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Discovering Mireia Pujol-Busquets, Co-owner of Celler Alta Alella

12/06/2024 Interviews , Wineries

Mireia Pujol-Busquets belongs to the second generation of wine and sparkling wine producers at Celler Alta Alella, a winery located just a few kilometres from Barcelona, majestically situated in the Serralada de Marina Natural Park, embraced by a beautiful amphitheatre formed by vineyard terraces that create an extraordinary landscape overlooking the imposing Mediterranean Sea. This is a place where wines and sparkling wines are crafted under a philosophy of respect for the environment, achieving elegance and quality that have garnered national and international recognition.

Let us delve deeper into the story of Mireia Pujol-Busquets, whose tenacity and passionate love for the land and its surroundings are reflected in every sip of wine and every bubble of sparkling wine. Committed to sustainability and minimal intervention, Mireia elegantly encapsulates the essence of a territory and a vintage in every bottle of Alta Alella.

- Mireia, you have practically grown up alongside Alta Alella, your family winery. Do you remember your first significant encounter with the world of wine and how it impacted you?

My first contact with wine was with my mother, who opened a wine shop in Badalona when I was two years old. I particularly remember Christmas, the frenzy of people and Christmas hampers, and how I started wrapping gifts from a very young age. I also recall visiting my father at Marqués de Monistrol, where he worked when I was little. I remember being in the vineyard and the winery, but above all, always being surrounded by many bottles.

- You hold a degree in Biology, a Master's in Organic Agriculture, and an advanced degree in Sommelier. You left home to work at none other than the UN, but like swallows, you returned to the nest. What made you come back?

I always say that all roads lead back to Alta Alella. At 17, it is natural and healthy to make your own story and discover the world. For me, travelling has always been important, and my parents always took us here and there, which broadened my sister's and my horizons significantly.

I studied biology and was fortunate to work at the United Nations with a scholarship on environmental issues. Then I returned here and started a master's in organic agriculture while already working at Alta Alella. After that, I went back to Switzerland, then to the United States. I believe it is part of maturity to carve your own path, although I always knew I would return. What made me come back? There comes an age when you also need more stability, and the winery needed a generational handover, and that was my role; it was the right time, so I returned. It was quite a natural process.

- You work side by side with your father, Josep Maria Pujol-Busquets, an oenologist with an impeccable reputation who also taught for 10 years at the University Rovira i Virgili; and your mother, Cristina Guillén, has owned a renowned wine shop since 1987. How have they influenced your professional life?

I believe my parents have influenced both my personal and professional life. When you dedicate yourself to this world, it is difficult to differentiate between the two. They have influenced my lifestyle, especially living in the wonderful place where I live, which is the most important thing for me.

Probably, if they had not been involved in wine, I would not have discovered it either. Perhaps I would have dedicated myself to something related to agriculture, but not something so specific.

They have influenced me greatly in a positive way: they have taught me to value and love our territory and to develop a project in a place with a winemaking history, instilling in me, above all, the importance of preserving the history of the place.

- The D.O. Alella has a flagship grape: pansa blanca, which is known as xarel·lo in other regions. What can you tell us about this grape and its wines, and what qualities do you think distinguish it from other xarel·los in Catalonia?

The pansa blanca is one of the most traditional grapes in our area, known as xarel·lo in other denominations of origin. Its uniqueness, and that of other predominant varieties we also plant here and that are cultivated elsewhere, lies in the challenge of making these varieties convey the characteristics of the place where they are grown. In our case, I believe we achieve this.

With the pansa blanca, we aim to reflect the minerality of our soil, the sauló, and convey our proximity to the sea, and I believe we succeed with our pansa blanca.

One of the most interesting aspects of the pansa blanca, beyond its profile that combines notes of apple, fennel, and a touch of bitterness, is, for me, what sets our variety apart are the notes it develops, especially when aged in the bottle: those more reductive notes and a character similar to an aged Riesling that makes it very interesting, maintaining its freshness and a saline touch that differentiates us and serves as a hallmark of Alta Alella.

- How would you describe the style of wines and sparkling wines produced at Alta Alella?

We always say that our wines and cavas are transparent, reflecting the terroir, the vintage, and our characteristics: varieties, soil, climate, sea, the orography of the landscape, and the people behind this project. They are clean wines. All the cavas are brut nature.

I always say that wine allows you to travel through time. Each vintage is unique because each year is different. The climate is not the same, so the vines are treated differently; the harvest day is not the same, the winemaking process is not exactly the same, and this must be conveyed, right? Because otherwise, why do we engage in organic farming? Why do we harvest by hand? Why do we prune by hand and make such a selection of the grapes? It wouldn't make sense.

It is important that all these characteristics can be conveyed, that they are very transparent wines without any embellishments.

- We are at a crucial moment where either measures are taken to address the challenges posed by climate change, or we will enter a path of no return. Within Alta Alella, adaptation to these changes and all practices aimed at promoting sustainability are fundamental pillars of your philosophy. How has climate change affected viticulture in the Alella region, and how do you address it at Alta Alella?

As farmers, we have been aware of climate change for many years. Besides the irregularity in seasons and rainfall, the increase in temperatures is the most significant change. This makes us more conscious of sustainability. Previous generations have thought more about the present because, ultimately, life was shorter, but now we think more about the future, the legacy, and the world we leave for future generations.

