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Spain’s women in wine to watch

Sara Perez

As the eldest child of Mas Martinet founder Josep Lluis Perez, Sara Perez hails from winemaking royalty in Priorat. Having taken over the reins from her father at Mas Martinet in 1996, she also runs her own Montsant wine project, Venus, on the side, where she makes elegant Carignan/Syrah blends that are more restrained than her powerful Priorat reds.

She can be found driving between the regions in a sunshine-yellow 2CV. To win the respect of local grape growers in the late ‘90s, Perez took to swearing and taking her coffee black. “Eventually they understood that I was the one who decided who to buy from,” says Perez, who believes her veins pump more wine than blood.

Her latest experiment is a 100% Garnacha from a “mythical” single vineyard in Priorat. “With wine I’ve learnt that you have to follow your intuition and work with the rhythms of nature,” she says.

Who or what made you want to become a winemaker?  My parents started the Clos project in Priorat with other amazing people like René Barbier, Daphne Glorian and Alvaro Palacios. I was interested in plants, ecology and biology and was lucky enough to be living during this energetic beginning of the revolution in Priorat. One morning I decided to come back and be part of it.

How would you describe your winemaking style? Observing nature, the climate, the soil, and the vineyard and respecting the expression of each site and each vintage.

Who is your winemaking inspiration? I’ve learned a lot from different people from all over the world but my biggest source of inspiration is Gaia – nature.

What is the single wine you’re most proud of so far and why? I have three wines that changed my vision of the world. First is Pigat 1998 made from old vine Carignan from Cims de Porrera, a spectacular single vineyard. The wine taught me that you must follow your intuition.

Then there’s Venus 1999, the begginnig of my own project made from old vine Carignan and Syrah, an explosive combination of complexity. Finally there is Els Escurçons 2016 – pure Garnacha from a mythical vineyard.

Has it been tough getting to the top of a male dominated industry? Sexism doesn’t just exist in the wine world. Every day I have to justify my acts and my thoughts, and say ‘Hey! I’m here, and I have the same rights as another person’. We don’t realise how sexist we are as a society.

Desert island wine: Château Musar 1967 made by the late, great Serge Hochar.

Xandra Falcó

Xandra Falcó’s wine roots run deep – her family has made wine in Spain since the 13th century. Working alongside her father, Carlos, Falcó is in charge of the running of their family estate, Marqués de Griñón in Castilla la Mancha.

The Falcós have been instrumental in shaping La Mancha’s premium-wine capabilities – Carlos was the first to introduce Cabernet, Syrah and Petit Verdot to the region in the ‘70s.

As chief executive, Xandra is helping to steer the estate on to its next chapter and broaden its reach to a new generation of consumers. “It was always my dream to work with my father and continue his legacy,” says Falcó, whose favourite part of her job is walking through the vineyards on crisp, bright winter mornings.

Who or what made you want to work in the wine industry? I grew up at Dominio de Valdepusa, our family estate, and it was always my dream to work with my father and try to continue his legacy. It’s a privilege to live  in the middle of the countryside surrounded by vineyards.

What is the proudest moment of your career so far? The first wine I made with my father and Julio, our winemaker, was a special moment. It was wonderful to find it in restaurants around the world. To produce a wine on your land, age it carefully and then see it admired over the world is an extraordinary feeling.

Has it been tough getting to the top of a male dominated industry? I have never felt a huge difference part of a wine family helps a lot and I haven’t had the difficulties other women have.

What is the most enjoyable part of your job? I love walking in the vineyard in winter. I know it’s not the nicest time of the year as it’s usually cold, but it helps me think and imagine the possibilities of what will happen during the year; the possibilities of the new harvest.

What is the most exciting aspect of the Spanish wine industry at the moment? Small independent winemakers are changing their approach to winemaking in many regions, and Spanish wines are starting to be recognised for their quality worldwide. There’s a real change taking place with white wines in regions like Vadeorras, Rías Baixas and Rueda, which are producing whites of outstanding quality.

Desert island wine: Marqués de Griñón Dominio de Valdepusa AAA 2004, a spicy, elegant 100% Graciano.

