Raúl Pérez is a philosopher of viticulture, a consultant, an oenologist, and the creator of some of the most famous wines to come from Spain. His name is well received among fans and critics, while his wines are often well recognized by Robert Parker. His wines are often produced in limited quantities, which means it is often hard to get your hands on them. He not only produces his own wines, but wines for others, in collaboration with others, as well as in family projects, and is known for pushing the limits and breaking boundaries. It’s surprising that his childhood dream was to be a doctor
The term “flying wine-maker” was coined in the late 80’s by a number of winemakers from New Zealand and Australia, who came to emerging wine regions of Europe with potential and abundant in raw materials, as the time of harvest in Europe coincides very little with the oenological activity in their homelands. The aim of producing wines this way was to produce technically sound wines at competitive prices, as well as allowing the winemakers to produce across international markets. The term was quickly adopted to refer to any oenologist who works on one or more holds, regardless of whether they own their own winery. However, the term “driving wine-maker” is used when no aircraft for international travel is used to travel between plots. It’s fair to say that both these terms apply to Raúl Perez.
In the world of viticulture, his names represents a way of producing and making different wines, which always sweep up awards. ‘The Wine Advocate’, magazine of Robert Parker, even scored his wine Ultreia de Valtuille 2005 an impressive 98 Parker Points out of a possible 100. He was also recognised as the best winemaker of the year at the Wine Awards 2014 gala, an event organised by the prestigious German magazine Der Feinschmecker. He was then awarded with the same accolade in 2015 at “Le Grand Tasting” in Shanghai, China.
Raúl Pérez was born in 1972 in Valtuille de Abajo, a town in el Bierzo between Cacabelos and Villafranca del Bierzo. Despite being born into a family with a long heritage in viticulture, Raúl had no intention of entering the wine industry, and initially dreamed of being a doctor. However it was in 1992 when Raúl Pérez crossed into the world of wine, when he joined the family winery Castro Ventosa, long before the revolution began in Bierzo.
In 1999 at Castro Ventosa, he helps Ricardo Pérez Palacios and his uncle Álvaro Palacios to ferment 30,000 kilos of grapes that who help produce the first wines of Descendientes de J.Palacios, as well as the Peique family with their first vintages. He also helped develop some magnificent wines such as Ardai Cepas Centenarias. In 2004, he decided to part ways with Castro Ventosa, embarking on the Ultreia project, with the idea of producing bolder wines, which was simply not possible at a large scale winery. However in 2009, the Ultreia project closed, and Pérez returned to Castro Ventosa, this time as technical director.
Raúl Pérez is a restless character, and has not seemed to have stopped working over the years, which makes it slightly difficult to make an exact chronology of his activities and projects, and impossible to cover everything that he has accomplished in his career. Besides being technical director of Bodegas Estefania in El Bierzo, which produces wines under the Tilenus brand, he began making his own wines in various regions, as well as advising other wineries, exploring forgotten grape varieties and recovering vineyards from the brink of extinction. More recently he opened his own company, Raúl Pérez Bodegas y Viñedos. He also has a micro winey in Salas de los Barrios, 7km from Ponferrada, where the Ultreia range was produced. He also has another winery in Valdevimbre, in the province of León, tierra de Prieto Picudo, which was founded in the 1920’s to produce cava, which has preserved the structure but completely renovated inside. And maybe soon we can talk about another new winery in Valtuille: El Atalier. A small project where around 8 wines will be produced, under a maximum output of 700 bottles.
Raúl Pérez has a particular way of understanding wine. He believes that the priority is not the cellar, or the winery, but the vineyard itself. In fact, Raúl Pérez Bodegas y Viñedos is not a winery that really has a location, a vineyard, since Raúl produces wines as he goes along, using his own vineyards, or with purchased or loaned grapes, at his winery or perhaps other facilities. Currently a hundred labels bear his name, where some are reproduced vintage after vintage, while others may not appear anymore, so it becomes impossible to keep updated on his portfolio of wines.
Projects and Wines.
