“...and that’s how Peixes started, like a snowball that Jesús kicked which couldn’t be stopped. Jesús had the snowball, he was running down a hill, and the ball was getting bigger and bigger. Finally, I got on top of the ball too."
“Jesús kept on frequenting these new areas… and kept on coming back with more vineyards. I said “Jesús, what’s going on? Have you got a secret girlfriend there?”
Peixes—pronounced ‘pay-shes’; a soft Galician ‘sh’—was conceived almost entirely by chance. A semi-accidental second project by dynamic duo Jesús Olivares and Curro Bareño (two-thirds of the Fedellos do Couto trio, known for their work in the Ribeira Sacra) came about after the free-spirited Jesús discovered a number of old and soon-to-be abandoned vineyards in the neighbouring Viana do Bolo. Higher in elevation and with an ever-changing microclimate, the vertigo-inducing vines of the area sit between 600-850 metres above sea level. At this altitude, the grapes don’t ripen easily. It’s a challenging terrain, no doubt. But what’s life without a challenge?
“Jesús started to chat with a man who told him that he was going to abandon the vineyards. And, of course, Jesús replied: “don’t worry, — we’ll take them!” He came back home and said to me: ‘Hey! I’ve got us a new vineyard in this amazing place… and the soils are amazing… but there is only a slight problem: it’s not actually in Ribeira Sacra.”
Meet Curro & Jesús
As we sit down with Curro on Zoom (very 2020) we’re joined by a furry four-legged companion, Lupo, who proceeds to pop his head in for a quick hello every now and then. We’ve only been chatting for a few moments but, almost instantly, it becomes apparent that Peixes is a project of passion, above all else.
It was whilst studying agriculture at UNIR (Universidad Internacional de la Rioja) that Curro first met Jesús. They were both working under the same teacher, travelling back and forth between Galicia and Madrid. You could say that this is where it all started—the duo’s profound relationship with the region of Galicia. Curro, subsequently, spent three years working in the Valle del Sil.
“After that, I went to Mentruda—about half an hour away. But destiny did its work and sent me back to Galicia again, and a friend called me to work on a new project in Ribeira Sacra. She liked the way I had been developing wines. I needed someone to help me, so of course, I called Jesús.”
After spending three years leading the project—from finding vineyards and planting vines, to designing the labels, to mapping out a commercial and global plan—Jesús and Curro fell in love with the area. They knew that they had to initiate a new project there—an independent venture—but the question was simply, ‘how?’ Curro notes that “it was honestly the most difficult thing we’ve ever started.”
Fast forward a few years, their baby Fedellos do Couto had made quite the splash on the natural wine scene (and gathered a few more winery dogs under their belt). At this point, Jesús and Curro - by now established winemakers in the old region of Ribeira Sacra - stumbled upon some vines in the neighbouring Viana do Bolo. Along came Peixes.
“We were in the market for Cortezada, which is a single Mencía from the Sil. Looking for vineyards along the Bibei, Jesús was investigating by following the river. He ended up in a place called Viana do Bolo. It’s an area which has suffered a lot from the depression, with a very high altitude. The climate changes here from the Mediterranean humidity of Ribeira Sacra, to continental with a little Atlantic influence.”
What first caught Jesús’ eye was the small, terraced vineyards, planted in a type of soil which they hadn’t come across before—granite with a high content of mica.
“Jesús chatted with a man who told him that he was going to abandon the vineyards. And, of course, Jesús replied: “don’t worry, we’ll take them!”
Many farmers had already abandoned their land in the area due to the difficulty of having to maintain the vineyards by hand. At such a steep incline, it’s impossible to use a tractor. What’s more, it was outside of the appellation they were working in with Fedellos do Couto, so wouldn’t be able to be made in the same cellar (by law).
“Jesús came home with the news about this vineyard and we both said to each other: “we definitely can’t make that in the bodega...”
That wasn’t going to stop them. They decided, on the spot, that they would have to just find somewhere to make the wines. It was just a small vineyard producing a small crop, so they decided they would make it in the garage.
“But, Jesús kept on frequenting these areas… and kept on coming back with more vineyards. So it was like ‘Jesús, what’s going on? Have you got a girlfriend there or something?
Head over heels with this newfound area, they kept acquiring more and more plots on the verge of abandon. They began to realise that the garage might be a little tight. But, as with all good stories, there comes a saving grace;
“One day he came back and said, ‘I’ve got a place to make the wines’. He had the papers, it was legal, and it was amazing. It was in a little town, in Valdeorras. We went there, and it was this amazing cave—an old cave dug into the rock, which was perfect for keeping wines, and then there was a small space legalised to actually make the wines.”
