Despite its reputation as artisanal and aesthetically complex, natural wine is not about perfection, but rather connection – to time, nature, the land, other beings. And Vella Terra Natural Wine Fair, most recently held on February 9-10 in Barcelona, continues on that theme – it’s all about making and strengthening connections within the natural wine sector.
For the last five years, this pioneering natural wine fair has been a meeting point for winemakers as well as other artisanal food producers, restaurateurs, consumers, distributors and educators, allowing locals and foreigners to become better acquainted with Catalan and Spanish wines. In the process, Vella Terra has raised the profile of both local natural winemakers and Barcelona as a natural wine center.
The masterminds behind this independent project are fair director Ale Delfino and specialized sommelier Stefano Fraternali, co-owners of Garage Bar in Barcelona; both are natural wine evangelists. Even without the support of official bodies within the Catalan wine industry, which seem oblivious to the growing importance of natural wine, the fair has been a success year after year, eventually gaining the backing of the Barcelona City Council.
“I’m very glad to notice how every year the public is improving their ability to taste and understand natural wines,” says Delfino. “Now we are starting to appreciate wines for how they really make us feel and for their origins, not for what Parker or Peñín [famous wine critics] say.”
“Now we are starting to appreciate wines for how they really make us feel and for their origins, not for what Parker or Peñín [famous wine critics] say.”
In this year’s edition, more than 140 artisans (65 percent from Spain and 35 percent from abroad) met in Barcelona’s Estació del Nord, a former train station that now serves as a large multi-purpose venue, with a total of around 1,500 natural wine lovers, a mix of individuals from within the wine sector and the general public. The crowd, unsurprisingly, skewed younger than at other wine fairs in Spain.
Most of the vendors were brilliant independent producers, with a few corporate wineries sprinkled in. The region hosting the event – Catalonia, where the majority of Spanish natural wine is produced – had a particularly large presence.
While we tasted many high-quality wines, with some even being magic in a glass, a couple of projects stood out. Like Pepe Reventós, the 21st generation in charge of Raventós i Blanc, a family winery in the Penedès region (in the province of Barcelona) that has been making and selling wine since 1497 – they are one of the oldest winemaking families in the world.
Their production is mainly focused on Conca del Riu Anoia, a high-quality sparkling wine made using biodynamic viticulture (they quit the cava D.O. in 2012). But in 2011, Pepe began to experiment with a completely natural vinification process using a few vineyards around his house. In 2017, he made the leap into proper natural production, creating two Ancestral sparkling wines (the more natural and old-fashioned winemaking process involves only one fermentation that finishes in the bottle, resulting in a lower alcohol content and very delicate bubbles) and three still ones, named after the finca (estate) that the grapes come from: Can Sumoi. His role, as a well-established figure in the eyes of consumers, helps to attract wine lovers who aren’t familiar with the natural side of things.
Maybe one of the most relevant and fascinating figures at the fair is the independent producer Ton Rimbau with Porcellànic wines, also from the Penedès region. “I started to make natural wines because I was poisoned by the chemicals from a vine,” he tells us. Now he makes seven different natural wines in small batches – between 500 and 2,000 bottles. Inspired by the ancient Romans and Egyptians, he bottles only in ceramic vessels, both to protect the wines from UV light and for quality purposes.
Ton works the vineyard following a complex system of different natural techniques, some of which are experimental, to say the least. “I’m like the fool on the hill!” he exclaims. “We work in a very different way. We keep our ceramic bottles vertical and under water to maintain a stable temperature. We also work with magnets and make sure the wine doesn’t cross Curry and Hartmann lines [an alleged global network of magnetic grids]. I also play with the effects of storing the wine in a pyramid, which makes it more rounded and soft!” They don’t plow the vineyard so as not to disturb the insects, especially the spiders (like the tiger spider in their logo) that keep the vineyard clean, and they time the harvest according to the activity of the bees and the biodynamic moon calendar.
It may sound out there, but whatever they’re doing is working – the wines we taste are out of this world. And currently their high-end line of natural wines can be found in the cellars of some of the best restaurants in the world: Can Roca, Diverxo and Abac in Spain, as well as Noma, Osteria Franciscana, Aqua and more. “Our work has started to be recognized,” Ton says proudly.
These were just two of the many magnificent stories we heard at Estació del Nord this year. There was much talk of passion and family traditions, as well as principled living and late-in-life revelations. And more importantly, we enjoyed the satisfaction of finding wines that, like art, poetry and good food, have the ability to expand our lives.
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