There is strength in numbers. This is a saying, but it is not a rule. For without organization and leadership these numbers are merely individuals standing near each other rather than by each other. Organization, and thus real strength, was the inspiration for the formation and fruition of Agrupció d’Agricultors del Pla de Manlleu, (also know as +500) in Alt Penedes,headquartered in the town El Pla de Manlleu. The nonprofit organization serves as the central unified voice of 25+ grape growers in the region to help insure them best possible market prices for their commodity. Under the diligent and watchful leadership of brothers Lluis and Kiko Figueras, it does just that as they sell to many prestigious Penedes wine producers.
The vineyards of +500 growers association at 680m, producing two wines, and providing high quality grapes to other winemakers, in DO Penedes.
Started in 2007, +500 also serves as homage to their late father’s historical work to trace local family histories, masia histories (with almost every ruin, reformed, and existing masia chronicled), and ultimately the wine history in the region. As documented by their late father, the Figueras family’s involvement in wine dates back to the 14th century. Lluis and Kiko’s admiration and respect for their father’s work and their own commitment to the region were two of the driving reasons for the association’s founding.
The name +500 is a reference to all 460 hectares of its 25 members being at an elevation of over 500 meters above sea level. The zone of El Pla de Manlleu, which consists of the township and its surrounding municipalities, is broken up into 4 sub-areas at three different elevation ranges. Valldossera is its highest area with plots that average around 700m above sea level. The area of Comanda de Selma is where the plots lay between 600-700m above sea level. Its lowest 2 areas, Marge Esquerra del Marmellar and Marge Dret del Marmellar, sit at 500-600m. The main variety grown in these four areas is Parellada Montonega, with others such as Chardonnay, Muscat of Alexandria, Garnatxa (Blanc and Negre), Merlot, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir are peppered throughout.
While everything above explains the who, what, where, when and why of +500, it doesn’t really define it. This is because the definition is in the “how”. A farmers’ association in nothing new, but what makes +500 unique is how it charges each of its 25 members to take ownership and responsibility for its success. You don’t merely just sign up for membership and trust or hope everything works out, and the association will get you a good price for your crop. No, +500 keeps it’s members actively evolved. Members are required to log and report their weekly vineyard activities. This journal of sorts is then made public through the Association’s website (you can access it here at raim500.com). The information not only helps to track activity and progress, but also size the associations’s carbon footprint by measuring and monitoring CO2 emissions.
During our visit with Lluis and Kiko, the brothers stressed how important sustainable agriculture is to the success of their ambitions. The only way this can be truly achieved is through transparency and cooperation. Moreover, some of +500 growers have shifted to organic and even biodynamic farming practices. The goal is to ensure that the best possible fruit is being produced while respecting the terroir, to ensure the best market price for that fruit for years to come. At +500, the expectations are as high as the elevation, and they can’t afford one bad apple spoiling the bunch.
The view towards Tarragona from Selma
It has been a desire of +500 to not only grow grapes to sell to wine producers in DO Penedes, but to eventually produce their own wine. Last year, in collaboration with Josep Mitjans of Loxarel
, the Association was proud to present its first wine. El Nou De +500
is made from 100% Parellada Montonega, the white varietal that is synonymous with the region and a true representative of the terroir. This year, they anxiously await their first Parker rating. 2015 also marks the release of +500’s first red and sparkling wines, also in collaboration with Mitjans. Roig De +500
is a blend of organic Granatxa Negre and Merlot, while the ESCUMÓS +500 sparkling is 100% Granatxa Blanc. While production of all three is very modest for now, there are plans to increase production in the near future.
El Pla de Manlleu is a region rich in history
with ruins and ancient monuments nestled amongst its vineyards, plus castle ruins that date as far back as the late 10th century. These were once part of a series of strategically located strongholds used defend the area from Moorish attacks. The Castle of Selma, whose former occupants included the Knights Templar, sits surrounded by some of +500’s highest elevation plots at over 700m. The church bell tower still stands and it is the wish of the Figueras brothers to work with local government in finding a way to preserve it, and possibly restore the village.
With bloodlines tied to the area since the 14th century, it’s no surprise that Lluis and Kiko’s family property also has history. Speaking more specifically, there still stands el vell celler (the old cellar). Long since out of working order, with the last vintage produced in 1970, the cellar is well-preserved and still houses old wooden fermentation vats, the original press, and even an authentic mule operated stone wheel olive press. The brothers are working on a way to restore it to functional cellar while preserving as much of the original structure and machinery. Even the idea of a working museum is being entertained.
This grape press was used for up to 200 years, and you can see the repairs, additions, and evolution of the press that was in use up until 1970.
These historical elements are pieces of the puzzle the brothers are putting together to increase enotourism to El Pla de Manlleu. They are great compliments to the other offerings available including wine experiences with Nordic walking, rock climbing and repelling, and even a 5 day horse tour. The Figueras brothers have enotourism options available at hfdem.com, and have much folklore to share with visitors, including rumors of a solid gold bell buried somewhere in the countryside to save it from Moorish capture, or other rumors of Templar treasures lost to the sands of time in the many ruins.
By all measures +500 is a lofty and honorable mission and this mission, whatever the future holds, is being lead by the right people. With ties to the land that are root deep, the Figueras brothers hold the Association’s best interests to heart and possess the vision to help it flourish. If the wine is any indication, the future should be something wonderful to look forward to and makes +500 a Catalan wine player to watch develop.