Our last winery visit in Basque country last month was in some ways our most important. At least it opened up an entirely new view of what txakoli is and what it can achieve.
Turning north-east from Bilbao and a completely exhausting lunch at Etxebarri we wound our way along the coast and towards Bakio. Today Bakio is best known for its summer beaches, the Jai Alai festival and its strong agricultural presence, but in the 19th century Bakio was the center of red txakoliproduction in the Bizkaia region.
So what made red txakoli so prominent here? The small town is surrounded by mountains, and when southern winds blow in September Bakio remains drier and warmer than nearby areas, thus allowing the grapes to reach better maturity and enabling red wine production. The region has a strong agricultural tradition and lacks a commercial port, so it was more natural to drink red wine here, and back in the days all of the families produced red wines for family consumption. But as in other areas of Basque industrialization, phylloxera and changing demographic patterns have dwindled the production of txakoli. Today Bakio is known more for lemons and asparagus than wine and only four wineries exist. One of these – Doniene Gorrondona – was the goal of our afternoon visit. Upon arrival we were welcomed by Itziar, co-founder and oenologist, and Maite, export manager.
Doniene Gorrondona was established around 20 years ago by four partners, including Itziar and her brother. When the winery started back in 1994 they bought a few vineyards but planted many vines themselves. Apart from a general lack of vines in the area some of the older vineyards were planted with grapes that weren’t local, and some were poorly planted or with the wrong exposition. Today all of the wineries 15 hectares of vineyards have a south-facing exposition, and most of them are between 50-70 meters above sea level, except for one which is 200-300 meters above sea level.
One advantage that Bakio has over other areas in Bizkaia that produce txakoli is that there is very little risk of frost. They very rarely experience it after January, and almost never after bud break. The biggest danger is instead the cold and powerful ocean winds that sweep in over the vineyards and that can actually injure the vines. Other potential problems are the long vegetation period and the fact that the winters are quite mild, leading to a heightened risk of insect infestation.
In the winter they have sheep in the vineyard who eat the grass and actually clean the vines as well by rubbing against them. Doniene Gorrondona try to work as organically as possible, but in this humidity they are sometime forced to spray with copper to avoid oidium.
The harvest is usually done in October. During harvest they are around 20 people in the vineyard. Everything is done by hand and the bunches are separated after quality during picking. ”I’m quite strict about selection.” Itziar told us (we believed her, the woman seemed extremely quality-orientated), ”In Bizkaiko Txakolina the mentality of the farmers is to approach all of them [grapes].” The region allows a yield of 13000 hl/hectare, but Doniene Gorrondona only extracts around 6000-8000 hl/hectar.
Near the winery the vineyard soils are predominantly sandy. On the hilltops on the opposite side of Bakio the soils are clay (argila) and slate, and a third area further inland is mainly slate. But Doniene Gorrondona have 22 different plots and many variations between them, not only soil. For the older vines pergola is the perfect trellis system, as it protects the grapes from wind and sun, but for the younger vines the production becomes too high and difficult to control.
While vinifying they use cultivations of yeast found in the vineyard and generally combine several different types to add complexity to the wines. They’ve also experimented with using one ”starter” of yeasts in faze one of the vinification and others in faze two. The wines are sometimes aged on the lees.
In Spain every wine producer is obliged to pay a tax to have the skins and pomace of the grapes removed and distilled. Shortly after starting with the winery Itziar and her colleagues had the idea of distilling the pomace themselves, and a small distillery was built in a corner of the winery. After pressing the skins are kept in 150 kg tanks and left to ferment spontaneously. The distillation process itself is performed during winter and takes about six hours per batch, giving a spirit with about 60% alcohol. It’s very important to only use skins of good quality and to keep the distillation process slow. According to the law everything in the process is to be kept sealed, and the distillers are prohibited even from tasting their own spirit during distillation. This makes separating head, heart and tail a difficult process. The first liter or so is automatically discarded, and great emphasis is placed on watching the density in the tubes, as that can give a hint about when changes are undergoing between different phases.
Doniene Gorrondona produces three whites, one red and a sparkling wine. In total they average a production of 100000 bottles a year, with most of the production selling in northern Spain and the U.S. being the by far biggest export market. Other than that it seems as if their wines sell better to countries with a strong tradition for seafood.
2015 Gorrondona Txakoli
Very clean, and precise aromas with hints of wet grass and lemon pulp. Lightly herbaceous with fresh acidity, a decorous bitter note and medium length. Reoccurring aromas. Simple but good. Yearly production of around 60 000 bottles. Grapes: hondarrabi zuri, hondarrabi beltza and mune mahatsa.
2015 Doniene Txakoli
This wine is made exclusively with hondarrabi zuri grapes and is fermented using five different types of yeast. Aromas of stone fruit, hay, and rose petals. Pleasing dry compounds, luscious acidity and medium length. The structure is quite square, well spread and even. A dash of herbs and salinity in the finish and aromas of sardines, rocket leaves, fresh apricots and common lady’s mantle. Yearly production of around 25 000 bottles. Grapes: 100% hondarrabi zuri
2014 Doniene Fermentado en Barrica
The Doniene Fermentado is a special selection of grapes from different vineyards that is only made in good years. The decision of whether to make the wine or not is always taken on the first of September. This year the barrel-fermented wine is from a vineyard called Iturriada, but it can vary from year to year. They look for the vineyards that give a naturally lower production and don’t utilize green harvest. After fermentation in new barrels the wine is put in tank, most often in February. Aromas of strawberries, chestnut honey, coca and nougat. Nicely integrated acidity, good mouth grip. Grapes: hondarrabi zuri
2015 Gorrondona Red
The red txakoli comes from just above 5000 vines of hondarrabi beltza spread out over different plots. The hondarrabi beltza in Bakio has very small bunches, thick skin and low balance of must verses skin. Thus it only macerates before fermentation. The yields are low and selection rigorous, sometimes only 60% of a vineyard is used.
The wine has a dense core, dark red with purple hints. It’s very fresh on the nose with aromas of black currant, herbs and blueberries. A good deal of dry compounds, a berry fruit profile and eager and even tannins. A wine that begs for food. The Gorrondona Red is often compared to a Loire Cabernet Franc, and I can’t but agree. The wine finishes off on a bright cherry note and can easily be kept for 2-5 more years. Today the production is extremely limited, but new vines have been planted and will be taken into production in a few years time. Grapes: 100% hondarrabi beltza
2014 Apardune Sparkling 2014 Brut Natur
The brut nature has a very dense, almost smoky nose with aromas of sea shells, blanched almond and black currant leaves. Love the acidity!!! It’s really apple tart and fresh, and the wine has a pleasing finish of black currant, white mushroom and white granite. Traditional method aged on the lees for at least a year and a half. Impressive. Grapes: 70% hondarrabi zuri & 30% mune mahatsa.
Aromas of celery, plankton and sunflower seeds as well as dried cactus leaves and star flowers. A bit prickly but balanced with clean notes of Catalina ocean, sea shell beaches and picked bones. Long aftertaste.
No + Wa 45%
Pale green, tea colored. Light aromas of spinach, seaweed and tea leaves. Fantastic grip and salinity. Aromas of asparagus, nori and wet Japanese tea leaves with sea salt.
For the spirit Doniene Gorrondona takes wakame and nori produced in Galicien. The inspiration came from the fragrant aromas that come off the beach-side seaweed when the tide is low, and they mostly work with the flowers of the kelp in order to accomplish this.
Aromas of caramel and malt, straw, barley and dry liquorice. Nice grip and structure (clearly modeled on the first oruju), with an aftertaste of liquorice and chervil.