With climate change, we face many challenges, and one of them is having more adapted viticulture, which is why we participate in a project to develop resistant and native varieties adapted to climate change (VRIAACCS).

We want to avoid phytosanitary treatments because organic farming, globally, still allows sulfur and copper treatments in vineyards to combat fungi or pests that affect us.

In most crops, all plants are clones that have been reproduced asexually, so they have not evolved and, therefore, are not adapted to temperature changes or the presence of diseases. That is why we are developing this project, which is already quite advanced, to truly have plants more adapted to climatic conditions without losing the organoleptic characteristics of our traditional plants, so as not to lose the wine culture we have in our territory.

- At Celler Alta Alella, you have created a branch dedicated to the production of natural or minimal intervention wines and sparkling wines, which you have named Celler de les Aus. Could you tell us the reason behind the name and what this project entails?

The Celler de les Aus is the radical winery of Alta Alella. It was founded in 2012 when I became a young farmer of the European Union; it was my project, but the idea began in 2006 when my father developed Spain's first cava without sulfites, the Alta Alella Bruant.

We decided to create a complete range of cavas, white wines, red wines, and sweet wines, all without sulfites, with minimal intervention and limited productions, where we could unleash our imagination and our desire to create. The Celler de les Aus (the Winery of the Birds) is a tribute to the birds of the natural park where we are located, 10 km from Barcelona. If our area were not protected, we could not be here; we wanted to highlight the importance of the natural park by paying homage to the birds.

- Alta Alella is one of the leading wineries promoting wine tourism in Catalonia. How did the interest in developing wine-related activities arise? Based on your own experience, what benefits does including wine tourism as a complementary part of a winery's work bring?

It arose naturally. While working on viticultural tasks, someone would come and ask if they could visit. A client's client, a neighbour's friend...

Seeing people's interest in wine, in 2012, we converted an old water reservoir into our wine tourism centre. During COVID, we rethought our project and focused more on the local audience with the challenge of getting people to return for another visit.

Wine tourism is a constant creator of experiences; we are very close to Barcelona, which is also a challenge, competing with the wide range of experiences the city offers, forcing us to differentiate ourselves.

Gradually, we have consolidated our wine tourism brand. We have 10,000 visitors a year. We do not want to grow more in terms of volume; we want to offer more interesting activities closely related to gastronomy, wine, art, or nature, especially aimed at families and children.

Previously, we would build customer loyalty with a product, a bottle of wine, which is something material. Now we can build loyalty through an experience, and this is evidently incomparable. We are proud to see the growing interest, both nationally and internationally, in sustainability, viticulture, and wine culture, which is very gratifying.

- Wine tourism is definitely an accessible way to bring wine and its surroundings closer to people. But do we really know how to communicate wine? How do you think we can improve wine communication and bring it closer to new generations while always promoting responsible consumption?

I believe it is through experiences, and that is what we try to do, adapting activities to different market segments: from families with children, where both parents and children can enjoy, to special days like Mother's Day or Women's Day, more dedicated to the female audience where we do yoga or other activities that allow us to create bonds and enjoy wine.

We offer experiences such as theatrical visits, activities in nature, and pairing dinners with seasonal, local products to highlight local gastronomy, accompanied by good pairings with our wines.

And above all, we want to emphasize that we should not only communicate that wine is just for consumption; wine is much more, it is the added value of being able to live in a privileged environment like the one we live in and the one we create for the rest of the community. It is not the same to say, "I am going to plant five hectares of vineyard," as "I am going to build five factories." This is something beneficial on a social and environmental level; wine allows us to do this, and we must value it. We have learned to share everything that wine brings us, and I think that is very important.

- This summer marks 23 harvests of the winery's most emblematic cava: Mirgin, whose name is a combination of yours and your sister's names, Mireia and Georgina. A sparkling wine that has undoubtedly brought you much joy. What can you tell us about the Mirgin cavas? How has their evolution been over these 23 harvests?

We are a young winery but with a lot of experience. Although it has been 23 harvests of Mirgin, at Alta Alella, my father had been making cavas long before. So far, Mirgin has been a journey of patience, especially in the last seven or eight years, we have focused on long aging and more premium cavas, and this requires a lot of patience.

If you want to release a twenty-year-old cava to the market, twenty years must pass. This has been the challenge, to have patience, to wait for the passage of time, and finally, in these last few years, to start sharing and enjoying the value of the passage of time, and I think that is the most interesting part.

- After so much work, both in the vineyard and the winery, how do you enjoy your free time? Do you have any hobbies or passions that share your moments of rest with your love for the land and wine?

I try to have a fairly organized life to have free time. I need sports to stay focused. Almost every day, I dedicate an hour to feeling good physically. I am fortunate to live by the sea and to be able to enjoy it with my children and my husband whenever I can; we have a sailboat and go sailing, and from the sea, we see the vineyards, and it is wonderful.

- To conclude, would you share with us the last wine or sparkling wine you tried that was a true revelation for you?

I have just returned from Colombia, where I was able to enjoy the country's gastronomy a lot. When I travel selling Alta Alella wines, I am fortunate to enjoy the gastronomy and other wines a lot because, ultimately, these are moments of sharing.

I tried several things, but one of the wines that surprised me the most was a white wine from Portugal, made with the albariño variety, called Soalheiro Granit, and it is a wine of the style I like: very mineral, an albariño that is not very aromatic, but more hydrocarbon, more reductive... I loved it!