For almost 20 years, Alberto Nanclares has been trying to decipher the “jewel” that is the Albariño variety, but he hasn’t yet managed to discover its main trait.
“At the winery, I see very different expressions of the same variety with similar vinification methods and for me that is actually one of Albariño’s main virtues”, he says. “It is high in acidity, ripens well even in challenging vintages, produces wines with extraordinary tension and a fabulous aging potential. It is a transparent variety that allows terroir to express itself provided that it is not forced to produce high yields and that the intensive use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers is avoided”.
The grape’s versatility, together with his desire to find as many expressions as vineyards he owns in Rias Baixas, on the northwestern corner of Galicia, allow him to make seven different Albariños (around 10,000 bottles in total per year) sourced from his five hectares of land. “Each wine expresses its terroir, its soil, its flora, its microbiology. That’s the path we are in, trying to understand the variety and each of our vineyards”, explains Nanclares from his house-cum-winery outside of Cambados.
That path started one day in 1993, when he decided to buy a boat to restore and sail along the Galician coast. His passion for sailing soon took him to quit his job as an economist and exchange his 28m2 loft in the centre of Madrid for a house in Castrelo, near Cambados (Pontevedra), which came along with a vineyard and gorgeous views of the Arousa estuary.
Back then, Alberto had no intention to make a living with wine. “I used to work as a consultant for a multinational in Vigo. I knew nothing about winemaking; my only contact with wine was limited to my childhood, when I used to accompany my dad to purchase large carafes of wine from Miranda de Ebro, where I was born, to nearby Villabuena and Samaniego in Rioja”, he remembers.
He casually started to prune and work on the vineyard with the help of Agro de Bazán’s cellar master and he caught the wine bug. In 1997 he converted his home garage into a small winery and started to make his own Albariño; by 2001, he had bought more vineyards in the Salnés valley and finally left office work for the vines.
He launched his brand Nanclares following conventional practices but he soon realized that the use of aggressive treatments in the vineyard and commercial yeasts in the winery meant his Albariño was just one more among many; a correct wine but lacking in soul. “At first I used to read books but time has taught me to trust my intuition first”, he says.
He gradually stopped tilling the land and for some years he has been working with as little intervention as possible in order to let each vineyard freely express itself. He makes compost with the grape stalks and seaweeds that he picks from the nearby estuary to improve the plants’ resistance to diseases and he applies biodynamic techniques to his 12 plots, planted primarily on sandy soils in the villages of Castrelo, Cambados and Pradenda.
“We believe that the way to enrich our terroir involves sensible wine growing practices, particularly with the soils and their microbiological life. On the winery, it means little intervention and staying away from elements that may standardize the wines, such as commercial yeasts or even selected yeasts”.
Success has not always knocked on Nanclares’ door during the past 15 years, but a string of good reviews encouraged his US importer José Pastor to buy more wine and Alberto decided to make his little business evolve. “I couldn’t cope on my own to meet such demand and I realized I needed help”.
It was at this point —August 2015— that Silvia Prieto joined the business. “I had known her for many years; she is young, enthusiastic and full of energy. I didn’t want to employ someone; instead I wanted to find a person who would be able to handle everything. She liked the idea and we now work hand in hand, both on the vineyard and on the commercial and marketing sides”, explains Alberto. “The idea is that if I decide to retire in 10 years’ time she will be able to continue with the project”.
This year, the weather is testing their reaction capacity. “First our vineyards were heavily attacked by mildew and then temperatures of up to 39ºC in early August scorched our grapes as you can see on this picture taken at the Mazaniña vineyard”, explained Alberto in their Facebook page, which he regularly updates with lovely pictures by Silvia. “We are still busy green pruning… but we are in two minds about what to do; if we remove too many leaves the grapes will burn and if we don’t remove the leaves and we have damp weather, we will suffer from botrytis.”
In an area as exposed to adverse weather conditions and humidity, working with little intervention requires generous doses of fortitude and capacity to improvise. It is not strange to have warm rainy days, a lethal combination that heightens the chances to suffer mildew attacks. “With the sort of viticulture we do we have a limited number of tools to combat fungi in high pressure moments. We employ preventive treatments which have a limited healing effect and in prolonged periods of rainfall the copper protection we apply is washed down leaving the vines unprotected for the following rainy days”, explains Alberto.
This year’s harvest is looking weird, Alberto told SWL in mid-August. “We have gone from a very rainy mild spring to a very hot and dry summer. Vines are starting to feel the stress, but the outcome will depend on the weather we get until mid-September. So far, yields are set to be low due to poor fruit setting and the mildew and oidium attacks and if it doesn’t rain over the coming days we will have lightweight bunches provoked by the plants’ hydric stress”.
All of the Albariños by Nanclares y Prieto are unfiltered as they seek to preserve their individual character and expression. Their entry level wines are Tempus Vivendi (around €12, 1,220 bottles) and Dandelion ( 2,215 bottles, €12) followed by Nanclares (2,734 bottles, €13.50), which comes from five plots and is fermented in tanks and 2,000-litre French oak vats. His single vineyard wines start with Paraje Mina, sourced from a vineyard adjacent to the winery and Soverribas (1,294 bottles, €18), grown in the Manzaniña vineyard with 35-year-old vines and fermented in oak vats.
Coccinella (471 bottles, €25) and Crisopa (448 bottles, €26) are born of his partnership with his friend and sommelier José Luis Aragunde, owner of the wine store and bar Ribeira de Fefiñans in Cambados. Coccinella is sourced from hundred-year-old vines and is bottled on a fruit day following biodynamic principles, whereas Crisopa is made in the traditional way —grapes are foot treaded, with 40% of whole clusters and fermented with its skins. It is one of those wines that you either love it or hate it —the Rías Baixas appellation disqualified it arguing lack of quality whereas Nanclares’ US importer liked it so much that he bought most of the bottles.
In Ribeira Sacra, Nanclares & Prieto make two reds in the traditional way, foot-treading whole cluster bunches: Miñato da Raña (563 bottles, €27.95), first released on the 2014 vintage, is a blend of Mencía and Garnacha Tintorera whereas Penapedre, which is due to be released in the summer of 2017, was made in 2015 for the first time and comes from 100+-year-old organic vines.
They make another red in Ribadavia (Ribeiro) following the same traditional winemaking practices. 2015 will be the first vintage of this blend —Brancellao and Caíño Longo from the Quinta Alto do Coto vineyard and Sousón, Carabuñeira, Ferrón and Merenzao from Quinta Costa do Beliño). Grapes are foot-trodden on traditional 80-year-old chestnut barrels and the wine is later aged on its lees. They plan to bottle this yet unnamed wine in November and let it rest in bottle for at least a year.
Under Silvia’s initiative last year, they picked grapes in the Paraje Mina vineyard which are usually left on the vine to make a wine with botrytis. Called Cinerea and bottled in late August, this wine has “excellent levels of alcohol, acidity and sugar” and will be on sale in November. It will not carry the DO Rias Baixas label.
If things go well, Alberto and Silvia are set to launch a new Albariño. Vines grow on granodiorite soils, containing mainly granite and quartz, and the wine is being fermented in chestnut casks. “It is the traditional wood that was used in the area; Fefiñanes (one of the oldest producers in the region) still keeps some old vats, now unused. We haven’t managed to find used chestnut barrels so we have purchased an 800-litre vat and we’ll see how it goes”, adds Alberto.