A respected producer in Rías Baixas (Galicia) and the third generation of a family of growers, Gerardo Méndez sums up the essence of growing vines in this green, rainy corner of northwestern Spain, where the so called “Casa Grande” houses both the family home and the winemaking facilities. His children Manuel and Encarna are now involved in the business and Manuel is adding new and exciting Albariños to the range of wines.
The winery, located in the village of Meaño within the Salnés sub-area, is worth visiting, especially for its beautiful vineyard, just over one hectare planted with 200+-year-old vines. Trained on the traditional pergola system, its twisted trunks look both wild and primitive. Each plant is totally different from the others and has to be pruned in a specific way. There used to be a stone quarry on this slope in the past. After this activity ceased, vines were the sole crop to adapt here. With just 50cm of soil, plants need to sink their roots deep in order to draw water.
The family possesses a document dating from 1790 that confirms the existence of the house and possibly of this extremely old vineyard which was the base of the wine business launched by Gerardo in 1973. As more vineyards were acquired, the family’s historic plot is vinified and released separately since the 1995 vintage under the name Cepas Vellas (old vines, around €28 in Spain, up to 8,000 bottles in good vintages). It is bottled one year after the harvest and released in late October or early November.
The standard Albariño Do Ferreiro (about €13.5), is bottled at different times of the year, as is the norm in the area; the first one usually takes place in March.
The Méndez family grows altogether 14 hectares of vines (seven of their own, five hired and the rest owned by local growers) split into more than 150 small plots! That gives an idea of the extreme fragmentation of land property in Galicia. Grapes are also bought from suppliers, some of whom have been working with Do Ferreiro for over 25 years. Rent contracts are signed for a period of 25 to 30 years.
All wines undergo cold maceration –this is a distinctive feature of this producer. Fermentation is carried out with indigenous yeasts, usually with selected yeasts from the Cepas Vellas vineyard. Malolactic fermentation is usually avoided but it can be partially performed in certain vintages. The weather is variable in the area and rain (resulting in botrytis) can be an issue during the harvest. As a result, production may vary from one year to another —the top Cepas Vellas may not be produced every vintage.
Only two 500-litre barrels are used for the Albariño do Ferreiro Barrica (around €20 in Spain). This is Gerardo Méndez’s only oak-aged white but thanks to the use of seasoned barrels, the oak notes are subdued. In the late 1990s Rebisaca (€15) was launched at the request of their American importer. It is a blend of Albariño grown in the Salnés valley with Treixadura and Loureiro from the Condado do Tea sub-area further inland. The name comes from the plot where the Salnés grapes are grown.
There is a new and interesting range of terroir-focused Albariño comprising two new wines: Adina and Lourido. Grapes for Adina (around €19, 2,200 bottles) are sourced from vineyards in the district of Sanxenxo planted on oxidised red slate. This unusual soil is only found in a narrow stretch of land that starts in Porto (Portugal) and moves into the sea, through the Cíes islands to resurface briefly in the Galician coast. The wine displays more concentration, richness and character, with intense briny notes and wet stones on the finish. Grapes for Lourido (€19, 1,600 bottlles) are sourced from a vineyard in Castrelo, in the Arousa estuary, facing La Toja island, and planted on xabre (decomposed granite) soils. It’s a really lively, fresh Albariño with citrus, white fruit and dried herb aromas followed by a persistent palate with good tension.
With regard to these two wines, Manuel Méndez claims that the sea influence often found in some Salnés whites is not related to the proximity to the coast (as is the case with Lourido) as much as to the fog that brings distinctive saltiness to more elevated areas inland, like in Adina. While some grapes from these two areas also find their way to the flagship albariño Do Ferreiro, the barrel-aged Dous Ferrados uses grapes from Adina.
High acidity and persistence are two trademarks of Gerardo Méndez’s wines, so all of them –particularly Cepas Vellas– are great candidates for cellaring.
Winery tours must be arranged in advance. Apart from wine, Gerardo Méndez also produces three eaux-de-vie following a deeply rooted tradition in Galicia; white, herbs and coffee.