Vintae is a medium-sized Spanish wine producer that has hidden behind its 12 wine brands, and is now seeking a public face – starting with an impressive range of light-style Garnachas. Formed in 1999 and now producing over six million bottles of wine a year with wines made with 24 varietals in 15 areas of Spain, we caught up with their CEO and head winemaker to find out how they achieve stand-out and why they are emulating the beer industry in look and feel.
You’ll recognise some of their wine brands like Matsu, Libalis and Guerrilla but it is with their exciting Garnachas project that Vintae wants to come out of the shadows and prove that the varietal can be the “Pinot Noir of the South”.
If you look at the website of Spanish wine producer Vintae you can’t help but be impressed with how different they are.
For a start, the website plays a video montage that looks like a cross between Friends and The Banana Splits, as our winemakers spray each other with wine, throw empty barrels, generally mug for the camera and look uber-cool.
The style is like a Budweiser commercial – here have a watch and see what I mean.
On the website, the black and white imagery, consistent typeface, use of imagery and navigation make Vintae look like an innovative Fast-moving Consumer Goods brand – a beer or spirits perhaps but not a Spanish wine company. They have even been mistaken for a design company.
And what’s this? Clear evidence of a wine brand engaged with social media? Whooaaa! Hang on a second.
“We envy the beer industry,” CEO Ricardo Arrambari explains, “It’s cool. Beer brands have managed to communicate the concept of craft much better than wine has and yet wine is all about craft.”
“As for digital media, I think this is key to the wine business. At the end of the day once you have made the wine you have to communicate this to the end consumer and the only way to tell that story is through the label, online and social media… and we have a lot of stories to tell.”
Learning how to harness in-house talent
Apart from active social media channels, Vintae also has an online TV channel that explains concepts like Malolactic Fermentation.
If you look here you will find a 40 minute film that winemaker Raúl Acha made that lays out why the company has pinned so much of its mission statement on re-discovering Garnacha as a key varietal in the company’s canon.
This (long) film is fascinating in subject matter but also because it was all done in-house – other wine producers take note.
The film’s style makes it look like a professional multi-camera documentary but is all the work of one tech-savvy employee using Go-Pro (it is seven years old). All the design and creative direction is done in-house too by Arrambari’s brother.
Although Vintae’s styling looks young and trendy, Arrambari eschews the concept of ‘young’ in a demographic sense but more like ‘cool’ and ‘innovative’. ‘Natch.
“Innovative in the wine world is all about going back to the roots. Biodynamic and organic wine-making, for example, might be seen as innovative but it is really all about going back to what our grandfathers were doing.”
“With the Garnacha wines that we are making that is also going back to our roots because 80% of the grapes grown in Rioja until the 1970s was Garnacha and not Tempranillo.”
The thing these guys have about Garnacha
Garnacha makes up less than 10% of the six million bottles of wine a year they make but Vintae has chosen it as the ‘mast to nail their colours to’ because they are self-proclaimed ‘Garnachistas’, and Garnacha is from Rioja where they are from and where the company is based.
In fact, not so long ago Garnacha was the main grape in Rioja, being the grape commonly planted after Pholoxera, although the tables were turned in favour of Tempranillo in the 1970s when the trend for darker wine became fashionable and it was discovered how difficult and uneconomical Garnacha could be to grow.
Given that some clones turned out mediocre wine and the varietal got tarred with this brush meant that soon Garnacha vines were being torn up in favour of Tempranillo.
The success of the West Coast ‘Rhone Rangers’ who ‘re-dicovered’ Grenache in California and the growing popularity of Garnacha in Priorat meant that slowly the tide has been turning in favour of Garnacha.
In remote parts of Spain, in regions like Aragon, however, the vines had been abandoned and would have disappeared if it wasn’t for the likes of Acha and the team at Vintae who have been actively searching and tracking down old vine Garnacha and buying up or renting vineyards.
Acha, with his 6-strong winemaking team, have an overriding style mission which is to make fresh Garnacha
“We want to prove that elegant wines can be made all over Spain.” he says.
And they want to show that Garnacha can be like ‘the Pinot Noir of the South’.
So enough of all this… how are the wines tasting?
The result of this goal is a series of Garnachas made in a variety of areas of Spain under the sub-brand called Projecto Garnachas de Espana.
Some of the wines are available in the UK, some not and others seem to be made just for the hell of it – for example an ice wine that is virtually impossible to make (only twice in the last seven years) and a handmade family reserve of which they make just 1500 bottles.
Of the wines that we tasted that are available in the UK:
Bodegas Aroa Laia 2015 from Navarra is a 100% Garnacha Blanca that comes from a 600m high vineyard and whose low temperature fermentation has given rise to a complex white wine with great texture, notes of orange peel, lovely length. Les Caves de Pyrene import.
Le Naturel Reposado 2013 is not stocked but the cousin wine simply called Le Naturel is also imported by Les Caves de Pyrene.
This is a natural wine (no shit Sherlock) with no clarification, filtration or sulphites and not a hint of oak.
It’s what Arrambari means when he refers to Garnacha as the “Pinot Noir of the South”. This is lean, fresh, delicious redcurrants and nettles-liveliness. Not tannic at all and natural without being funky. A real winner and a very modern wine, but I would recommend by the glass not the bottle.
Two of the three other Garnachas that are available in a fabulous gift box sold in Spain are also to be recommended in equal measure.
La Garnacha Salvaje del Moncayo 2015 is the more easily available (they produce 50,000 bottles per annum) and is quite frankly way under-priced. It is also Pinot-like in that it has a lean, light, fresh, red fruity quality with little tannin.
This is from high altitude 60 year-old vineyards that have a mix of Continental and Atlantic influence, the maceration is 14 days and then the wine is transferred to French oak for five months. The wood is well integrated and there is a delicious persistence to the redcurrant flavours with a slight creaminess on the finish. The Wine Society sells this for £7.75. A steal.
La Garnacha Olvidada de Aragón 2013 is a darker ruby than the Moncayo, fuller on the palate and opens out with cherry and mocha flavours.
The area of Calatayud where the vines are grown is very Continental in climate, is a lot drier and the temperature swings both in Winter and in Summer are immense. Although the vineyards are also high (850m) the longer maceration and 10 months in French oak is immediately apparent with the increased tannins. Again, a first class Garnacha at a good price – Vindependents import at £10.99-£11.99.