating spellbinding wines that have tipped the variety’s reputation on its head. Now, it’s a white grape that can finally bask in its belated glory of creating fine wine.

In addition, some of the parcels are planted to other Spanish varieties Mencía, Godello, Sumoll, Doña Branca and the very rare Mouratón. These speak of the history of this land, and their genetic diversity is testament to the vines that existed in previous centuries. Nacho began collecting the vineyards little by little, although by the end of the first year he already had ten (very small) parcels that he managed to salvage. Today, he farms 28 plots, which equate to just below six hectares of surface land. They are spread out across many different types of soils; from granite to limestone to clay. He says,

“The Sumoll is only on granite. Then, I make a wine called “MEU” from six different varieties - Grenache, Mencia, Mouraton, Godello, Palomino and Dona Branca - all on limestone soil. I also make a wine with the same varieties on clay soil, 40km away. It is a totally different wine. The vines, the soils… they move me. I only take care of them.”

He is their bodyguard.

Nacho's dog for scale

The Wines 

All of Nacho’s wines are pure, unadulterated grape juice. Zero additives are used at any stage of the winemaking (no sulphur, either). He says,

“It was clear from the first moment: I’ll work the same in the winery as I do in the vineyard. Has anything changed? Perhaps in the elaboration. I look for more finesse from the very first moment. My first wines were very tannic - they needed a couple of years before being drunk!”

Palomino

A natural surface yeast - a "flor" develops on some of Nacho's wines

Nacho is one of a number of fortunate growers who work with Juan Padilla, a famous fifth-generation potter from Albacete who, rumour has it, only communicates via fax machine. He first discovered his tinajas - round amphorae - through Rafa Bernabe, a winemaker in Alicante. On reading further about making wine in clay, he discovered Georgia’s history with their qvevri clay vessels, and he liked the idea of working with natural materials such as clay and wood. Thus, his cellar is lined with these vessels today, as well as old barrels, although he still uses a few stainless steel tanks for some fermentations.    

His labels, painted by an amateur painter friend of his, beautifully encapsulate the soul of each wine. We comment on this, to which he says,

“He understands very well what I want to convey with each wine, so he is able to talk about the wine through the art.”

The amphorae made by Juan Padilla

Fermentation inside the tinajas

A healthy surface yeast - a "flor" staring to form post-fermentation

Garnacha Tintorera: note the inky dark purple colour - this comes from the red flesh of the berries.

Despite the fact that Nacho is not an artist himself in the traditional painting sense, he is definitely an artist in the cellar. Each cuvee is crafted in its own unique way, and Nacho has never listened to conventional societal rulebooks of winemaking. This means it’s not necessarily easy for him in this region; his nearest winemaker friend is the aforementioned Bernardo Estevez, who lives 100km away. It means he’s a little isolated to say the least; although he’s on mainland Spain, it doesn’t always feel like it. However, that doesn’t faze him. Since the start, he has been an experimental soul; experimenting with extended skin contact for his white wines, working with surface yeasts (a “flor”) for some cuvées, and blurring the lines between red, white and rosé. The ‘La Proscrito’ cuvée, for example, is a blend of Palomino (90%) and Garnacha Tintorera (10%). This naturally fluorescent pink wine that tastes like Palomino with strawberries added into it has left fans around the world stupefied. It even inspired sommelier-turned-winemaker Rajat Parr, to make his own version from Californian old-vine fruit for his wine club (to be released soon). 

Meanwhile, his Doña Branca cuvee, ‘O Chaira,’ has put this little-known variety on an international platform all of its own, like watching a talented singer perform a new take on a genre live on stage for the first time. Above all, however, it’s perhaps his 'O Trancado' cuvée that speaks to the soul. The amount of love and inspiration that Nacho takes from one single plot of old vines speaks volumes in this wine; and we’re sure you can sense this love reverberate throughout the glass in front of you. 

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