The first thing that Roberto Santana explained when we arrived at their Palo Blanco vineyard in Valle de la Orotava was that he, Laura Ramos, Jose Martínez and Alfonso Torrente make the wines together, even though they come from different parts of Spain and live in different areas. The four friends who met while studying oenology at the University of Miguel Hernández in Alicante are Envínate – a collective who focus on making terroir-transparent wines from mainly Atlantic-influenced regions.
Roberto: “All the wines involve four brains!”
They work in three areas on Tenerife: the Taganana vineyards perched right above the Atlantic Ocean in the north east of the island; a selection of high-altitude sites in Santiago del Teide in the Yconden-Daute-Isora DO, where the two Benje wines come from; and they have Migan and Palo Blanco vineyards near the town of La Orotava. Soils in Palo Blanco where we stopped are 80% black basalt and the harvest is more than a month later than some of their other sites. The Listán Blanco (Palomino) from here has a sharp, natural acidity, reds would never ripen on this site.
Given that Tenerife is phylloxera free they establish new vines by layering, although the originals in the plot are 100 years old. One vine can have six strands. The length of the plant changes every year, but doesn’t always increase, depending on the pruning. Roberto noted that it’s important to prune so the vine produces new wood along its length, the first few buds are blind. They tie the vines in the traditional way with strands of banana leaf – you see the palms growing all around the island. The soil in Palo Blanco looks quite bare for an organic vineyard, until 2016 it was owned by someone else up who used herbicides, so is recovering its mojo so to speak! Also they cut the grass and will rotovate the soils this year. The island is humid, so canopy management is really important for grape quality. To dry the morning dew and discourage mildew they dust the vines with sulphur and bentonite instead of using systemic products.
Roberto: “Our vineyard work is the most important work that we do”.
Palo Blanco vineyard with 100 year old Listán Blanco in Cordon Trenzado. Roberto explains how they prune cordon trenzado.
On the winemaking front, they tend to ferment at low temperatures without stems. “If the stems have become ripe the grapes will be over-ripe”. Roberto commented. They don’t use new oak, they buy used Burgundy barrels from producers they know. Neither do they use SO2 during winemaking, they minimise racking and allow the lees to control the wine development. They just use a touch of SO2 before bottling to stabilise the wines. They’re looking for freshness, spice, fine tannins and a long finish.
2017 was a good year for the Taganana and Orotava vineyards. It was more difficult for the higher Benje sites – there was a hot, windy week, the vines lost leaves and some were stressed. “It isn’t a year for ageing Benje, five years would be enough, but on the other hand it’s tasting great now” admits Roberto. They think 2017 was one of the best years yet of Albahra. Harvest in 2018 was early and wines have good acidity levels.
We then headed up to a covered terrace where magnums of their latest releases were waiting – yaas!
Highlights for me were: Táganan Tinto 2017 – a blend of varietals including Negramol, Vijariego Negro, Listán Negro and Listán Gacho, planted on cliffs just above the Atlantic, on black basalt soils which the roots can penetrate. It’s aromatic, really fresh and fruity with a touch of spice; Benje Blanco 2017 – from a high site 100m above the cloud level on the volcanic slopes of Mount Teide. From this vintage they have started to ferment 40% of the wine in concrete under flor, with the rest in old barrels, and in 2018 they fermented 60% under flor in concrete which gives the wines a spicy texture and a fresh saltiness.
Thank you Roberto and Alfonso for a really memorable tasting. You can find more details on all the wines on our website. And we’re expecting a delivery of Benje Tinto, Palo Blanco and Táganan Parcela Margalagua 2017s in May, drop us a line for details.