Perhaps to understand his character and career, it would be best to make a chronology of his busy and extensive career. On finishing the Ultreia project in 2010, he decided to embark on a new project called La Vizcaína, with his nephews César Márquez and Nerea Pérez, the latter of which tragically died during production. The project is home to 10 hectares, and in 2013 managed to produce 5 wines, each from 2 hectares of vineyards and that do not exceed 5,000 bottles per vintage. The project produces four Mencía reds, all aged for 12 months: La Vitoriana, La Poulosa, El Rapolao and Las Guindiñas, as well as a white crianza, La del Vivo, made exclusively with the native Doña Blanca variety, aged on its lees.
In 1998 he worked with the Mencía grape at Quina de Muradella, where he worked with José Luis Mateo in Monterrei, near Verin, where they produced the red “A Trabe”. Then in 2000, he moved over to the Ribera Sacra to help and advice the Alguiera winery, working again with the Mencía variety grown on soils abundant in slate, a year later in the same region, he decided to make wines for friends without colour, without extraction, El Pacado, with Bastardo grapes.
Two years later in 2003 he then moved to Rías Baixes, where he began to produce a ´vino de garaje`, Sketch, aged in bottles under the sea, together with Rodrigo Méndez, who helped facilitate the grapes with direct exposure to the sea and granite soils, which was then followed up by “Leirana” and later “Goliardo”.
Then in 2004-05 he began on certain projects in León. In 1999, he began advising the Estefanía winery produce the Tilenus line of wines, and then decided to undertake a project with Pireto Picudo, which resulted in the ‘Clan’ line of wines in El Bierzo.
Then in 2006 came Bernabeleva in Madrid, in San Martín de Valdeiglesias, on the edge of the Sierra de Gredos, where he worked mainy with the Garnacha variety of different plots. That same year he began to produce in limited quantities Priedo Picudo, and the red wine Rara Avis was born. He also moved to Asturias to help develop wines with the Carrasquín and Verdejo Tinto grapes, as well as other varieties native to the region, such as the Albarín. He spent two years there, but due to disagreements with the owner of the winery, he had to close that project.
In 2007 he embarked on a new project in the Douro region with the Niepoort family, which although began as a collaboration, he ultimately ended up selecting plots and facilities to produce his own red and multivarietal wine, Ultreia Douro, from 2008.
He has even been working in South Africa since 2003 with Eben Sadie, one of the architects of Terroir al Límit in the Priorat and owner of Columella on the African continent. However it wasn’t until 2009-2010 when he produced his first wine there, Ultreia Cabo Tormentas, made exclusively with the Monastrell grape variety.
Prior to 2008, after this project, he acquired vineyards of Tinta Amarela (Trincadeira Preta) and Bastardo Portugués (Merençao or Maria Ardoña) in the north zone Terra Quente, while also experimenting with the Bastardo Ruso variety.
Wines by the Raúl Pérez Bodegas y Viñedos.
Here are some of the wines produced under the umbrella that is the Raúl Pérez Bodegas y Viñedos, La Vizcaína de Vinos, as well as other wines production in collaboration and/or in his wineries Salas de los Barrios and Valdevimbre, and we shall leave aside the wines produced in collaboration with other wineries.
La del Vivo. A white wine made exclusively with the Doña Blanca variety, taken from the hills of Valtuille. With work on lees in the barrel this is quite an unusual white, with an original aromatic profile that is extraordinary in the mouth, where the name Raúl Pérez appears next to his nephew Nérea on the label of the bottle.
La Vitoriana. This wine is again made with the Mencía grape, but with a small percentage of Alicante Bouschet, Estaladina and Souson, all of which come from a 1,7 hectare vineyard with vines over 80 years old. Fermentation takes place with the whole grapes, while the wine is aged for 12 months in used French oak barrels. The wine is neither clarified nor filtered before bottling. This wine also boasts a good aromatic intensity, with a presence of red fruits. This wine is rounded, tasty, intense and serious.
Las Gundiñas. As with Vitoriana, this wine is made with the Mencía grape, with a touch of Alicante Bouschet, Estaladina and Souson, but from the Gundiñas zone, a 2 hectare plot, situated at the bottom of a hillside 250 metres above sea level, with vines between 60 and 80 years old. The wine is aged for 12 months in 7 year old French oak. This wine boasts an extraordinary freshness on the nose, with very soft tannins and well balanced alcohol and acidity.
