Even though my own view of txakoli has been altered and enrichened over time, the public view (if there is one to be had – many have no idea that txakoli even exists) is of a simple wine, easily forgotten and limited in its usefulness to ceremonial imbibing with pintxos. But regardless of what preconceptions people may have, they generally forget and forgive as the coastal road N-634 between San Sebastian and Bilbao rounds a corner and opens up on to a vista unlike many others.
Few landscapes can rival the vineyards of Getaria. They seem suspended between ocean and sky, leaning precariously over the small fishing village as if green thunder clouds rolling in. Everything, absloutely everything is covered in either vines or emerald green grass. Amongst all this lies a number of small wineries. The market leader – Txomin Extaniz – produces just a little over 500 000 bottles from a mix of bought grapes and its own production. Runner up Ameztoi lies just further up the hill (literally) from Txomin Extaniz and produces almost as much.
”But one day” export manager Naiara told us as she greeted us on the terrace outside of the winery ”we’ll be the biggest.”
To put words like ”biggest” and ”first” into perspective there are 26 bodegas and over 400 hectars in the Getaria Txakolina DO today. When the Ameztoi family moved to Getaria around 25 years ago there were 8 producers in total. The area only gained its denominación de origen in 1989, but is today one of the few regions in the world were almost all of the producers sell their entire production each year. The new vintage of Getaria txakoli is traditionally released on the first of December. Many of the producers have allocated and/or sold most of their wines by the end of summer, and as most people prefer to drink their hondarrabi zuri young the wineries are often completely empty of wine before the next harvest is brought in.
So how does one create a buzz around a wine that is not only perceived as simple but also sold/consumed within a year of its release? Well, every March and May Ameztoi gather some of the more prominent bar-owners and restaurateurs from San Sebastian at their winery for a complete tasting of all their different tanks. This may not sound that exciting, but the fact is that Ameztoi pick and vinify their grapes parcel by parcel, so the wine of each tank ranges from one parcel to a few at the most, and the difference between them is quite marked.
Even though they go through all this trouble to separate the parcels the wine is bottled tank by tank as the orders come in, so the end consumer has no way of recognizing which vineyards the wine he or she is drinking comes from. They do actually have one parcel that they bottle separately. ‘Primus‘ is aged 6 months sur lie, giving it a more complex and less carbonized taste. This is the only cuvée apart from the rosé where the grape skins are left to macerate with the wine, and it is made exclusively with grapes from a 100 year old vineyard of just under 2 hectares. Contrary to common knowledge of vineyard age the Primus vineyard actually produces far higher yields than the younger vines, averaging at 25000 hl/ha instead of 14000 hl/ha which is far above the legal limit. Curiously enough the Primus rarely sells out quickly – the locals prefer the simple wines.
The regular txakoli is brought down to a temperatur of 5-7 degrees and sealed in its tank when it approaches the end of fermentation. When the orders start rolling in the tanks are bottled after demand, all to keep the slightly fizzy characteristic that is typical of the wine intact. Harvest is typically done in September or October. Since the potential production is at 14 000 kg/ha but the official limit is 13000 kg/ha they actually decide which rows to leave before harvest based on how many kilos go into a case. The grapes of these rows are then left to rot on the vines. The controls are strict, and it always helps to be able to point out the grapes that you’ve left behind…
Once in the winery the grapes are pressed and then left to ferment. They always start with natural yeast, but have to add commercial yeast during later fazes of the fermentation. They also filter – mainly for commercial reasons. It takes about five weeks to go from grapes to wine, which leaves them next to no time before the release of the new vintage in December. This coming vintage four more hectares of hondarabbi beltza are going in to production. While the locals sniff not only at more concentrated cuvées of hondarrabi but also at rosés the foreign markets love them. And between the U.S.A., Japan, France and Sweden those 15% of red grapes that are used for Ameztois rosé production simply aren’t enough…
When asked about vintage variations Naiara explained that in both 2014 and 2015 the temperature was similar in spring and autumn. 2013 was quite awful, with hail in May and a very low production over the entire DO. 2012 on the other hand was fantastic, but a vintage like that only happens around once every decade.
And when you sell your entire production every vintage, who is there to compare?