España el Especial (Part 2: Boar Sausages and Kittens at Els Jelepins)
Meet Glòria Garriga. Agricultural engineer. Single mother. And winemaker extraordinaire. How she manages everything is anyone’s guess, but she seems to do it all with flying colours.
Gloria and some of her sun-dried grapes. They were delicious to munch on!
Whitney and I visited Glòria on one dark rainy night back in November. She was working and performing motherly pick-up/drop-off duties during the day but invited us for a tasting in the evening. We met her and her daughter Berta in the ‘centre’ (which comprised of a building and a road sign) of Font-Rubí, a town in Cava country (although Glòria does’t make bubbly) inland from Barcelona. 10 minutes and several very pot-holed dirt roads later, we arrived at Glòria’s home. Built in 2006, run completely off solar power, surrounded by her gardens and vineyards, and truly a work of art from floor to ceiling, Glòria’s house is the kind I dream about having someday. Because it’d been so gloomy, we were rationed to a single lightbulb above the dining room table, which just made it more atmospheric.
Under the light of the glowing bulb, we tasted and chatted with Glòria about the hardships of making natural wine without much help, about Catalan traditions, growing sustainable food, and about animals! A woman after my own heart, Glòria is an animal lover, and cannot turn away a stray cat or dog. This one was a fairly new arrival and wanted constant cuddles:
My heart melted.
At around 1, 080 bottles a year (though hoping to grow to a whole 2000 a year), Glòria makes minuscule quantities of wine out of her cellar aka her basement. She and her former partner used to work at the nearby Priorat winery Clos Mogador, which Whitney and I had visited the previous day (see post). After learning the more manipulated and formulaic yet classical Priorat approach at Mogador, they decided to make their own wine in a completely different way, with as minimal intervention as possible. They called their winery ‘Els Jelepins‘ (the spelling seems to be debatable) from a story invented by their daughter Berta. Their first vintage was in 2003 and was made out of her brother’s barn (the horses were kicked out!). The first few years money was extremely tight. Their wines were unlike any in the region and therefore were misunderstood and didn’t sell. But eventually members of the international wine world got whiff of these ‘natural’ wines made so differently to the big beasts produced by their Priorat neighbours, and now things are steadily improving.
Els Jelepins 'label'. All bottles are hand painted with a different symbol.
All of Els Jelepins wines are made with native yeasts, no temperature control, no fining or filtering, and only a teensy bit of sulphur added the moment before bottling. Open top barrel fermentation and some wax-lined amphorae are used along with lengthy ageing (the ’06 aged for 40 months!) in small old barrels. This is hands-off winemaking at its best. There’s even rumoured to be the occasional stem floating around in a few bottles!
During our tasting, Glòria opened three bottles for us (very generous considering how few she has left!), the ’03 (which she said had been likened to a Barolo), the ’04 (like a Bordeaux), and the ’06 (a Burgundy). Glòria is a big proponent of preserving the native grape Sumoll, which is rarely grown anymore because it seems that most people are scared of its high acidity. But Glòria has tamed the beast, for she makes wines with increasing quantities of Sumoll (at 90% currently, the other 10% being garnacha), and the high levels acidity are a big part of what gives her wines excellent ageing potential. In fact all three vintages were still babies in my opinion, and will grow to be some very sexy adults in about 10 or 20 years. Perhaps because I thought it was the most drinkable now, I liked the ’04, which did have Bordeaux-like qualities: that dusty red fruit, dried leaves, and slightly grilled veggies quality of an ageing right bank-er, and elegant soft tannins. Whitney liked the ’06, all yeasty black pepper and sour cherries with a mouth full of crunchy acidity, bursts of red fruits, and tannins which crept in at the tail end of the show and slowly grew to twice their original size, like those pint sized foam men who expand when soaked in water. But these wines were still uniquely Catalan. And while they were fabulous, I personally think Glòria’s best is yet to come.
While tasting we nibbled on homemade bread, freshly picked olives, and just-made boar sausages-the best I've ever had. (Gloria told us about all the wild boars in the woods and on the way home we nearly hit a giant one with our car!)
*Apparently Els Jelepins’ UK importer is Dynamic Vines. I couldn’t seem to find the wines on their list but I’m sure if you drop them an email they’ll be able organise a few bottles for you.