We all know of an upholsterer. Someone who puts antique furniture back into shape, but without taking its past allure away, without making them look modern. These folks take it upon themselves to give objects of the past their ancient lustre. They see the faded elegance, the beauty beyond the bruise, and bring it back to life.
Once they’re done, they sell it at market price. 😉
I’m kidding. Even if the last assertion is true of some (think of these house hunters that look for houses to renovate and sell back at barbaric prices, blowing up the real estate bubble at the same time), most upholsterers do it do resuscitate past beauty and reinvest it in the future. Ask Telmo Rodriguez, Spain’s vineyard “upholsterer” extraordinaire.
Much like Birichino’s John Locke and Alex Krause, Telmo Rodriguez finds his fun in bringing abandoned or historical vineyards to life, so as to give his region, la Rioja, its former allure. Nowadays at the SAQ, what we know about la Rioja is pretty much summed up in Tempranillo for reds and Viura for whites. On top of that, with the appellation system based on maturation, the focus is really on making cellar wines, in other words wines that, while being in some cases of great quality, do not express any particular location. Wines from Lopez de Heredia, as extraordinary as they may be, cannot really be considered terroir wines.
Telmo Rodriguez does have this beef against the SAQ: “Each time I come here and I see the Spanish wine offer, I struggle to find my marks; la Rioja is one of Spain’s greatest appellations. Some old appellations are resurfacing, but la Rioja, to me, remains the most beautiful… We know of a generic Rioja, but we know little of the deeper Rioja of its villages.”
This very opinionated character, very reminiscent of François Morissette both physically and intellectually, is fortunate enough to see to three unique domains in la Rioja: Lanzaga, Remelluri and Las Beatas. In his approach, he opts fro organic farming and prides himself in never having used a herbicide in his life, devoting his time to bringing “somewhereness” wines. “I admire what Lopez de Heredia does, but what they are showing us through their wines is their cellar. I would rather show you the mountain.” A mission, needless to say, at opposites with what is being done currently in the region
In this view, even though he uses it for his Remelluri wines, the notion of classification according to maturation does not move Telmo Rodriguez: “it’s not that I don’t find it interesting, it is uninteresting. It’s not enough for one to spend four years in a university and get a diploma to be considered intelligent. So that a wine spends so much years in a cellar tells me nothing of its quality. […] This being said, for Remelluri wines, I still use the maturation appellation; when you have a 16th century domain, what do you do with the buildings that were built in the 18th century? Do you throw them to the ground or leave them be, considering they are part of the domain?” That house is further established in the past than an appellation system does not seem like a sufficient reason to obliterate it to him, but to him, the most important inscription on his bottles, beyond reserva and gran reserva, is Remelluri, the origin.
La Rioja from days of yore was also more than sixty grape varieties, a handful of which are still used in everyday wines today, on top of those that fell into oblivion under Tempranillo’s hegemony. However, Telmo Rodriguez more often than not prefers not to mention the origin or the proportions of the varieties he uses for his wines. Voluntary prudishness just to leave the origin in the full spotlight? Possible. However, Telmo Rodriguez has all this information, as he is not dealing with coplanted vineyards. He just chooses not to talk about it.
It applies to one of his most cherished vineyards, Las Beatas. His eyes light up when he speaks of this vineyard he had found, abandoned for about a century: “My father came with me, and right away he said “this is too much work, Telmo, it is not worth it…” But I could see this vineayrd’s “talent”, the possibilities.” In fact, the vineyard is now less than two hectares and sits on the side of a mountain, with various altitudes, aspects and grape varieties. The wine made from it is nothing short of grandiose, as you will be able to tell from the tasting notes on the left hand side.
The wines are undoubtedly convincing. Not just different: unique. Reasoned use of oak, never at the expense of fruit, a concentration that’s achieves without compromising natural expression, a latent complexity that reveals itself in acts, in an operatic way. You can hear la Callas at the back of your palate. Not one of those postmodern divas, but the one you occasionally forget, but makes you shiver every time she reveals herself. Because a beautiful voice transcends eras. Shouldn’t it be the same for wine?
My thanks to Telmo Rodriguez and Trialto for the invite.