La Poulosa. This wine comes from a 2 hectare south-east facing vineyard with rich soils, with sweet and rounded tannins. It is made with the Mencía variety, with a touch of Alicante Bouschet, Estaladina and Souson, from vines between 60 and 80 years old. This wine is also aged in 7 year old French oak for 12 months. This is perhaps his most well rounded red wine, with more mature notes and easier on the palate, with a nice velvety feel.
El Raplao. This wine comes from a steep 2 hectare north facing vineyard, home to clayey soils with a degradation into a soil rich in organic matter. This wine is aged for 12 months in 7 year old French oak barrels. It is then bottles without being filtered nor clarified. According to Raúl Pérez this wine comes from his favourite vineyard. The wine is floral, refined on the mouth, with an acidity more present than his other wines.
Ultreia Mencia. This wine is made exclusively with the Mencía grape variety, from old vines from different plots in terms of Valtuille de Abajo and Salas de los Barrios, planted on clay and slate soils. Aged for 12 months in used French oak barrels.
Ultreia La Claudina. This is a white wine made with the Godello variety. It is fermented in (700litre) barrels and aged for 11 months in (2700litre) French oak fudres. This is an elegant wine, with floral aromas, fry fruits and roasted nuts. It is balanced, complex and long.
Ultreia de Valtuille. This is the premium wine of the Ultreia range, and was awarded an impressive 98 Parker Points. It is made exclusively with the Mencía grape variety, taken from a single plot, Las Villegas, in Valtuille de Abajo. The vineyard was planted in 1908, and this wine is produced in the most limited quantites of the range. Is aged 12 months in French oak barrels used and is bottled without being filtered nor clarified.
Ultreia Petra. This wine comes from a small plot with slate soils and 800 vines of the Mencía variety in Valtuille de Abajo. The whole bunches first undergo cold-maceration. Fermentation is then carried out in open French oak barrels (1500litre) with work on its lees for 12 months. Production is limited to 500 bottles a vintage.
La Tentación. This wine is produced without a Denominación de Origin in Pajares de los Oteros (León) in collaboration with Noehlia de Paz. It is made with the Pinot Noir grape variety and undergoes fermentation with the skins in 500 litre fudres. Following this the wine ages for 12 months in French oak barrels.
El Pecado. This wine is made exclusively with the Mencía grape variety in the DO Ribeira Sacra. It comes from one of the most spectacular vineyards, the Finca Capeliños, situated opposite the estate of El Perdón, just the other side of the river. 30-40% of the wine is vinified with the stems, and the wine is aged for 12 months in oak barrels.
La Penitencia. This wins is produced in the Ribeira Sacra, however it is not classified under the DO. It is a blend of 3 different grape varieties; predominantly Mencía (85%), with a touch of Bastardo and Ciano. The grapes come from vineyards that are over 100 years old, aged for 12 months in French oak barrels.
Castro Condaz – El Curvado. This wine is also produced in the Ribeira Sacra in collaboration with Rodrigo Mendez. It is made with Mencía grapes taken from a single plot in the Chantada zone, with vines that are between 70-90 years old, grown on granite and slate soils, at altitudes between 200 and 450 metres.
Castro Condaz – A Boca do Demo.Another single variety Mencía wine, grown on the Banks of the river Miño, in the A Cova zone. The harvest is carried out manually. Fermentation also takes place with the stems. Maceration lasts for 75 days. The wine is then aged for 12 months in used oak barrels. Production is limited to 2000 bottles. This wine is elegant, fragrant, and Atlantic. With red fruits, violets, lavender, chamomile, moist soil, hot spices, smoky notes, fine but firm tannins, good acidity.
Castro Condaz – La Vertical. This is a white wine made exclusively with the Godello variety, taken from the Chantada region. This wine was made in collaboration with Rodrigo Méndez. This is a fine and elegant Godello, aged in French oak barrels with a great acidity that gives it a certain freshness, balance and a great aging potential.