Katrin Naelapaa, director of trade group Wines From Spain, credits much of this rampant rediscovery of Spanish grape varietals to the passionate young winemakers who are flocking to the industry in droves. “There’s an incredible curiosity within young Spanish winemakers and winery owners, who are driven by reclaiming what was once part of their heritage, but got overlooked for decades,” she says.
During the Franco era, few young people entered the winemaking business, leading many producers to wonder how the industry would survive. For the most part, younger generations stayed away until after the economic crisis of 2008, when cities no longer offered the job security that had once attracted newcomers. Thus, a return to the countryside began, and with it came a reinvention of Spanish wine.
“The new generation of winemakers has not only grown up in a different Spain than their forefathers, but most of them have also studied abroad, whether it’s in Bordeaux, California, or Australia,” Naelapaa says. “They’re coming back to Spain with different ideas about how to make wine and getting inspired by what they’ve seen elsewhere, while still looking inward to their own culture.”
This sentiment rings true at Envínate, a winery founded in 2005 by four friends—Roberto Santana, Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos, and José Martínez—who met while studying enology at a university in Spain. Together, the co-founders aim to create wines that are illustrative of the land on which they’re grown, similar to the practices in terroir-focused regions like Burgundy. “For us, it’s important that our wines have three things: personality, character, and soul,” Santana says. “We want to show how different soils and terrains affect the wine; how different years impart different characteristics on the final product; and how wines can convey the soul of the people working in the vineyards.”
Imported to the U.S. by Jose Pastor Selections since 2012, the Envínate portfolio ($20-$45 a 750-ml.) features wines sourced from the Canary Islands, Ribera Sacra, and Almansa, including Taganan Blanco ($39 a 750-ml.), a blend of Listan Blanco, Albillo Criollo, Marmajuelo, Gual, and Malvasia, among others; Lousas Viña de Aldea ($37), a Mencia-dominant red blend; and Albahra ($20), a combination of 70% Garnacha Tintorera and 30% Moravia Agria.
The influence of Spain’s new winemakers is already making waves in the retail arena. In the seven years since opening New York City Spanish wine and spirits shop Despaña Vinos y Más, store manager and wine buyer Veronica Stoler has seen great variation in what importers now offer, a direct result of the new generation’s mindset. “A generation ago, winemakers were eating and drinking locally, and making wine the same way they’d always made it,” she says. “Nowadays, in talking to winemakers younger than 50, you see that they’re out there tasting wines from all over the world, traveling to other wine regions, and swapping techniques with other vintners.” Despaña stocks around 580 labels, most of which are small-batch or limited production wines from boutique brands.