After interviewing and filming over 50 winemakers in 14 months, you would think I’ve seen at all, but then here I was at Pares Balta, and proven completely wrong. You see, in the wine business you have husbands and wives working together, brothers working together, parents and children working together, but at Pares Balta, not only do you have two brothers with a lifetime in wine together, but their wives are the winemakers for the winery.
The Cusine family’s history goes back to 1790, when the first vines were planted around the existing winery building. Today, brothers Joan and Josep Cusine run the operation as they have since they took over from their father, Joan, in 2000. But not only do they have the dynamic of siblings working every day together, but the men took their passion for wine one step further with each marrying an oenologist. Josep married Marta Casas and Joan married Maria Elena Jimenez.
What has followed since the arrival of the foursome is a family passion for producing organic and biodynamic wines coming from lands which they tend. Pares Balta has a special affinity for the Catalan native variety of Garnatxa, and their Garnaxta extends from lands at sea level, all the way to 700 metres above the winery at Pares Balta. Their affinity gives way to an amazing harmony amongst the foursome Zoltan and I witnessed during our visit.
While many Catalan wineries follow organic and biodynamic processes, many haven’t followed through with the certification process to provide consumers with the comfort that those processes are adhered to one hundred percent. Joan and Josep pride themselves on the fact that they not only are certified organic, but they have been certified biodynamic by the Demeter Biodynamic Trade Association.
Their emphasis on biodynamic principles is not about generating a marketing plan, or to increase revenues, but it’s because the family believes in living in harmony with what nature provides. Marta shared with us on our tour of the vineyards that they don’t alter the natural makeup up of the plant life which surrounds the vines. Some may have rosemary, others may have fennel, some may be surrounded by forests of pine, and some may have foxes running through. They leave nature to be what it should be. In fact, they even go so far as to have their own flock of sheep which “cares” for the vines after harvest, providing a natural fertilizer for the vines after they’ve given to Pares Balta their stock for the year.
We took a tour of several vineyards outside of the main winery vineyard, including an excursion to a unique piece of archaeological history in the Foix mountains just outside of Pacs del Penedes. The Cusine family had discovered an ancient kiln oven built into the earth during 300 BC which was used to make amphoras for storing and transporting wines and grain. Over the years, farmers had used the stones from the kiln built into the earth to create terraces on the land. Pares Balta is working with archeologists to discover more of the history of the area, and so far they’ve found shards of pottery dating back to the time of its first use.
Inspired by this discovery, Pares Balta make a natural wine using old Xarel·lo vines and fermenting them in clay amphoras. The wine is aptly called Amphora, and is made from the grapes harvested from their Finca Hisenda Miret vineyard, which is at 325 metres elevation.
We were treated to a trip to the Santuari del Santa Maria de Foix, which has one of the most stunning views of Pacs del Penedes, Vilanova i la Geltru, and on a clear day, you can see the Mediterranean. There, Marta and Josep shared with us their Indigena line of wines, three expressions of Garnatxa white, red, and rosé. All three come from red and white grapes at their Finca Les Torres vineyard, just a little above the Santuari. All three? Brilliant. Adding the fact we were having the wines close to the vineyard and with an incredible view just may have enhanced the tasting. A little.
Not only do Pares Balta make great still wines, but they also produce seven varieties of cava. Joan took us on a tour of their ageing room below the winery, which fans out in four directions 20 meters underground. There, they have over 300.000 bottles ageing meticulously for future enjoyment. As a unabashed Garnatxista, my favourite was certainly Rosa Cusine, made from Garnatxa from the same vineyard as their line of Indigena wines.
What struck me the most about Pares Balta was the fact they are one of the few family-owned and run wineries who have figured out how to share their passion with the public. Pares Balta has made the commitment and hired the staff to give a quality experience to those who come visit. And if they’re extra busy, you’ll find Joan and Josep giving tours themselves, as they were they day we went.
They are open seven days a week for tours, and offer regular tours from 9:30 until 6:30 and only closed on bank holidays. If you book ahead, they can even create a custom tour which takes you around the vineyards to some of the spots they toured us.
Two women winemakers who are sisters-in-law and two brothers who work side-by-side up to 12 hours a day can be a challenge, but if you judge Pares Balta by the end result, you can definitely see that they are able to put aside any challenges to create not only highly rated and incredible wines, but a dynamically interesting tour for those who choose to visit.
Josep, Joan, Marta, and Elena can certainly count on me not only making their wines a regular part of my personal cellar, but I will definitely be back for visits with my own family. Maybe next time I’ll bring the swimming trunks to take a dip in the beautiful natural pool at the base of the Foix mountains beside one of their vineyards. Marta insists the water is amazing.