Catalunya is a beautiful part of the world. Hemmed in by the majestic Pyrenees Mountains and the deep, blue Mediterranean sea and home to some of Spain's most sought after wines, it's easy to see how we've fallen in love with the region. Yet, there are always producers that stand out. Wineries that have a particularly deep connection to their history, what they do and why they do it. Often these are producers that aren't particularly well known in international circles, yet are hoarded by those with local knowledge. Today we'd like to share the story of one of these producers with you; a family ran estate with ties to the Penedes region since 1359. If you visit a single producer during your time in Catalunya, make sure you visit Torre del Veguer.
The history of the estate dates all the way back to 1359, when it was first created by the monastic orders of the time. With cooling sea breezes drifting in from the sea barely 4km away, yet still sun-kissed and verdant, what better place to set up a monastery and begin building a community? Clearly the lords and ladies of the land felt similarly, with the land passed between different powerful families over the centuries, falling finally to Juan Soler Ferrer-Vidal in 1895, whose family still runs the estate to this day. That sense of family pervades everything at Torre del Vegeur. From their investment in bringing old-fashioned fermentation techniques back to life, converting completely to organic viticulture or even their beautiful wines labels, inspired by a close family friend; Salvador Dali. We were very fortunate to discover all this through the eyes of Joaquin Gay, the export manager for Torre del Veguer and direct descendant of Juan Soler Ferrer-Vidal.
Being shown around the estate by someone who knows it inside and out is always a pleasure, but Joaquin hasn't inherited his position at Torre del Veguer; he's earnt it. Before taking on his current responsibilities Joaquin studied both industrial engineering and obtained a masters degree in enology, viticulture and wine-marketing. As a result he's able to look at the estate both as a young man who's grown up here but also as a wine professional with a global perspective.
This combination of energy and forward thinking, yet with respect for traditions became clear as we walked around the estate. Whilst the Tower of Veguer is the historical symbol here, the recent investment into their winery and vineyards is key to their success as a fine wine producer, and takes pride of place for Joaquin. The winery was completely upgraded in 1995, without changing any of the historical buildings in place, allowing separate vinifications of their plots of indigenous varieties in temperature controlled conditions. Yet at the same time, Joaquin looked to the past and in particular, the renovation of a medieval stone fermentation tank, originally built in the 15th century by monks living on the estate. By reviving this piece of history, the story of Torre del Veguer can be told in a completely different way.
Then of course, arguably most importantly of all, are the vineyards. As the famous saying goes 'Great wine can't be made without great grapes'. Torre del Veguer have embraced this philosophy entirely and since 2016, the entire estate can now be certified as organic vineyards; no mean feat! Gently sloping down towards the sea, these green and verdant vines plant their roots in limestone, the celebrated soil of regions such as Champagne, Barolo and Burgundy. Whilst international varieties thrive here, the clearest expressions come from the native varieties such as Malvasia de Sitges, Xarel.lo, Garnacha and Sumoll. With more work than ever before now being poured into these vineyards, the future is very bright indeed!
With all of the attention to detail going into the production here, you'll be unsurprised to learn that the wines are of a very high quality indeed. Even better than that, though, they speak clearly of their origins, something sought by wine-makers across the world. Whether it's a modern blend of international varieties, a crisp, cool Xarel.lo or even one of their 'experimental' wines, you're sure of an utterly Mediterranean experience. Whilst there's 12 unique wines to choose from, we've picked out three of our favourites for you:
Malvasia de Sitges
Malvasia de Sitges is a remarkable grape variety, transported from Greece to Catalunya in the 14th century by mercenaries returning from years of bitter war at Constantinople. It survived a very close call with extinction and even today, you can only find it in very small plots dotted around DO Penedes. Torre del Veguer have a small plot within eyesight of the winery itself, vinified into a dry, remarkably characteristic white wine. There's no oak usage so that the delicate, alluring scent of the grape isn't obscured and the wine spends 3-4 months on its fine lees to pick up some texture and weight. A fresh, floral and citric white wine with a smell that just makes you want to sit down, watch the world go by and enjoy the whole bottle. At 11.8% alcohol, you probably could! We'd ideally sip it chilled on the beach, as a pairing to some barbecued Gambas. Heaven.
Jeronimus is a special red wine. A mixture of the old and the new, made from both Spanish and French grapes and fermented in the rescued stone tank that dates back almost 700 years. Garnacha and Syrah are perfect partners in crime, coming together over time to create something quite unique. A spicy, dark wine full of blackberries, dark cherries, pepper and sweet spices from 6 months in new French oak. It has the rustic edge that Joaquin was looking to rediscover, similar to wines of ages past, and I can only imagine how perfectly it would go with a dish of roasted lamb, vegetables and rosemary.
Raims de la Immortalitat
I know, I know – another red wine. Another special one, though, and one that you should absolutely try if you get the chance. Raims de la Immortalitat literally translates to “Grapes of Immortality” and the label is adorned with a remake of Salvador Dali's famous painting of the same name, in tribute to the great man and family friend. The oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines of the estate are blended with a little Petite Syrah and Merlot to create their own Bordeaux blend. Structured and elegant, with only a hint of licorice and pepper spice betraying its Mediterranean origins, this is a wine to cellar and enjoy over the years to come. At 13% alcohol this wouldn't be out of place at a Thanksgiving Dinner or even a weekend roast, although I would love to see it paired with slow-roasted beef and thick, crunchy bread. Delicious!
World famous art isn't perhaps what you'd expect to come across during a typical winery visit, but Torre del Veguer isn't your typical winery! Joaquin's great-uncle was fast friends with Salvador Dali and indeed, he spent a lot of time on the estate during their friendship. There's an entire room dedicated to the memory of Dali, which includes some of his original work, which you can visit should you make the journey. Small nods to Dali's work are to be found all across the winery, from the label of their flagship wine 'Raims de la Immortalitat' to original letters written to the family from Dali, framed and kept with pride. It isn't often that you can interact with original art in such a way, free from the crowds of museums and over-protective security guards. A little secret that makes visiting Torre del Veguer more than just a trip to a winery!
“A real connoisseur does not drink wine but tastes of its secrets.” Salvador Dalí, The Wines of Gala