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Master Winemakers Top 100: Clara Canals

Clara Canals, chief winemaker at Ysios, features as one of our top winemakers in this year’s Master Winemaker 100 guide. She tells db about the joy of teamwork, facing hungry birds and cooking lamb on vine prunings.

Born in Tarragona, Clara Canals grew up in Rioja after her family moved to Logroño in 1984. Having initially studied Biology & Biochemistry at the University of Navarra, her passion for wine and travel led to a European Masters degree in Oenology & Viticulture, which involved study in Montpellier, Madrid and then a final project in Marlborough, New Zealand. Since then, Canals has worked in countries including Australia, South Africa and Argentina, before returning home to Rioja in 2011. In May 2020, she became chief winemaker at Bodegas Ysios.

Her Ysios Grano a Grano 2020 won a Master medal at The Rioja Masters 2023 and her Ysios Blanco 2020 won a Master medal at The Rioja Masters 2022.

Describe your winemaking approach in no more than three words.

Respect. Purity. Tradition.

What’s your favourite part of the job?

The harvest, and then the fact that every day, every season and every vintage is different, and that you never stop learning new things. And then, after all the hard teamwork, the result is to share a bottle of your wine with family, friends, so you get to see other people enjoying something that you have made with a lot of passion.

Which aspect of the job keeps you awake at night?

Also the harvest. It is one of the best moments of the year, but also very challenging as there are many factors that you can’t control.

What’s your go-to drink at the end of a long day?

A nice, fruit-forward, delicate red – nothing too oaky, something refreshing, smooth and easy to enjoy.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Be patient, follow my dreams, don’t fear a challenge and be open-minded.

What was your greatest winemaking mistake?

Trying to make a late-harvest Tempranillo and picking the grapes in January, when half of them had been eaten by birds, but it turned out great!

What’s the most important winemaking lesson you’ve learned so far?

Learning that, even if you have always done something the same way, it might not be the same the next year. Also to be open-minded, recognise that every vintage is unique and that passion, respect, the search for detail and perseverance must be always the priority.

Which figure outside the world of wine inspires you?

My father.

Where would your fantasy vineyard be?

There are amazing vineyards in all wine regions around the world, but the magic ones have probably not been discovered yet. In Rioja, we still can still find some of those vineyards that are old, old, old – so that they can tell you how life was in the past.

If you weren’t a winemaker, what would you be doing and why?

To be honest, I cannot imagine a life now without making (and drinking) wine. Maybe in another life I would like to have been a photographer. I am a terrible one, but I love travelling, discovering new places and people, and collecting memories. A photo is the best way to reflect all of that together.

What’s the most memorable food match you’ve had with one of your wines?

Sometimes the simplest things are the best, and as long as the origin of the product is good, there are many possibilities. I have great memories of a sunny day, lamb chops cooked on vine prunings, then eaten in the vineyard with a glass of Finca Las Naves: just wonderful.

What role does sustainability have to play in a Master-winning wine?

Sustainability is a fundamental pillar when making any of our wines. Sustainability is about lasting over time while respecting the “today”. Being respectful of the vineyard, of the way things are done in the winery, is the only way to ensure a future for the wine. Sustainable practices help respect the vineyards, take care of them, face challenges and obtain quality grapes and wines.

Which type of wine do you drink most regularly?

If it is summer, then I prefer elegant and textured whites; if it is winter, then I often drink more reds. But I always like to try new things, to drink different wines from different wine regions around the world.

Your home is on fire: which bottle do you save?

The one that keeps memories with my loved ones.

What are your top markets?

Spain and the USA.

And which market would you most like to enter?

South Korea.

It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No