Paola Medina

Seville-born Paula Medina has worked for her family estate, Williams & Humbert in Jerez, since 2010, and today serves as technical director and winemaker. Having earned her winemaking stripes at 14 Viñas in Castilla la Mancha, the lure of Sherry proved too strong to resist.

“Few wines are able to ignite such passion in a winemaker as Sherry, with its diversity and unique production process,” she enthuses. Keen to respect the individual personality of each of the wines she makes, rather than change or influence their style, she hopes to bring out the best in them.

Medina is custodian of one of the oldest and complete collections of vintage Sherries in Jerez, from which she can cherry-pick barrels for bespoke bottlings, such as her forthcoming 2006 Fino release.

How would you describe your winemaking style? My philosophy is to respect the personality and character of the wines. A winemaker mustn’t try to change the inherent character of the wine, but to help them age and show their best qualities. The biggest challenge is to commit ourselves to our wines, our land, our traditions and our history.

What is the single wine you’re most proud of so far and why?  I’m very excited about our Sherry vintages. We have the oldest and most complete vintage collection in Jerez – a treasure we’re just beginning to reveal. I’m particularly proud of our 2006 fino – the first ever vintage fino in Jerez.

Has it been tough getting to the top of a male dominated industry? Everything that is worthwhile in life needs hard work, dedication and passion. Luckily for me at Williams & Humbert we believe in equality and there are many women in management positions. Added to this there are more and more women in winemakers in Jerez.

Desert island wine: Williams & Humbert Fino 2009: an elegant vintage with great complexity.

Meritxell Falgueras

The effervescent Meritxell Falgueras was born with wine in her blood. For five generations, her family have run popular wine shop El Celler de Gelida in Barcelona, which supplies wines to many of the region’s top restaurants.

Falgueras has forged a successful career of her own as a wine writer and sommelier, winning the coveted Catalan ‘Nariz de Oro’ (Golden Nose) prize in 2007 aged just 25.

She writes on wine for an array of magazines, has penned several books and makes regular TV and radio appearances. Appealing to younger consumers and women with her laidback approach to wine, Falgueras says her biggest challenge has been emerging from her father’s shadow. She has her sights set on becoming a Master Sommelier.

Who or what made you want to work in the wine industry? Wine chose me. As a child I spent my days at the shop with my family while they were selling wine, and I used tasting notes to express myself. I described sunsets like the tears of a full bodied red!

What has been the biggest challenge of your career so far? My greatest challenge has also been a hugely positive influence on my career – the men in my life. Growing up in my father’s shadow, I was always introduced as the daughter of Toni.

Finding my own voice was a challenge and by moving away from him I was able to find an avid audience with Spain´s younger generation and help make wine popular for everyone, not just for an elitest group.

I married Lorenzo Zonin four years ago, a independent winemaker who´s Podere San Cristoforo with 3 bicchieri Gambero Rosso wines. However, I continue my own career writing books, articles and starring on TV and radio shows throughout Spain.

What is the proudest moment of your career so far? Finishing the WSET diploma while still breastfeeding my daughter Vita.

Has it been tough getting to the top of a male dominated industry? The short answer is yes, but I have used my femininity to my advantage to advance my career. I appeared in fashion magazines, advertisements and TV using my personality and what makes me unique as a female sommelier to reach a bigger audience.

How has the Spanish wine landscape changed since you began writing about it? When I started working in the world of wine at 18 people were only concerned about Rioja and now Spanish consumers love to try wines from lesser-known DOs. The way wine is marketed today is much more easy going and fun, and consumers can purchase amazing wines for a good price.

Desert island wine: Podere San Cristoforo Carandelle Maremma Toscana 2015, made by my Italian husband, Lorenzo Zonin.

Vicky González-Gordon

The international marketing manager for González Byass is part of the González-Gordon Sherry dynasty. She practically grew up in the bodega, and, having started her career at a marketing company in Madrid, the chance to work for her family pulled her back to Jerez.

In her role, she has helped expand the company’s Rioja brand, Beronia, which is now on sale in 80 counties. González-Gordon is keen to promote the fact that there is more to González Byass than Sherry.

The company recently acquired Veramonte in Chile, sending out a bold message about its global ambitions. “Changing trends in the Sherry market has been a challenge, but we’re delighted to see new consumers enjoying Sherry for the first time,” says González-Gordon.

