As life slowly returns to normal in Spain, Julián Chivite speaks about how Lockdown affected his wine empire in Navarra, how the local workforce got them through and export markets are just beginning to come back to life. He also gives the back story to his innovative two new wines – the wood-fermented Las Fincas Rosado and Las Fincas Blanco, 2 Garnachas, that are the latest wines to come out of his collaboration with chef Juan Mari Arzak. Made with premium on-trade in mind, the wines are distinctive and trend-setting and undeniably Spanish.
“With regard to Brexit and the US tariffs we are working hard with our market partners to facilitate sales the best we can, in order to maintain distribution and brand value,” Julián Chivite.
How are you adapting to life in Spain under Lockdown?
It’s been a challenge for everyone – we are a country whose outdoor culture is very important, so it will have been difficult for many to adapt. That being said, the most important thing is health and wellbeing. I believe the Spanish are committed to reducing the rate of infection and I have been amazed by the general sense of solidarity towards our neighbours and the people who are keeping the country going during the crisis.
Has Navarra been badly hit?
Navarra has been badly affected in terms of public health but the infection rates have reduced drastically and confinement is being gradually reduced, so things are getting better in terms of mobility and more access to outdoor activities.
What changes have you had to make at the various Bodegas – both in the winery and the vineyards
We have kept the wineries open throughout but with a skeleton staff. Business might have reduced globally but the vineyards are still in full growth so our teams have been working hard to ensure that the vines are moving through the growth cycle in the best possible condition. Obviously, the safety of our team is paramount and we are following the strictest guidelines to ensure their wellbeing as they go about their daily tasks.
One issue that has affected us the disappearance of the migratory work force due to travel restrictions, this has meant that our vineyard teams have had to rely on the local workforce and work longer hours in the vineyards to keep up with the cycle.
How is business? Sales – up or down? And by how much?
Business has been affected, of course, no one has escaped the drastic reduction in sales. We have been particularly affected by those markets which are heavily dependent on the on-trade. Retail and on-line retail is booming – as everyone is experiencing – and right now we are starting to see a very slow opening up in some markets.
Are you managing to service your export markets?
To be honest, there is very little going on currently but where we can, we are working hard to react quickly and work with our market partners to ensure that we are supporting them in the best way we can as they start to activate and build again.
Does that mean you will do the 2020 harvest differently?
It is a bit too early to tell, at this stage. Currently we are continuing as usual and we will probably take a decision toward the summer.
Out of Covid-19, US tariffs and Brexit – which are presenting you with the greatest challenges to your business and why?
Without doubt Covid as it has instigated a halt in business worldwide. Brexit and the US tariffs were, and will continue to be (when things get back to normal) a challenge but they form part of the local market-focussed challenges which historically we have found ways to adapt to and compensate in the rest of the business.
How are you adapting your business to cope with each of them?
With regard to Brexit and the US tariffs we are working hard with our market partners to facilitate sales the best we can, in order to maintain distribution and brand value.
Do you have records of what happened in 1918 with the Spanish Flu? And are there any similarities with how Chivite is coping with the current pandemic?
I am afraid not, but it certainly didn’t have any dramatic effect on our business.
Regarding the new wines. Why is the Las Fincas Rosado a Vinos de la Tierra 3 Riberas and not DO Navarra?
When we launched the Las Fincas Rosé we were unable to make the lighter style of rosé that we wanted to achieve. As a result we decided to give it the VdlT classification in order to have much more flexibility in terms of the wine we wanted to create.
Julián, thanks and good luck with life returning to normal
So here’s how the new wines are tasting….
Las Fincas Rosado Fermentado en Barrica 2018
This is an interesting new addition to the collaboration between Julián Chivite and chef Juan Mari Arzak after their successful unoaked Las Fincas Rosado that was launched in 2014. That wine led DO Navarra to change its rules on how pale a Rosado could be and opened the door to Provencal-style wines. The Fermentado en Barrica pushes the envelope further on making paler, serious Spanish Rosé. Hand-picked and selected red Garnacha grapes from the Legardeta Estate are lightly pressed and the juice fermented in oak barrel and left on lees for 10 months.
Very pale sunset pink with saffron highlights; there is an intriguing and complex nose – blossom, orange flesh, white stone fruit, slightly smoky, a bit of cedar; medium weight palate, fatty, complex, gastronomic, fine tannic texture, flavours include mandarin and lemon flesh; on first taste you feel the wood on the front palate but this soon dissipates as the wine opens out in the glass, – possibly decant it? I liked it a lot.
2,114 75cl bottles and 226 magnums produced. RRP is £35
Las Fincas Blanco, 2 Garnachas, Chivite 2018
There is something wonderfully Spanish about having this ‘blanc de noirs’ in a black bottle – think Dali or Almodovar – it is pure theatre, which speaks of the wine’s black grape origins, but also its intended destination – a top end restaurant setting, which is what it was primarily made for; Arzak’s 3 star Michelin restaurant is hugely theatrical after all. It’s a complex, fascinating wine that almost has to be deduced at first and then starts revealing itself.
On the nose you have a savoury element, herbal notes (wild fennel) with orchard fruit and pomegranates; on the palate it’s light to mid-weight, a slight fattiness on the front palate with ripe fruit nice and rounded (that has been accentuated through time in the bottle). Beautifully balanced, complex, great length with a nice hit of heat and alcohol on the finish. I would decant this and serve it as an aperitif, although like an aged Albariño it could work at all stages of a meal.
25,000 bottles produced. RRP £15.95