For the past four months I’ve been working on a documentary tentatively titled “The Grapes of Catalunya”, documenting the activities of four Catalan vineyards, Sao del Coster, Terra Remota, Cooperativa Garriguella and Torre del Veguer. It’s been an eye-opening experience to see some of the obstacles Catalan vineyards have to overcome in order to sell and market their wines. One of the common obstacles is the fact it’s easier for Catalan vineyards to sell their wines internationally than it is to sell them in Madrid.
This was the first time I’d returned to Madrid since starting the CatalunyaWine.com project, and the documentary. After being immersed in Catalan wine culture for almost a year, how would I view the return to Madrid, with a self-professed bias towards the wines I love to promote?
First things first. Let’s talk about Roca Madre. Initiated by Guillermo Fernandez Santos, winemaker at Maldivinas in the Cebreros region of Spain, Roca Madre is a group of likeminded winemakers who have banded together to attend events and promote their wines. Sometimes the larger international events can be price-prohibitive for small winemakers with small production. Guillermo saw an opportunity to work around this, by creating the collective.
The winemakers of Roca Madre are producing incredible wines; what is truly revolutionary is the passion and the attitude these winemakers share, from diverse regions of Spain, has evolved independent of each other. The evolution is most likely a statement of the times the country has endured, and the grassroots changes occurring in every region.
Speaking of changes, there are those in the wine business who are more concerned about sharing great wine and great conversation than worrying about the politics between Barcelona and Madrid. This doesn’t come without a price tag, as I witnessed at Lavinia. Lavinia has arguably one of the best cross-sections of Catalan still and sparkling wines (just don’t tell Josep Maria Albet i Noya his Classic Penedes sparklings are marketed at the store as “cava”), and their head of research and product development, Marie-Louise Banyols is an unabashed Catalan wine fan. She feels the wines of the Priorat are some of the best in the world, and is watching the evolution of Emporda wines with much interest.
Yet, there is a Sword of Damocles Lavinia must respect and fear. Their location does put them in one of the most conservative areas of Madrid, and I think I spied several Party Popular members shopping in Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana, which are close by to Lavinia. While the names of Rioja, Ribero del Duero and other Spanish wine regions line the walls, there is nary a mention of Catalunya anywhere in the marketing.
Instead, there’s one word combining several regions located in and around Catalunya:
Yes, instead of marketing Catalan wines as their own, Lavinia has chosen to market wines stretching from Valencia to the French border as one collective group. Impressively, it occupies a very large and prominent region of the store. Juan Manuel Bellver, director of Lavinia Espana, answered my question directly and delicately about this, by stating there is a challenge marketing Catalan wines in Madrid. His wish is one day the conversation would move towards wine rather than politics. Wine is wine, no matter where it comes from, be it South Africa, France, Italy, the United States, or any region of Spain.
He’s right. Unfortunately, there are those who still hold, dare I say, regional biases which preclude their desire to try something new from somewhere which showed its resistance to a certain dictator who took control of Madrid during the Spanish Civil War. The prejudice Catalans have been subjected to is well-documented.
However this attitude seems to be mainly confined to particular segment of Madrid, and by and large, a specific political and demographic group Spain-wide. As the tasting demonstrated that night, much to the satisfaction of the winemakers and Juan Manuel. No one refused to drink the wines of Sao del Coster or Clos Lentiscus, the two Catalan members of Roca Madre, and frankly every person who was at the event came for the wine. There was not a negative comment about any of the wines, and all the attendees I spoke to enjoyed being exposed to winemakers they traditionally may not try.
Juan Manuel and his team at Lavinia truly put on a spectacular event, well received by all, and the Roca Madre group was thrilled with the exposure and the results. I would also say speaking to the attendees at the event, and sharing in the camaraderie of the eclectic group of winemakers, gave me hope for Spain. It gave me hope that no matter what the political class attempts to do, people will transcend systemic cultural bias, because after all, we’re all the same. Wine lovers are wine lovers.
After my experience at Lavinia, I’ll be back there every time I’m in Madrid, and you should too.
Follow the adventures of the Roca Madre group on twitter with the hashtag #RocaMadre. Don’t expect a formal website or marketing campaign anytime soon. That’s somewhat against their guiding principles. 😉