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Estrela label
Estrela label

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100 Year Old Mencía Vine thumbnail
100 Year Old Mencía

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100 Year Old Garnacha Vine thumbnail
100 Year Old Garnacha

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Eastward View of Estrela Vineyards thumbnail
Eastward View of Vineyards

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Vineyard & the Sil

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Stone Stairway

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Fire Damaged Plot

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Tojo Brush

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Amandi Morning View

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Wine Culture Connection

Rescue in Ribeira Sacra
Traditional Ways Saved

One of the most outward legacies of Roman winemaking tradition in the Ribeira Sacra appellation is the steep terraces, called bancales, cut out of high stone riverbanks.

Estrela is one of a few handfuls of wineries to maintain and restore abandoned terraced plots. Along with the painstaking hard work of restoring the stonework and rescuing old vines they have also revived other traditions like the use of tojo scrub brush for ground cover.

The elaborate stonework stairway that cuts up through the more than 500 year old terraces. Photo: Justin Berlin © 2011 Spanish-Wine-Exlusives
The elaborate stonework stairway that cuts up through the more than 500 year old terraces.
Photo: Justin Berlin © 2011 Spanish-Wine-Exclusives

Almost all of the everyday work of maintaining Estrela's vineyards must be done by hand. Along with the usual vine maladies, other hazards to the bancales are chiefly erosion and encroaching vegetation, but also fire, typically from lightning.

An abandoned and  overgrown terraced plot damaged by fire in the background, in stark contrast to the well-tended Estrela plot damaged by the same fire. Photo: Justin Berlin © 2011 Spanish-Wine-Exlusives
An abandoned and overgrown terraced plot damaged by fire in the background, in stark contrast to the well-tended Estrela plot damaged by the same fire.
Photo: Justin Berlin © 2011 Spanish-Wine-Exclusives

The Romans began carving out terraces in the region nearly 2000 years ago, and later in the 11th and 12th centuries the Cistercian monks established monasteries and developed viticulture in the area and across Europe during the Middle Ages—most famously in Burgundy's Grand Cru vineyards.

The name Ribeira Sacra—meaning Sacred Riverbanks— stems from the time of the monasteries and is the premiere red wine appellation in Galicia today. It is in isolated, mountainous terrain inland from the Atlantic coast and borders along the Sil River in the east, to where the Sil meets the Miño in the west; and is split into five sub-zones. It is also one of Spain's most exciting emerging wine regions.

A downward view of tojo brush spread on the terrace floor. Photo: Justin Berlin © 2011 Spanish-Wine-Exlusives
A downward view of tojo brush spread on the terrace floor.
Photo: Justin Berlin © 2011 Spanish-Wine-Exclusives

Another of the old ways in practice at Estrela is the use of the local scrub bush called tojo that grows scattered all around the hillsides of the area. About every six years José Maria and now Carlos cut tojo and—for those plots that need it—they lay a new matting of tojo over the terrace floors to help retain humidity in the soil and also replace nutrients the soil has lost.

This is another example of how a viticultural practice developed over centuries to a specific place has found new life in lieu of the "miracles" of modern chemical fertilizers, irrigation and the like. While such modern tools have a great capacity for creating higher yields, increasing production or simply making things easier, in the end they don't suit Estrela's vision of reflecting the unique character of Amandi wine—both the terroir of its slopes and the traditions of its people.



   
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A westward view of the steeply sloped vineyards of the Amandi sub-zone of the Ribeira Sacra DO and home of Estrela's vineyards. The heart of the Sub-Zone rises from the right riverbanks (northern side) of the Sil River in front of the cloud in the distance, inland toward the town of Amandi and eastward along the Sil toward the inland town of Doade.
A downward view of one of Estrela's steep, old vine Amandi vineyard plots.
Top: A westward view of the steeply sloped vineyards of the Amandi sub-zone of the Ribeira Sacra DO and home of Estrela's vineyards. The heart of the sub-zone rises from the right riverbanks (northern side) of the Sil River in front of the cloud in the distance, inland toward the town of Amandi and eastward along the Sil toward the inland town of Doade. Above: A downward view of one of Estrela's steep, old vine Amandi vineyard plots. Photos: Justin Berlin © 2011 Spanish-Wine-Exclusives

Borne out of centuries of vine growing tradition, Estrela is a very small family owned winery in the heart of the Ribeira Sacra DO. Estrela produces wine of immense character and natural purity from the top red grape of the region, Mencía. The core of the estate is seven very old vine, steeply sloped, and stunningly picturesque vineyard plots along the Sil River, set in the most prestigious sub-zone of the appellation, Amandi.

