In 1979, Carlos Esteva (1950-2023) decided to settle on the farmhouse that his grandfather had acquired in 1939 and started making wine. Can Ràfols dels Caus lies on some 450 hectares, 90 of which are under vine –olive and almond trees are also grown. The terrain is uneven, marked by a succession of hills that allow working with different sun exposures. This unirrigated, Mediterranean landscape is dotted with plenty of shrubs and aromatic herbs. The proximity of the sea brings the cooling effect of sea breezes (locally called “marinade”) which contribute to extend the grape ripening process. Yet its most distinctive feature lies below: the Garraf Massif is a large chalky mass, a singular piece of land on the DO Penedès, west of Barcelona.
In fact, the new, impressive underground cellar has been conceived as a tribute to the chalky rock underneath; in fact, it has been used as if it were a building material. Carlos Esteva wanted a "modern, revolutionary, James Bond-styled cellar,” as well as an open winery where visitors could learn how wine is made.
All Can Ràfols dels Caus vineyards are unirrigated and organically or biodynamically farmed. Fermentation is undertaken with natural yeasts mostly in stainless steel tanks. Many wines are simply aged in concrete tanks or bottle without the slightest contact with oak. And those aged in barrels only spend between 6 and 12 months of their life in wood. In terms of grapes, Carlos’ choices have been highly personal, often inspired by the world’s greatest wines. He grows a whooping 28 varieties, with most of his best wines sourced from specific vineyards.
The entry-level brand Petit Caus is made in white, rosé and red versions, all of them retailing €6-7. The Gran Caus range includes an unoaked white made from of Xarel.lo, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc (€13), a full-bodied, deep-coloured Merlot rosé (€12) and a red blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc from different parcels.
The top red is a single-varietal Merlot (Caus Lubis, around €45 in Spain) from a northwest facing plot planted in 1984. Other single varietal reds include Ad Fines Pinot Noir (around €30) and some special bottlings marking the winery’s 30th (an elegant Cabernet Franc) and 20th Anniversary (Cabernet Sauvignon, which is usually more difficult to grow in the area). Sumoll (€17) is the indigenous choice. Although this variety usually shows a rustic, tannic edge, Esteva has managed to make a subtle, low-extraction wine which is fresh and refined.
The impressive white range comprises a gorgeous trilogy that deserves a place of its own among Spain’s best whites. El Rocallís (€32) is made from the nondescript Italian Incroccio Manzoni grape grown on a stony, shallow plot; La Calma (€32) is a Chenin Blanc from an extremely chalky vineyard, almost as white as Sherry’s albariza. Xarel.lo Pairal (€20) is the only one made with an indigenous grape. It is sourced from the oldest vineyard in the property, dating back to 1948 with some clay intermixed with limestone.
The sparkling wines of Can Ràfols are outside the DO Cava since the 2016 vintage. The move follows the renewal of their bubbly range to focus on the distinctive character of the Garraf mountains. The new brand Clímax includes a white (Xarel.lo with 25% Macabeo and 5% Chenin Blanc, around 3,500 bottles, €24) and a rosé (Pinot Noir, slightly above 2,000 bottles, €26) versions. Set to be released soon under a new presentation, Parisard, made with barrel-fermented wines, will remain as the winery’s top sparkling wine.
The winery is currently in the hands of the second geenration. Winery tours and tastings are regularly held.