Albet i Noya: A Leader in Natural Winemaking

AlbetINoya1“Natural wine” has been the hot topic of the new millennium in the world of wine, and at the forefront of that movement in Spain is Albet I Noya.

While the origins of viticulture at Can Vendrell go back to the Middle Ages, it was not until 1903 that the Albet family established itself at the estate.

According to the winery’s website, Joan Albet i Rovirosa came to Can Vendrell to oversee the replanting of the estate after the phylloxera plague that gripped the wine world, including the vineyards of Spain. This process involved planting American rootstock and grafting the desired variety onto that rootstock.

After replanting the vineyards, he stayed on as manager of the 210-hectare estate, of which 90 hectares were devoted to grapevines.

It was the fourth and current generation, Josep Maria Albet i Noya, that introduced organic farming methods to the vineyards. Josep Maria took over the management of the estate after his father’s death in 1972, and at the end of the ’70s started producing his first organic wines. With the success of his first wine produced specifically for the Danish market, the entire estate was gradually moved over to organic farming.

In 1998, an ambitious project was undertaken to test seven ancient grape varieties, from the point of view of vineyard management as well as winemaking potential.

The grape varieties have been recovered from old and abandoned vineyards, including one found on the Albet i Noya estate. The search for old varieties has been so successful that the family has planned a second phase of the project with seven more varieties.

“We believe some of these varieties date from before the phylloxera plague,” a family spokesperson says. “When phylloxera hit Europe’s vineyards, the price of grapes and wine in the Penedès went sky high. As a result, a lot of the less productive varieties were abandoned in favor of higher yielding ones.

“In the Penedès, we believe there were some 30 varieties more than are currently cultivated. We now know that often these lower yielding plants produce more concentrated fruit, so these could be excellent candidates for winemaking.”

Once the seven varieties (four whites and three reds) were selected, 500 vines of each were grafted — 250 with vigorous rootstock (Richter 110) and the other half with a less vigorous strain (41-B). The idea was to pick and vinify each strain separately.

The wines are being made in a small cellar, specifically designed for micro-vinifications with 500-liter tanks, and all the technological advances of Albet i Noya’s main cellar. With feedback from other winemakers and critics, and its own internal data, it’s decided which varieties have the potential to be planted more extensively to produce wine on a commercial scale.

It’s a project that has attracted the attention of grape growers and winemakers worldwide.

AlbetINoya2Of the 145 hectares that Albet i Noya controls, 80.5 are given over exclusively to the cultivation of vines. The estate vines cover the western slopes of the Ordal mountain range known as “Costers d’Ordal,” following the curves of the terrain in stepped terraces or on slopes exposed to the midday sun.

As in all good wine-growing land, the soil in Can Vendrell has low organic content, with a variable content of clay and sand on a bed of calcareous stone — a permeable base with good moisture retention.

The white varieties grown are Chardonnay, Macabeu, Xarello, Parellada, Moscatell, Viogner, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Garnatxa Blanca and four experimental varieties. The red varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Merlot, Syrah, Garnacha, Pinot Noir and six experimental varieties.

The Can Vendrell cellar was built in 1925 and houses the principal vinification processes. The Xapallà cellar next door was finished in August 2004 and houses the temperature-controlled warehouse, the barrel hall and a new bottling plant. The new gravity-based l’Era cellar was opened in 2010 to produce the estate’s top wines separately.

As defined in Spain, organic winemaking requires estates to maintain a level of hygiene far superior to that of a conventional cellar. By working only with grapes in optimum sanitary conditions, Albet i Noya is able to work largely without using SO2. Natural yeasts from the Albet i Noya vineyards, selected from the Xarello variety, are utilized.

The fermenting vats have an inert gas system (a mix of nitrogen and CO2) to prevent potential alterations in the wine. Again, the emphasis is on prevention rather than cure; as the wine cannot be chemically corrected, the hygiene of the cellar is key to avoiding disappointments.

It all adds up to great-tasting wines made naturally — something you’d expect from Spain’s leader in natural wines and experimental vineyards.

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Posted in Wine and the Environment
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