In the last 15 years, Familia Torres of Penedès in Catalonia has invested more than €19 million in exploring measures to combat the effects of climate change. Its Ancestral Vines project is a small but vital part of that effort.
When Fiona Morrison visited the Torres family for her 2019 book 10 Great Wine Families, she was fascinated by the Ancestral Vines project. Miguel Torres began his ‘garden of varieties’ in the 1980s as a way of preserving forgotten grape varieties – there are now 200 from around the world in the nursery vineyard at Mas Rabell. As the issue of climate change became more and more urgent, the family began to take a closer interest in the varieties that are best adapted to a heating world – those that would ripen later, and those with higher acidity. So far, six ancestral varieties have been identified as viable for possible production on a commercial scale – Garro, Forcada, Pirene, Gonfaus, Moneu and Querol; all of these show a high degree of adaptability to high temperatures and water stress. In her opening chapter, Morrison describes her first look at ‘one of the most exciting wines I have tasted all year’.
“So, to return to my fascinating tasting at the Torres bodega. Lined up in front of me is a series of numbered glasses. It represents one of the most exciting Torres projects, and I believe shows the greatness of this family. It is one of the key reasons why Torres has been chosen to open this book on wine families.
Around 30 years ago, Miguel Torres started to plant old Catalan grape varieties that many felt had become extinct after the devastating plague of phylloxera that hit Europe in the late 19th century. This was a mass infestation of little insects that ate through vine roots, leading to the destruction of most of Europe’s vineyards. The phylloxera epidemic was only stopped when the vines were grafted onto resistant American rootstocks; so, today, almost all of the famous wines in the world are made from vines with American roots.
Miguel’s son and daughter, Miguel Jr and Mireia, took on the project and around 50 Catalan varieties were rediscovered; six of which have proved to be extremely interesting for wine purposes. Placing advertisements in local newspapers, Miguel Torres Jr asked farmers to get in touch if they came across vines that they did not recognize. The first variety to be identified was called Garro. It took 10 years checking for diseases and viruses, cleaning the plant material and then propagating it in vitro, studying its potential to adapt and to produce interesting wines until, having passed all the tests, Garro was planted in the Conca de Barberà region and added to the blend of the first
Grans Muralles vintage in 1996. Two years later, the Querol variety, named after the village where Garro was found, followed. The project has been so successful that the plan is to expand it to other Spanish regions such as Rioja, Ribera de Duero and Rías Baixas.
Miguel Jr speaks with enthusiasm: ‘It is lovely to be out in nature; to go and check on the vines in the spring up in the Fransola vineyard in the Costers del Segre. We are at 900 metres altitude up there and it is just beautiful.’ Such beauty translates into the glass as I try a white wine called Forcada, named after a hill that has the shape of two prongs of a fork (forcada means fork in Catalan). It is planted in clay soils at the highest point of Penedès, at 450 metres, and has quite high acidity due to a long growing cycle.
As I taste the 2015, the nose of oatmeal, honey, almonds and citrus fruits and the fresh balance blow me away. Next to it, the 2016 is cooler and steelier and the 2017 is sweeter with a floral, almond paste flavour. I am delighted to be tasting a new grape and months afterwards I still believe that this is one of the most exciting wines I have tasted all year. It is tempting to describe the other wines that I loved among the ancestral varieties, including Gonfaus and Moneu, but I have so much else to tell you about the Torres family that I cannot allow myself to be sidetracked so early into this book. I will just say that, although I don’t think that these grapes will become household names, I do hope one day you get a chance to taste them.”
Taken from 10 Great Wine Families: A Tour Through Europe by Fiona Morrison