As luck (or fate?) would have it, another local (that Jesús had also met on his travels) was about to abandon his business. Curro shrugs,
“Everyone loves Jesús, so he let him have it. We took it over and paid rent. And that’s how Peixes started, like a snowball that Jesús kicked and that no one could stop. Jesús had the ball, he was running down a hill, and the ball was getting bigger and bigger. And finally, I got on top of the ball too.”
Between Peixes and Fedellos, Jesús and Curro have “more or less 12ha.” Curro pauses for a second as he looks out of the corner of his eye, visibly counting in his head. He laughs,
“I’m not very good at the numbers, that’s definitely a more or less… We have 12ha: a third of it [4ha] is from other growers, another 4ha are rented, and then we own the final third.”
Peixes is as much a conservation project as it is a winemaking project. Thus, it’s a constant back and forth between wanting to acquire as much land as possible (since the terrain is so interesting) and having more land than they can cover.
“We never stop to plan—we’re awful with that…”
Some of the land, abandoned several years ago, is suffering from previous neglect.
“We go to the vineyards, we prune them, and we try our best to help the soil—to see if in the future we can bring the vines back to strength.”
Whether they’re working their own land or working alongside other farmers, the most important thing for Curro and Jesús is the relationship; between both Peixes and the grower, and the grower and their vines.
“We also like to understand if they’re open minded to change… because it’s not easy to change things here. The biggest difficulty isn’t the climate, it’s the ability to work the land; the amount of land you can work per person—because it’s very little.”
Working organically here means a lot more handwork.
“The area of Bibei is higher, which makes it cooler, but the river has many dams. The dams make a lot of fog. So if you’re lower, you’ll have more fog. This is important for the Bibei.”
This means disease pressure, which means even more handwork. Persuading growers to put down the chemicals and pick up the tools isn't always easy, but it requires people like Curro and Jesús to nudge them in the right direction, to help them begin, and to show them that organic fruit will command higher prices. For their own parcels, all work is done entirely by them, entirely by hand, with the help of local seasonal workers during pruning and harvest. Work is carried out organically, but without certification.
“We’ve always refused to certify as that in itself also requires a lot of work, and it’s kind of ironic that you’d make more work for yourself elsewhere, outside of the vineyard. But it’s true that it’s good to certify, to be able to show that you are working that way. We are growing in that sense, and we’re starting to study it.”
That’s easy enough for the vineyards that they run themselves, and that’s something that they’ll start with this vintage or the next. With single vineyards it will be simple, but with the other wines - which are mostly blends from many vineyards - this can become complicated, as they have to run the certification program for the growers, which is time consuming for a two-man band.
“I do the billing in the bodega—for both the vineyard and office. We do actually have a friend that we’re trying to convince to come in and be a part of the project. We like the horizontal structure—we hate when things get vertical, where you end up above someone.”
As much as they’re proud to be two free-spirited souls out on their own, Curro mentions that they’re becoming slightly overwhelmed. This means it’s tricky for them to embark upon visions that have been on their minds for a while, such as biodynamics.
“We need to assess so many things with regards to agriculture first. Then we will move onto biodynamics. We did a course with a French professor, Pierre Masson, many years ago El Bierzo.” He told us, “don’t make the mistake of thinking that going biodynamic will solve your problems. It’s 90% agriculture and 10% biodynamics.’”
That said, they have taken many ideas of biodynamics already and applied them to their treatments. In addition to the organic sprays of copper and sulphur, they use horsetail, comfrey, yarrow, propolis and milk powder - the latter of which they discovered via the Welsh biodynamic winery, Ancre Hill.
Harvest can last two months: whites begin in the last week of August and the reds continue into October. It’s a mammoth labour of love, and learning how best to vinify each parcel of vines for Peixes is an ever-evolving learning curve.
“We’re building our own knowledge here in Spain. Before, we were working according to all of the books, which were in French. Our own learning is helping us to define our wines.”
Their current winemaking style involves gentle but long whole bunch maceration of up to two months, after which the wines are pressed in a wooden basket press (photographed). The wines are then aged in neutral oak large-format 500L barrels to preserve and focus freshness. Like Verónica Ortega, they are cofermenting some white varieties with black varieties, such as for the Peixes Da Rocha mind-blowing blend of Mencía, Mouranton, Grao Negro, Garnacha Tintorera, Bastardo, Godello, Doña Blanca and Palomino.
Everything is fermented naturally with low sulphur additions, and bottled unfined and unfiltered. These are wines that pay tribute to the long and difficult past of this region, and at long last have put the varieties, soils and vineyards at the forefront of fine Spanish wine. They are wines made by the brave, for the brave.