Clos Lentiscus (Manel Avinyó & Nuría Avinyó)

Sant Pere de Ribes, Catalunya

Clos Lentiscus is a father-daughter operation situated in Sant Pere de Ribes, in the Garraf Mountains just inland from the Catalan coast. Here, at 225m altitude, sitting on a calcareous mass and shallow soils rich in old marine fossils, Manel and Nuría make sparkling wines solely with indigenous yeasts, of the quality we’d associate with a grower champagne.

Winemaking first began on the estate in the 14th century, when the first stones of the Can Ramón farmhouse were laid alongside the old Roman road. Of the 65 hectares here, 22 are under vine – Xarel-lo, Malvasia de Sitges, Samso, Xarelo-Vermell; Sumol, Ul de Llebre and old vine Carignan. The remainder is Mediterranean forest: carobs, palms, holm oak and the mastic trees that give their name (Lentiscus) to the property.

Since 2010, the estate has been managed biodynamically, as an entirely self-sufficient closed-loop that encompasses both vineyard and winery.  Instead of herbicides and pesticides, Manel and Nuria go up into the mountains to collect the silica-rich horsetail herb, known since ancient times for its strengthening and anti-fungal properties, and long used in biodynamics to strengthen the skeleton of the land. They dry the herb on the roof of the farmhouse, pulverise it and process it as a  ‘tea’ which is then sprayed over the vines. All vineyard work is by hand, via Ricky the horse (and plow), a flock of cropping and fertilising sheep and hives of bees which not only sort pollination, but make the honey that – rather than sugar – is used to spark the second, in-bottle fermentation. 

The wines use no commercial yeasts. Fermentation in steel tanks, then light oak barrel ageing; second in-bottle fermentation following the champenoise method-  and using exclusively ambient yeasts harvested from the primary fermentation tanks; a strict 20 month ageing in bottle. Disgorgement without addition of liquer d’expedition, stabilisers or preservatives.

These are wines which, in Manel’s words, express the character of the land, its human story, and the energy of the natural elements. It’s not always been so easy here: some of the vines here date back before the Spanish civil war, when the estate temporarily fell to ruin. When Manel refers to the human blood, sweat and tears these vines have seen, he is speaking literally.