Who or what made you want to work in the wine industry? I remember coming to the bodega with my father for a very young age, so wine has always been in my blood. Everyone in my family feels a very strong sense of belonging

Has it been tough getting to the top of a male dominated industry? When I first started working here, the wine business was very male dominated. I remember being the only woman in a meeting! But luckily it hasn’t been an issue for me.

Do you feel a lot of weight on your shoulder being part of such a famous Spanish wine dynasty? More than weight, I see it as commitment, so that those who will follow us will come into a healthy company. It is very special to know that your children will also be part of what we are doing today.

What is the most exciting aspect of the Spanish wine industry at the moment? There is a move towards quality in wine, with producers starting to think more about longterm development rather than focusing on volume.

We are seeing this in Jerez, with a move towards specialty wines like Las Palmas. The uniqueness of our terroirs is also gaining importance and is increasingly being reflected in our wines.

Desert island wine: González Byass Palo Cortado 1978 – I’ve celebrated some of my best moments in life with that wine.

Meritxell Juvé

Meritxell Juvé is a name to remember in the world of sparkling wine. Working alongside her father Joan Juvé, the pair uphold a winemaking tradition that stretches back to the 1790s.

Juvé y Camps is something of a lone star in Penedès as it focuses on gran reserva Cavas that spend up to 40 months on their lees, producing five million bottles a year; 35% of gran reserva production.

Fanatical about quality, every bottle is hand-riddled. With its focus on long-aged Cavas, the house shines a light on Xare.lo due to its high acidity and high resveratrol content. Meritxell’s mission is to have Juvé y Camps recognised internationally as one of the world’s top sparkling wine brands.

What has been the biggest challenge of your career so far? Without a doubt, the global financial downturn of 2008. Cava was directly affected as it is classed as a luxury product rather than a necessity. Fortunately, we have learnt a lot and have practically recovered the same market position we had before the crisis.

What is the proudest moment of your career so far? The launch of Juvé & Camps La Capella Gran Reserva Brut Nature 2005, made with 100% Xarel·lo sourced from a 7.2 hectare vineyard called “La Capella”. In my opinion, its 10 years of ageing makes it one of the most unique and exquisite Cavas on the market.

Has it been tough getting to the top of a male dominated industry? It’s true that there are more men than women working in positions of power in the wine world. However, in the last 15 years this has changed.

Women are very determined and are able to overcome obstacles and in the wine world women are rising to more executive roles within companies.

What is the most enjoyable part of your job? For any profession, satisfaction is achieved when you see the fruit of your labour turned into a product that consumers can enjoy and appreciate. I take great pleasure in sharing our Cavas with customers and speaking with them about the exciting world of wine.

Desert island wine: Juvé y Camps Reserva de La Familia Gran Reserva.

Veronica Ortega

Hoping to introduce the world to the fragrant charms of Mencía is talented young winemaker Veronica Ortega, who views the grape as the “Pinot Noir of Spain”, due to its delicacy and sensitivity to terroir.

Based in Bierzo, Ortgea makes two hand-harvested Mencía expressions: Quite (pronounced ‘keetay’) that spends eight months in oak, and top drop Roc, made from an 80-year-old schist vineyard in the village of Valtuille de Abajo.

Before settling in northern Spain, she cut her teeth at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Crozes-Hermitage in the northern Rhône, and was mentored by Alvaro Palacios in Priorat.

“Most people view Spanish wine as highly concentrated and alcoholic – I want to show that there’s another way. I want to make a Burgundian style of wine,” she says. She is experimenting with ageing a portion of Quite in amphora and made her first Godello this year. Her dream is to return south to make Sherry from her own solera.

Who or what made you want to become a winemaker? The real beginning for me was my first grape harvesting in Jerez. After that I headed to Priorat where I was fortunate enough to work with Alvaro Palacios, who became my teacher and mentor. I was struck by his passion and decided to devote myself entirely to the art of winemaking.

How would you describe your winemaking style? Minimal intervention. I try to work with the best raw material and not force anything. I don’t use yeast or additives, except low doses of sulfur as Mencía is a vulnerable variety. But I work in as natural a way as possible.

