An audience with Álvaro Palacios – part two


Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

In this second – and final – part of our audience with Álvaro Palacios, the 2015 Decanter Man of the Year lays bare his passion for bullfighting and describes what to expect from his latest vinous endeavour.

We need a pyramid of quality in Spain. If not, we will never be respected by the high-end consumer, and we will never be in the same category as the serious classified wines. You have to tell the consumer that this wine is great, but also that it belongs to this place. Even with my Gratallops, I write the name of the vineyards on the label. It’s not because of the winemaker that a wine will have higher or lower potential, it’s because of the quality of that soil.

All my generation can do is lay the foundations for our offspring to carry on. We are stepping on an important inheritance with an incredible value. We need to imagine we are stepping over the trestles of vineyards that could give a lot of glory to the regions and to Spain. And then we have to transmit this respect to younger generations.

I don’t worry about the prices of Spanish fine wines becoming like Bordeaux prices. If that happens, it will come after 300 years of glory for Spanish wines.

Valmira is a beautiful expression of nature. It is a three-hectare vineyard in Alfaro, and I’ve been working on it for 10 years. Two thousand and fourteen will be the first vintage that is coming to market. It’s Garnacha, with a little bit of two other grapes: Monastrell and Graciano de Alfaro – which is only grown there. It’s also a piece of land that has those ingredients of mystery that have made a wine of real depth, finesse, freshness and vitality that’s indescribable.

There is a parallel between winemaking and bullfighting, and that is nature. The breeding of bulls in nature is fantastic; it is a real agricultural task, an artisanal one in truth, to make the most vibrant, fierce and noble bull for the public to see. The bullfighter is a real artist, but we winemakers are not artists. We are shepherds, because great classic wine is about the vineyard, and as its guardians we have to harvest in the moment, and develop our skills with respect to that greatness.

I’m still bullfighting today – in fact I did yesterday before coming to England. I said to my family ‘I will go and get this award after bullfighting’. My sister and my wife thought I was crazy, but I didn’t mind if I have to collect an award with a broken arm. Bullfighters are my heroes. They risk their lives for art. When I’m tired or disappointed I think about these guys and then I go back to work stronger, trying to make the best wine I can.

I had to sell my Yamaha 250cc motocross bike to move to Priorat. If I hadn’t sold that motorbike I would have stayed in Rioja all my life. I spent the next 15 years with no motocross, no bullfighting, no money. I had to sell barrels to fund myself and then make wine at the weekends, but I have a collection of vintage Bultaco motorbikes now.

Read part one of our interview with Álvaro Palacios and find out more about his wines on our website.