My son Rubén and I have been specialist importers since 2016, when we set up L’altre Vi, or “the other wine”.
We have roots in the Penedès region and wanted to share the beautiful wines we knew so well, and pass on our enthusiasm for a little corner of the world which isn’t so well known in the UK. There’s nothing stuffy about wine in Catalonia and we don’t think it matters whether or not you “know anything about wine” to be able to enjoy it. We just want others to enjoy “el vi català” as much as we do.
Our family come from Vilafranca del Penedès, where wine is pretty impossible to miss as there are vineyards as far as the eye can see. Even the local museum is a “Vinseum” dedicated to the culture and craft of winemaking. Although not as well-known as other regions like Rioja, Catalonia has a very respectable 2,500-year tradition of winemaking and was even sending off amphorae to eager customers in Britain before the Romans arrived.
The Penedès is the epicentre of cava production and over 95% comes from Catalonia. However, sparkling wine isn’t the only style made, with reds, whites, rosé and orange wines all being produced up and down the region. Catalonia is one of the most dynamic and innovative winemaking regions of Spain. There are more hectares of vines under organic cultivation in Catalonia than anywhere in southern Europe and constant work is being done to bring back long-lost varieties, develop new styles and adapt practices in response to climate change.
We currently work with ten small to tiny wineries. They’re all family farms which make wine from their own grapes and, in many cases, also produce other crops such as olives, fruit and vegetables. Many of the families have been farming in the same spot for hundreds of years and are proud to be keeping up or returning to their traditions.
In many cases, the younger members of the families have studied oenology at uni and come back intrigued by the possibilities in those gnarly old vines that grandma planted and no-one had given much thought to for thirty years. They’re all united by a desire to protect the land and restore biodiversity in an otherwise sterile world of grape monoculture.
We import organic wines as a minimum, but some of the winemakers go much further – using biodynamic practices or minimal intervention techniques to make wines which contain nothing but grape juice, have been fermented using yeasts which occur naturally on the skins, and which haven’t been filtered or fined, just clarified by letting the sediment sink to the bottom of the tank (or barrel, or amphora).
Back in the UK, we sell to independent restaurants around the country; although varied in terms of menus they all share our commitment to seasonality and sustainability. Here in Oxford, you can find Catalan biodynamic cava (and fabulous food) at No 1 Ship Street.
We also have had a lot of fun going to fairs and festivals and are currently planning for the Cheltenham Wine Festival in April. More locally you can meet us at the monthly market held by The Oxford Artisan Distillery in Headington or in September when we’ll be back at the Oxford Wine Festival – always a marvellous opportunity to try out new and unfamiliar wines, not just of the Catalan variety. We look forward to meeting you!
Salut i vi (good health and wine)!