Can Rafols: achieving equilibrium to produce award winning wines
Sinisa had been raving to me about Can Rafols dels Caus for close to six months, saying the facility was “A class”, the enotourism experience one of the best, and the history of the estate goes back to Roman times. With the vineyard mere minutes away from Vilafranca del Penedes in the Garraf mountain region of Penedes, it was hard to say no to a visit. Let’s just say I’m glad I said yes.
So who is behind the Can Rafols winery project? In 1979, Carlos Esteva made the decision to move to the estate and begin his winemaking escapades. His grandfather had purchased from the Rafols family in 1930, and the Esteva family had spent much time estate through the years, but the property was in need of restoration. After acquiring the other family shares in the estate, Carlos set about restoring the property, planting vines, and living on the estate year round.
Can Rafols reflect Carlos philosophy which emphasises sustainable practices, listening to nature, and working with nature to produce the best quality expression of what his vines give him. To this end, Carlos spent much time researching what grape varietals would thrive in this particular mesoclimate in the Garraf, and while working with many indigenous grapes, surprised many by planting an Italian variety, Incroccio Manzoni, which is the sole varietal in their El Rocallis wine. His decision has been validated with the wine receiving 90+ ratings from Stephen Tanzer, Robert Parker, and the Penin Wine Guide, along with many other 90+ ratings for other wines they produce.
Our visit was conducted by David de Yzaguirre Melendres, area manager for the Caus Grup of wineries, who took us on a trip around several of the vineyards in their 50 hectares of land. David shared with us the fact Can Rafols works with 24 varieties, and places those varieties in small plots on the hills surrounding Can Rafols. David does admit that the labour involved with maintaining small plots over their 50 hectares is higher than other vineyards, but the end result justifies the extra work. After standing in La Calma (at the top of a hill opposite Can Rafols to the south) admiring the view, the tranquility, and the soil conditions, I completely agree with him.
David shared with us the history of the Can Rafols estate dates back in historical archives to 1478, but based upon archeological evidence, and also historical anecdotal evidence, the estate was previously used during Roman times as a stop on the Via Augusta, where pilgrims and travellers could stay the night, obtain water, or change horses as needed. It is one of four wineries which have such a history, and demonstrates Can Rafols strategic location over the years for not only agricultural, but other reasons as well, including military.
To prove this point, David took us to the village of Les Gunyoles, where a preserved Roman tower still stands to this day. He also shared with us they had found buried amphoras in the area, which had been used for ageing and preserving wines during Roman times.
While the history of the area and the beauty of the vineyards were fantastic, it was hardly the highlight of the journey. We headed back to the estate, where David walked us through the history of the masia, and showed us where they had been making wine until Carlos made the decision to build a new, state-of-the-art facility on the grounds. Now this isn’t your typical western style of “let’s just build a big square concrete building in the middle of a vineyard” construction, no, Carlos continued with his theme of working with nature. He build the winery underneath the masia, incorporating it into the rock on one side, and tiering the levels with the hillside facing the western flank of the property.
First, let’s just say that when someone tells me a location should be in a Hollywood movie, as a big movie fan and video maker, I’m usually skeptical. Second, let’s just say that the new winery at Can Rafols dels Caus exceeds the hype and should be an evil lair for the next James Bond villain. With the concave entrance punctuated by a 40 cm thick stone door which splits and opens via hydraulics, to a semi-circle style concrete roof suspended above a two story winery, over which we walked via catwalk. Sinisa said he could see Bond gunning a motorcycle through the stone entrance doors, on the cat walk, and leap down into the barrel room, which is at the end of the 300 metre catwalk. He’s right.
The new barrel room as alluded to just above, is at the end of the winery complex, and framed on two thirds by solid stone from which the winery was carved. The entranceway is framed by two stories of glass. And just when I thought that was it, we walked out of the barrel room, down a stairway, and into a lower level of what was over 1500 square metres of space for a bottle lining and wine storage area. All in all, I think Ernst Stavro Blofeld would have been jealous of this facility.
Yet, we’re still not finished. The new winery complex also boasts a dining area for up to 110 guests, state of the art kitchen, and a terrace with beautiful western facing views towards Les Gunyoles of vineyards and hills. David shared with us the area outside the grass will have vineyards planted this year, adding another element to the already amazing view.
Outside of the new facility, Can Rafols still has the original masia, where the offices, another kitchen, visitor area, and a beautiful tasting room are located. There, we enjoyed several wines, including the aforementioned El Rocallis. Fantastic wines. Truly fantastic.
Can Rafols hosts tours on a daily basis beginning at 1:30 pm. It’s our recommendation to call ahead and book your tour. You can also incorporate a day long tour of Penedes, which includes Can Rafols, through catalunyawine.com with Beyond Sitges, and also with Sinisa of Sweet Easy Wine Tours, who brought us to Can Rafols. There is also a cottage which you can rent at Can Rafols for weekends, week(s), or even an entire season if you desire. Plus, Can Rafols has hosted corporate events at the facility.
If you’re looking for a top tour at a top location, with top wines, and within 35 minutes of Barcelona, Can Rafols provides an all encompassing and complete enotourism experience. We highly recommend a visit.
Tim Brown (aka Timmer on social media) has been involved in marketing for over 20 years and a wine enthusiast since his first exposure to Duck Pond Winery in Newberg, Oregon, back in 1995. After coming to Europe in 2012, he made his home in Catalunya in 2013 and became enchanted with the wines and winemakers of the region. Now he shares his experiences so international visitors can enjoy the region’s wines, while continuing his work in the marketing world. Sommeliering and wine snobbery isn´t his thing, and he continues to learn more about wine from a Catalan perspective on a daily basis.