Here the viticulture and Estrela wine are bound in tradition. Here "tradition" is not a romantic nod to old ways long eclipsed by industrial agriculture. Here tradition is long hours of hard work by a father and son, tending the land of their ancestors to make a humble, yet noble product, wine.

Here Carlos's mother, Dorinda Diaz, makes their hearty Gallego bread, and their savory chorizo and cured meats. Here they grow their own potatoes, and dig them up from a garden down the road. It is perhaps a simpler way than most of us modern city dwellers experience, with it's own kind of richness in the flavors and savor of life as it has been for generations. But it is not an easy way either.

Carlos's father, José Maria Diaz, now in his 80s, had feared the family vineyards and traditions were nearing their end when he could no longer manage the vineyards alone. However, Carlos could not let this happen, although he has his own family and a more citified job as a full-time teacher in a small city not too far away.

Estrela proprietors Carlos Diaz (right), and his father, José Maria Diaz (left), out in the steep, slate vineyards of Amandi with a view of the Sil River below.
Estrela proprietors Carlos Diaz (right), and his father, José Maria Diaz (left), out in the steep, slate vineyards of Amandi with a view of the Sil River below. Photo: © 2011 Carlos Diaz

Instead Carlos spends all his free-time, weekends, holidays and vacation time tending the vineyards, along with his father. Extended family are brought in for the harvest and a harvest celebration.

The plots are located at varying altitudes and orientations, stretching from the town of Amandi to Doade. While the pint-sized winery itself is comprised of just a few stainless steel tanks and a mini bottling and labeling machine in the basement of the family house in the tiny village of Vilachá de Doade.

The vines range from 80 to 100 years old and many of the steep stone terraces, called bancales, are more than 500 years old. Vine cultivation along the Sil dates back to Roman times. Together the plots make up 1.6 hectares of vineyards of 98% Mencía and 2% Garnacha vines. The Garnacha adds acidity to the blend, and is another of the old ways of naturally maintaining balance without the interventionist practice of adding tartaric acid, which is often poorly integrated and can add an artificial character to the wine.

Hearty  Gallego bread, and intensly flavorful chorizo and salchichon cured sausage, all family made by Dorinda Diaz.
Hearty Gallego bread, and intensely flavorful chorizo and salchichon cured sausage, all family made by Dorinda Diaz. Photo: Justin Berlin © 2011 Spanish-Wine-Exclusives

The soil in the central Amandi plots near the town of Amandi is pure red slate, and is the source of the intense minerality in the wine. Because of the wide width of the Sil in Amandi its vineyards are better ventilated than eastward toward the town of Doade, which helps maintain good vine and grape health. As you near Doade the soil becomes more solid slate, and the ventilation is also lessened because as the width of the Sil river narrows.

While common sense would indicate that humidity would be a significant problem along the riverbank, but rather heat at the lowest parts of the slopes closest to the river (with temperatures reaching as high as 113° F) becomes a big factor in terms of ripeness. The result is that the lower parts of the slope are harvested earlier with a riper character to the grapes. The vines are trained in trellis to help with better aeration and to avoid the skins of the grapes being burned by the sun and adding cooked flavors into the wine.

The wines are naturally made, in part out of necessity. The vineyard slopes can be more than a 70% grade in sections so that almost all of the vineyard work is done by hand, and sometimes with the help of donkeys—especially at harvest. No chemical treatments are used except for caldo bordeles applications after flowering.

The winemaking style is traditional and as non-interventionist as possible. Pure, rich fruit and well-balanced acidity that reflects the land is their goal. Considering the quality and age of their vines they could make a super concentrated modern style luxury cuvée (at even more minuscule quantities), but that is simply not part of the equation at Estrela.

Simply put, Estrela is a labor of love and tradition from a family's own hands and their own hearts.

WINE FROM ESTRELA

Estrela 2011, Ribeira Sacra - Amandi DO Red SRP $20 Order Now from retail merchant Flatiron Wines & Spirits
Estrela is a pure and naturally made old vine Mencía-based red, offering layered aromatics, loads of mineral laced fruit and a lively, balanced palate. Similar to the 2010 vintage the outstanding 2011 offers a very fragrant bouquet with raspberry, juicy plum and chewey cherry fruit notes complemented by pronounced clay, iron and charcoal tones. On the palate it is surprisingly silky with a medium to full body and balanced acidity. Strawberry flavors emerge along with a touch of finely powdered brown earth. The finish is fresh with plump cherry tones and lingering notes of blackberry and minerally dirt.
Serve with sausage, duck, pheasant, game hen, pork chops, BBQ or steak frites.
90 Points, Top 100 Values of 2012 —Wine & Spirits

Tech Details:
833 cases produced. Blend: 95% Mencía, 5% Garnacha.
No oak aging.

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