There are few viticultural regions as dramatic, wild, and diverse as Ribeira Sacra. Just seeing the steep, nearly vertical slopes […]Keep Reading
There are few viticultural regions as dramatic, wild, and diverse as Ribeira Sacra. Just seeing the steep, nearly vertical slopes and the centuries-old terrace walls rise above you (or dizzyingly below you!), you cannot help but feel that there are great wines in the very DNA of this landscape. Now entering its second generation of talent, Ribeira Sacra is currently one of the most talked-about places in the wine world, not only for its scenery but for affordable, refreshing, and complex wines made from indigenous varieties like Mencia (a sleek expression than in Bierzo), Mouranton, Garnacha Tintorera (widely planted after phylloxera), Bastardo (a.k.a. Trousseau), Grao Negro, Sousón, Godello, Doña Blanca, Palomino… ok, not household names now, but they should be.
Dominated by a network of canyons carved by the Miño and Sil, Ribeira Sacra is a wild and beautiful place to make wine. Fortunately, many of these tortuously steep hillsides had been terraced by the engineering-mad Romans. It may have been hard work to farm these slopes – in fact, it still is – but agriculture and, more importantly, viticulture thrives in this area. As a boundary between the cool, rainy Atlantic coast and Spain’s hot, dry interior, Ribeira Sacra is temperate with a relatively long growing season. The main threat to viticulture is the storms that blow in from the Atlantic, bringing plenty of rain and wind.
But the terroir of Ribeira Sacra is not as ancient as you might think. What little flat land that may have once existed here was submerged with the damming of the Sil and Miño well over 50 years ago. During that time, Spain was also experiencing a mass migration from rural areas into cities. In Ribeira Sacra, only the warmest and driest vineyards remained cultivated – those with southern and western exposures. However, as the valleys became lakes, the microclimate gradually changed. Morning fogs became more common, nighttime temperatures increased, and the amount of light reflecting off the water made the formerly “best” spots just a little too warm for the region’s indigenous varieties. As a result, in the last decade, several young growers started looking to those long abandoned, unrecognized, and under-appreciated sites: north- or east-facing, randomly planted, challenging to farm, and difficult to reach.
Fedellos do Couto was created in 2011 when Curro Barreño and Jesús Olivares partnered with Luis Taboada. Bareño and Olivares were the talented team behind Ronsel do Sil, one of the most heralded estates in Ribeira Sacra. Both began their careers in the Sierra de Gredos, and they remain close friends with Dani Landi, Fernando Garcia, and Marc Isart. This association is evident in their wines: elegant and nuanced but persistent and assertive.
Originally Fedellos do Couto was focused on the vineyards of the Val do Sil and Val do Bibei but as they sought out additional vineyard sites, Curro and Jesús came to recognize that the viticultural heritage of the Bibei valley was far more worthy of exploration than the already well-established Val do Sil. Val do Bibei is a remote part of Galicia that forms the boundary between Valdeorras and Ribeira Sacra. It is a narrow, forrested and steep valley that recalls what this area was like before so many mountain streams were damed. Because this subzone of Ribeira Sacra was largely abandoned and overlooked, Jesús and Curro began to acquire vineyards here thereby shifting their focus from the Val do Sil to the Val do Bibei. Their journey up the Val do Bibei led to the creation of Peixes, which by 2021 seemed to not really be a side project so much as a continuation of the work they started with Fedellos.
Leaving the DOs of Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras and heading south into the uplands scattered vineyards can be found on steep terraced hillsides surrounded by hardwoods and pines. These are ancient vineyards that were carved into the remote hillsides centuries ago and now nearly abandoned. Many enologists would view these vineyards as a nightmare – a diverse array of mixed varieties, side-by-side, white and red. Conventional thinking would find these sites suitable for only making rustic peasant wines but certainly not fines wine. Luckily for us, Jesús and Curro have never done anything easy or expected. Thus Peixes range was born. Despite bearing the lowly, generic designation of Vino de España, these wines cannot be understood as anything other than minutely rendered snapshots of terruño. The Peixes range is sourced from 6 hectares of vines scattered among the villages that form the watershed of the Bibei – Viana do Bolo, Fornelos de Filloás, Santa Marina de Froixais, Grixoa, Buxán, and Punxeiro and an additional parcel in the Val do Sil of Valdeorras. Their vineyard parcels share several common features – high elevation, indigenous varieties, and sandy granitic soils.
Recently Jesús and Curro have parted ways with Luis to focus on their vineyards in the Val do Bibei. Since they had previously left the DO Ribeira Sacra due to their wines being deemed atypical by the tasting pannel they have also merged their side project Peixes with Fedellos do Couto to become just Fedellos. They have also settled in Seadur where they have their ancient stone cut cellar. Yes it is in Valdeorras but really when it comes to coloring brilliantly outside the lines, no one quite compares to Jesús & Curro. The winemaking at Fedellos remains minimalist: native co-fermentations, long, gentle macerations in concrete, neutral French oak barrels, or small fermentation bins with aging in concrete and/or various neutral French oak barrels and foudres, but mainly 500L demi-muids. Regardless of what is on the outside of the bottles, their dedication to site-specific expression and minimalist winemaking guarantees that what is on the inside are some of the most revealing and exciting wines in our portfolio.