Lucas Fox talks to Josep Maria Pujol-Busquets of Alta Alella about his passion for wine and the secrets behind his successful winery
TS: Why did you choose to establish Alta Alella here rather than in a more famous region like the Penedès?
JP-B: We choose Alella because this is where we are from, but also because, historically, this was always the most prestigious wine-making region in Catalunya. In 1991 we planted the first vineyards with a mix of traditional regional varieties like Pansa Blanca (otherwise known as Xarel·lo) and forgotten varieties like Mataró, which hadn’t been grown here since phylloxera hit the area. Ten years later, in 2001, those six hectares of terraced vineyards were ready to bear the fruit that would produce our first wines. We now have some 60 hectares spread across the DO Alella and DO Cava.
TS: How has your portfolio of wines grown over the years and which ones have you found to be the most successful?
JP-B: We’ve always tried to make wines with personality. Once you have established the right conditions – great terroir, strong varieties and a level of wine-making know-how that allows you to differentiate between them – then what happens is the consumer guides you forward. Some wines are well received, less so others, but what we’ve found is that it’s the wines with the biggest personalities that are the most successful. Of course this is not something you do by statistics, it’s something that you learn and develop over time. If I had to pin it down to the most successful I’d say our whites, our Gran Reserva cavas, and our sweet reds.
TS: You were an early adopter of the organic path, why was that?
JP-B: The grape, or wine as a product, should never be born from a process that causes waste. That never made sense to us. Rather, we always felt that it should be possible to make Mediterranean wine without too much interference or treatments. We began this way many years ago, and we’ll continue to do so. It’s a dynamic, ever-evolving process.
TS: For a small winery in a small region you have been incredibly successful, selling wine to some of the world’s most famous restaurants such as the Fat Duck and Manoir Aux Quatres Saisons. What has been the secret to your success?
JP-B: First of all, we really love wine and the world of wine generally. It’s been a lifelong passion for all of us and what that means is you never get tired of making great wines, and developing wines with a very strong personality, which I believe is what is most appreciated by connoisseurs.
TS: Tell us about your centre, the design and architecture, and why you wanted to develop wine tourism as opposed to just making wine?
JP-B: The architecture of the wine centre is linked to the design of the entire estate, in the sense that any modern intervention must have a practical purpose and integrate sympathetically with the environment. Our hope is that in creating this space the winery becomes a part of the heritage of the area. When we began this project our goal was to open up the wine-making environment to any interested visitor, hopefully with the outcome that people better understand that food and wine are an integral part of the landscape and culture of a place, and that it is something that is meant to be shared.
TS: You’ve recently starting making natural wines, notably a cava, do you believe the future of wine is natural wine and if so, why / why not?
JP-B: For the last nine years we’ve been making cava without sulfites. We understand the concept of ‘natural’ as being something healthy and as such we’ve never stopped working in this direction. We don’t think of natural wine as being a bad wine with defects, but rather a good and healthy wine. Of course it takes time to change market perceptions, and of course if you only try unpleasant wines then people aren’t going to like it, but in this respect, ultimately we think it will be successful.
TS: I recently had the good fortune to try a wine that you are helping to produce in Tenerife, can you tell me a bit about that project?
JP-B: At 1300 metres above sea level on the road to the Teide Volcano, there is a vineyard by the name of Altos de Trevejos. Together with a local partner we’ve made some extremely special wines using native grapes like Baboso, Listan Blanco and Listan Prieto among others. It’s a very special terroir because the land on the volcano was free of phylloxera and other diseases endemic to the mainland. The results of the first harvest were spectacular and very encouraging so we’re excited to see how this will develop.
TS: Finally what’s next for Alta Alella. As lovers of your wine, what can we look forward to over the next year?
JP-B: The biggest milestone for us is that in the spring of 2015 we’ll be inaugurating a new winery (Celler de les Aus), which will be dedicated exclusively to making natural wines within the Alella municipality. We’re hoping that with this opening we’ll continue to attract the feedback and support we need and deepen our relationship with local wine lovers.