A producer with great influence on the new generation of Spanish winemakers, Raúl Pérez was born in Valtuille de Abajo, a small village in Bierzo, where his long time grape growing family manage the Castro Ventosa winery.
His fame comes in no small part from the fact that the doors of his winery have always been open to newcomers in Bierzo, starting with Alvaro Palacios himself. He also helped many established names in Galicia like Forjas del Salnés in Rías Baixas and Algueira and Guímaro in Ribeira Sacra to focus on local grapes and terroir-driven wines.
Despite his traditional training, Pérez has gradually eschewed winemaking orthodoxy to capture and bottle the essence of the vineyards and soils where he works. In his reds, he searches for the most ideal maturation and maceration times for each vineyard. His wines are usually field blends of Mencía (it is standard to find Alicante Bouschet, Bastardo, Palomino, Dona Blanca, Godello or Malvasía mixed in the Bierzo vineyards) and are fermented with stems unless the grapes have been dehydrated. He claims to have found a balance between early harvesting and long macerations (two to five months). This allows him to preserve acidity, extract tannins gently and polymerize tannins through the use of natural oxygenation in oak. Pérez no longer uses cooling devices in his winery and his wines are aged either in foudres or used barrels. In recent times, he has been using flor (a veil of yeasts) to gain complexity and as a means of natural protection during the ageing process to avoid adding sulphur.
As for the whites, Pérez shuns ultraclean musts and cooling devices; he relays on yeasts and microbiology instead. “I like to work with the freedom of not knowing how the wines are going to smell,” he says.
Born in 1973, Raúl Pérez started off in the family winery, but in 2003 he set up on his own in Bierzo. The name he chose was Ultreia (“let’s go further, in Latin”), the spirited salute exchanged among pilgrims in the Camino de Santiago. In 2010 he regained control of Castro Ventosa and in 2011 he launched La Vizcaína, also in Bierzo, in partnership with his nephew César Márquez.
In addition to his consulting work for many producers across Spain, particularly in their beginnings, he oversees winemaking at Tilenus in Bierzo. Since its purchase by MG Wines, Pérez also consults for other wineries of the group in Spain’s southeast.
The Ultreia range of wines starts with Ultreia Saint Jacques (€10, around 30,000 bottles), a red wine offering terrific value which is sourced from various vineyards in Valtuille de Abajo. There are two whites: the single-varietal Godello (€16) and La Claudina (€34), a single-vineyard Godello from sandy soils which has evolved from being fermented with its skins to spontaneous fermentation and ageing under flor in foudre.
The rest of Ultreias explore specific soils in the area. The first and best known is Ultreia Valtuille (around €39 in Spain, 3,500 bottles). Grapes are sourced from Las Villegas, a sandy plot where full ripeness is easily achieved. According to Raúl, it is a reflection of his early days in wine when he looked for structure and extraction as opposed to El Rapolao (€47, less than 1,000 bottles), his current favourite plot. El Rapolao is a steep vineyard planted on ferrous-clay soils with a shorter maceration and marked acidity and finesse. Other reds in the range include Ultreia Paluezas (€35), from limestone soils located between Bierzo and Las Médulas and Ultreia Petra (€38) in Ponferrada, a late-ripening area with distinctive schist soils.
Other remarkable wines made by Raúl Pérez beyond Bierzo include Sketch (€39, 1,500 bottles, some of which are aged under the sea), an Albariño sold as table wine and made in Forjas del Salnés, the winery of Rodrigo Méndez in Rías Baixas. Rául and “Rodri”, who also run a joint project in Ribera Sacra called Castro Candaz, usually introduce themselves as two good friends who enjoy making wine. As far as they are concerned “friendship makes wines flourish.”
Raúl Pérez makes two other single-vineyard reds in this region, this time at Adegas Guímaro: La Penitencia (“the penitence”, €45, 900 bottles) and El Pecado (“the sin”, €50, 1,200 bottles) with grapes sourced from the Pombeiras and Capeliños vineyards respectively.