My aim is to produce a wine of character that reflects the variety of the area and the climate, nothing more. I like wines that speak to you and reflect where they come from. Wines that are lively and elegant, fresh and drinkable.

Who is/was your winemaking inspiration? I’ve been lucky enough to work with amazing producers, some I still consider as the best and most complete professionals that exist, for whom I feel a deep admiration. I particularly respect Benjamin Leroux’s precision. I consider him one of the best producers in Burgundy.

What has been the biggest challenge of your career so far? Starting from scratch, alone in a relatively short period of time.

What is the most enjoyable part of your job? The comforting feeling pf being a part of something as mystical as a bottle of wine,

Desert island wine: Castillo Ygay 1964 for its complexity and finesse.

Vicky Marque Bueno

Having taken the reins at Pazo de Señorans in Rías Baixas from her mother, Vicky Mareque Bueno is in charge of the jewel in the northwestern Spanish region’s crown – home to long-aged Albariños that have helped to put Spanish fine whites on the map.

As the grape gains popularity, it is being planted everywhere from California to Australia, though Mareque Bueno believes Rías Baixas Albariño is inimitable. Pazo de Señorans makes around 15,000 bottles of its top wine, Selección de Añanda, which spends an average of 30 months on its lees, selling it in 35 countries including the UK through Berry Bros & Rudd.

Bueno is currently working on a sweet wine made from local grape Blanca Legitima and is on a mission to get Albariño regonised as one of the great white grapes of the world.

Has it been tough getting to the top of a male dominated industry? Not at all. It has never been an issue for me. Perhaps in some cultures I saw a bit of surprise in their faces initially. I don’t feel that we are in a male industry anymore. The previous generation of women did a great job.

What is the most enjoyable part of your job? Getting to share your happiness and fears with growers, collegues, producers, clients, journalists, wine lovers and having the chance to meet people from all over the world that share a passion for Pazo Señorans and the wine world in general.

What is the most exciting aspect of the Spanish wine industry at the moment? Spain is working hard to make beautiful wines with attractive prices. Winemakers are focusing on bringing the best out of our indigenous varieties that are well adapted to their terroirs, like the Albariño from Rías Baixas.

What is the proudest moment of your career so far? Creating the Pazo Señorans Colección and the launch of the 2007 vintage of Pazo Señorans Selección.

Desert island wine: Pazo de Señorans Selección de Añanda 1997.

Veronica Remartinez

Young gun Veronica Remartinez is a star on the rise who has been busy chalking up stints at some of the top estates in Rioja, starting out under the wing of Jesus Madrazo at Contino in Rioja Alavesa.

Her next mentor was Miguel Angel de Gregorio of Finca Allende, who has done much to raise the profile of barrel-aged whites in the region. After working for a year as winemaking assistant, she moved to her current role assisting Julio Saenz at La Rioja Alta in Haro.

Her biggest challenge so far has been making both classic ageworthy Riojas and powerful modern styles from the same sub-region. “I’d love to experience one perfect vintage that allows me to make wines that leave a mark on history,” she says.

Who or what made you want to become a winemaker? While studying for an agronomical engineering degree I got the chance to work for a number of wineries in La Rioja, which encouraged me to broaden my studies and to focus on oenology. I thought that working as a winemaker would be the best job in the world and it is!

How would you describe your winemaking style? It’s very important to have maximum respect for a grape’s profile. I think a winemaker should know their vineyards perfectly and observe what the grapes can provide each year. Vinification should be based on that observation to obtain full potential of those grapes.

What is the single wine you’re most proud of so far and why? I’m currently working various wines within La Rioja Alta group with very different profiles.  At present, I’m very proud of and happy with Finca El Otero 2012.

Has it been tough getting to the top of a male dominated industry? Certainly, the wine industry, and particualrly the viticulture department, is dominated by men, so it‘s not easy for a woman to succeed in it. Fortunately, things are changing and more and more women work as winemakers and vineyard technicians.

What is the most exciting aspect of the Spanish wine industry at the moment? The diversity of wines in every region. The goal is to get the best of each region by making a wide range of wines to suit every single palate.

Desert island wine: La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 890 2004 in magnum.

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