If you are familiar with the wines of Abadía Retuerta, this headline will be rather surprising because our range is much smaller. But today we want to explain to you all the research that we undertake in each new vintage: this essential piece of R+D helps us to better understand how our grapes behave and provides us with helpful new information to continue improving the wines that reach your tables.
“From the very early days of the winery and, especially since we began to collect data, we observed significant variations in vintages and the threat of climate change”, explains our winemaker Ángel Anocíbar.
Every year, wineries need to be ready to face a thousand and one uncontrollable challenges such as drought, frost, torrential rain, heatwaves, hail, changes in the plant cycle…
At Abadía Retuerta we have an ongoing research programme which, among other aspects, evaluates which varieties are best adapted to our estate in a context of climate change, how we react to the new trends and styles demanded by the market, or our efforts to offset the capricious nature of the extreme and often unpredictable weather of the Duero Valley. Some of these experiences or findings, those that we consider of interest to wine enthusiasts, are released in a limited range, called Winemaker’s Collection, of which we have already written in the blog.
What’s Angel Anocíbar up to this year? No fewer than 17 different wines. All of them are produced in the same way: Made with their own yeasts, the wines are fermented in open barrels (two barrels for each trial) and a gentle pumping over is carried out. It is a fairly demanding procedure, but our winemaker argues that “it provides very valuable information because vintage patterns are repeated”. The list includes:
Trials with different varieties. These have been going on for 15 years. There are already 23 types on the estate with Pinot Noir being the last to join. Among Anocíbar’s favourites are Graciano, a late-ripening variety that he believes can work very well in the Duero, and Malbec, which is also authorised in the DO Ribera del Duero and in VT Castilla y León. “These varieties rein in alcohol and retain the fruit”, he points out. And a little secret: “Merlot used to be an early variety but it started to adapt very well in the last four years, ripening later and producing higher quality wines”.
Sulphur-free wines. They have been produced for over five years and with different varieties: Syrah, Cabernet or Tempranillo (of the latter there is a trial with two years in barrel). “You could’t tell that the Syrah is a natural wine”, says Ángel. They have tested its ageing and evolution in the bottle, even subjecting the wines to high temperatures. This experience would make it possible to make wines without added sulphur if this is deemed to be an important market demand at some point.
Harvesting ten days before the regular date. Given the current trends towards freshness and less alcohol, this practice helps us to determine the outcome of the different vintages if grapes had been picked earlier. The goal: to assess whether it is advisable to wait and whether some dehydration phases can be avoided in the search for the perfect maturity of the skins.
Working with stems. It is another market trend, closely connected, for example, to Garnacha from Gredos, or to the new wines of Bierzo, Galicia and Priorat. It basically involves fermenting with the stems, in other words, without removing the woody part of the bunch. At Abadía Retuerta, we compare wines made with and without stems in early and ripe vintages. It also helps us to know what to do when grapes fail to mature evenly in particularly cold years.
Soil comparison. This is a particularly interesting job. It consists of conducting essentially identical vinifications whose only variable is the origin of the grape in the three main types of soil found on the estate: sand, clay and loess. The results are used to train sommeliers at the Academia del Terruño (Terroir Academy).
For the first time this year, musts were devatted before the end of alcoholic fermentation —devatting means removing skins that are in contact with the wine. This technique may help to avoid green tannins when skins have not ripened well.
We couldn’t resist asking Angel what is his weirdest experiment so far. “The harvests to make ice wine [ice wine is made from grapes left to freeze on the plant] or Sauternes-style wines [with noble rot] with Tempranillo; both are usually made with white wine”, he replies without hesitation.
At present, the winery’s regular range has benefitted from the trials with harvest dates. “Now we are bringing harvest dates forward and trying to make wines with less alcohol but always able of ageing well”, says Anocíbar.