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IWINETC 2016: Premium Cavas and Still Wines of Alta Alella

Posted: Saturday, 23 April 2016 15:47


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IWINETC 2016: Premium Cavas and Still Wines of Alta Alella

April 23: Situated 20 minutes North of Barcelona, Alta Alella is a beautiful winery, approachable by car or even helicopter, with mesmerizing vineyards, panoramic view and the working-with nature winemaking philosophy of owner Josep Maria Pujol-Busquets showing in the wines making it a highly desirable winery for wine tourism, writes Subhash Arora who visited the winery during his recent trip to Barcelona to attend the International Wine Tourism Conference (IWINETC) 2016

Click For Large ViewWhen I went to attend the International Wine Tourism Conference (IWINETC) in Barcelona earlier this month, I had a free morning before the start of the programme and decided to visit a premium winery close-by. I had contacted Barcelona Turisme- Premium which recommended me a couple of wineries. Fascinated by the off-the-beaten track background of the rather young winery, making high quality wines in a sustainable way and organic farming, I decided to visit Alta Alella, close to Badalona, a suburb of Barcelona; I can safely say this is one winery one ought to visit even if you are in the city for a day or two.  

Founded in 2001, this boutique winery has two appellations- DO Cava for making the most popular Spanish bubbly and DO (Denominación de Origen) Alella for still white, red and sweet wines.   The boutique winery produce 350,000 botles (about 30,000 cases) out of which 70% wines are high quality Cava, the balance divided between different styles of still wines.

DO Alella is the smallest Appellation in Spain with merely 8 producers as members. Built in a nature park where the rules of construction are extremely stringent, the winery merges into the natural surroundings beautifully with spectacular views; in fact a part of the winery has been constructed using the rocks as a wall, that helps keep the inside temperature naturally cool.  There are high quality wines that beckon you to visit the winery when you are in Barcelona for business, pleasure or wine tasting.

Click For Large ViewJosep Maria Pujol-Busquets Camps, owner of Alta Alella Alta comes from a middle class family; his father used to be a musician. Trained as an engineer, he worked with the Martini family in Italy for around 10 years. He spent time in Italy and Champagne. Although working successfully he felt that working for a company for a long time was paralysis of the brain and wanted the sense of liberty and decided to set up a winery. He had already vines growing since 1991.

He chose the nature park as a novel idea and wanted to keep the natural beauty intact, besides keeping the production low and using sustainable practices, with organic farming only. Winery has been set up near Badelona, a suburb of Barcelona- in a direction opposite that of Sant Sadurni, where 90% of Spanish DO Cavas are produced.

Aged on the lees Cavas

Although he produces around 20-27 different wines depending upon the harvest (typically about 12 still wines, 9 Cavas and  5 natural wines), The DO Cava provisions mandates Cava to be on the lees for 9 months, Reserva for 15 months and Gran Reserva for a minimum of 30 months for the second fermentation. However, at Alta Alella, the minimum ageing for reservas is 3 years while the Gran Rservas see the second fermentation in the bottle for 4 years. All the harvesting is by hand.

The winery does not use any tartaric acid which is quite unusual, but that was Joesp’s tenet for the winery. (To get a better perspective for India, FSSAI had rejected shipments last year from Pernod Ricard because it mentioned the use of tartaric acid in the wine, which is a customary wine making procedure. The High Court had turned down the plea of FSSAI and allowed the shipment-it is a common practice in warmer climates to add Tartaric Acid to boost the acidity in wine, but it is not a natural process, nevertheless).

Click For Large ViewJosep owns 17 hA of vineyards and controls a total of 60 hA.  At Alta Alella they grow 17 varieties of grapes including the most common Cava varietals- Xarel-lo (known as Pansa Blanca here), Macabeo and Parellada.  The harvesting period here is one of the longest in the DO Cava region- it starts in August and carries on till October, covering a  wide spectrum of grapes and different picking times depending on the style of wine to be produced. He also makes five different sulphur free wines- 2 are Cavas and 3 are still wines. For several years Alta Alella winery has been an organic winery.

Being close to Barcelona, the winery encourages wine tourism and various visit/tasting packages and a win shop are available. There is a small helipad to enable people with an eye on deluxe or exclusive travel to enjoy the beauty of the vineyards and the winery. Several packages are available, says my guide Valerie-many are custom tailored.

Valerie Veilleux is the communications manager, in charge of wine tourism as well. The amount of energy and genuine passion she shows is incredible. ‘This trait runs in the whole company, starting from my boss and his daughter who looks at the commercial and front end of the business and every employee of the company,’ he says with pride.

Click For Large ViewI was pressed for time and after enjoying the breathtaking views of the valley and vineyard, decided to taste a few special ones like those without Sulphites  but got so engrossed into tasting that I ended up with around 10 wines under my palate- all of them showing the passion and the winemaking prowess of Josep. Seemingly slightly on the expensive side, they are really value-for-money wines for true connoisseurs. Alta Alella also makes wines with 100% Monastrell (Mourvedre) known as Matero grapes in these parts. The dessert wine was really special red wine that tells the producer apart in terms of winemaking capabilities. The grape is an exception; strangely enough it was not affected by phylloxera.

The beauty of this wine producer is that Josep appears to be a restless person who does not like to rest on his laurels and as if striving to achieve perfection, he is always experimenting-be it with soil, climate change or winemaking or making natural wines-he makes 5 natural wines!. Of course, due to the small batch size of all his lots he can experiment and improve.

It may be a while before Indian market can be ready for these wines due to high taxes and not much  branding but to discerning palates they would be exceptional and a great value-for-money proposition as well.

Subhash Arora


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