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Getting to know Pepe Raventós, Managing Director of Raventós i Blanc

13/12/2023 Interviews , Winemaking

We all know we can’t escape our roots. Someone who knows that well is Pepe Raventós. The son and grandson of one of the longest family lines of sparkling wine production in Sant Sadurní (capital of cava), he initially chose social work as a career, but then did not think twice about getting fully involved in the family business when Raventós i Blanc went bankrupt. It was then, in the 1990s, when he took over the winery to continue his grandfather’s dream of turning Raventós i Blanc into an internationally prestigious winegrowing brand. And he has more than achieved this by setting the brand apart from its surroundings by carrying the label of the small geographical region of Conca del Riu Anoia. It’s a real treat to be able to interview him...

1- Although you began your professional career outside the wine industry, the truth is that the vineyard is in your blood. What are your earliest memories of wine?

When I was just a child, I spent summers harvesting grapes on the Can Codorniu estate. Actually, back then, it was a way to earn a bit of money; I remember inviting friends over and ending up exhausted! Then Grandma would have a great meal waiting for us!

There were memorable moments that I shared with my grandfather Josep Maria when I was a teenager. He let me try the wine he was drinking, and he enjoyed teaching me to taste and share thoughts.

2- Your family have been winegrowers since 1497, so you come from a long line. Which family member has had the biggest influence on you? And aside from family, who would you say have been your greatest mentors?

In terms of family, my father Manuel Raventós has undoubtedly influenced me the most. He and my grandfather founded the winery, but my grandfather’s death led my father to taking on Raventós i Blanc. I really admire him.

Outside the family, Didier Dagueneau has influenced me the most in the way I understand wine. I still remember when he scolded me one day for walking into the winery with dirty boots and how, after dinner and drinks with the grape harvesters, we would check each fermenting barrel to make sure everything was going well.

3- In 2001 you joined Raventós i Blanc and decided to make a go of it. Where did most of your effort go in these early years? And do you still follow these same principles or have your priorities changed?

We were in survival mode the first few years and what I had to do was sell. Now, I can dedicate more time to what I love the most, which is winemaking. Out of all the processes, the thing I am passionate about is the field, the vineyard, recovering the organism that is the farm, recovering the terraces in Can Sumoi, trying to learn from the plant, from the Xarel·lo, from the Sumoll. My dream is to achieve a Penedès using these two native varieties.

4- For a while, your daily life was spent between two very different places, between the countryside (in Sant Sadurní) and the city (New York). How did you manage to live alongside both nature and skyscrapers and not go crazy?    

Not at all. Life is all about balance. The yin and the yang. Being able to move between a city and an environment like the Penedès was like living two lives in one. It allowed me to have a wonderful balance. I think it’s very important for everyone to find their balance. In fact, I’ve been stuck in here for a few years now and it’s great, but I’m already planning to spend more time in the United States and in the more sophisticated wine markets of the world in the future.

5- Owner, technical director, winemaker and viticulturist. How do you manage to wear so many hats at once? Which one do you feel most at home in?   

Out of all my various jobs, the part I like the most is the winemaking and viticulture; but the most important thing for everything to go well is to have a very good team of people who love what they do, make their own decisions and who are, of course, much better than me. Everyone working in their field, their subject, their specialism.

6- Your sparkling wines are not even part of the D.O. Cava or Corpinnat. They are sold as Conca del Riu Anoia. What is so special about this small geographic region that means you’re not part of any other group?

I’m not part of any other group because I believe that the future of Penedès sparkling wine lies in a pyramidal Bourguignon model, based on valleys, villages and crus. This model has to be endorsed by the Generalitat de Catalunya and be a denomination.
It is not that our area has something better than others. What we need to do is to inspire other areas to follow this same model.
It is like in the Côte de Beaune, you have Meursault, Puligny, Chassagne, Saint-Aubin.
The difference is that we would do it better. We would do it by Concas, by valleys; not by municipalities. It would be a pyramid ordered by geology, not by politics.

7- Your passion for viticulture, native varieties and unique and different soils has seen you set up your two most personal projects: Pepe Raventós and Can Sumoi. How would you define each of them? How do they differ?

Pepe Raventós is a garage project, which means research, innovation, learning, risk, mistakes. And the Mas del Serral sparkling wine is from a dream.

Can Sumoi is a much larger project, and is not so personal. Here we want to apply what we have learned over the last 25 years with my father at Raventós i Blanc, and transfer it to the mountains of the Serra de l'Home, in the Baix Penedès.

Can Sumoi is a wonderful estate, dating back to 1645 and located 600m above sea level. A magical place, which reminds us of our Mediterranean origins, which is where you find the best climatic conditions for winemaking. And its altitude gives it the perfect characteristics for making wines with minimal intervention, both in the vineyard and in winemaking.

With this magical context behind us, our work philosophy at Can Sumoi is courageous; and what we seek is to protect and bring value to the territory by saving old vineyards, working in collaboration with local winegrowers and buying grapes at a fair price. On the estate, there has been enormous work to recover biodiversity, the Sumoll and Xarel·lo local varieties, protect the surrounding forests, recover terraces and, we hope to rebuild the old farmhouses in the future.

Our inspiration comes from what Jean-Louis Chave is doing in the Middle Rhône in the Saint Joseph denomination, which is not as prestigious as Hermitage, but it is growing a lot because of its greater freshness, looking closely at the work of Anne and Manu Houillon at Pupillin.

8- Sumoll, a native variety from the Penedès is starting to become the apple of the eye of winemakers who are committed to the territory. Can you tell us about the characteristics of this variety?

This variety has unimaginable potential because it has a fresh Burgundy vintage pH and the tannicity and depth of a Barolo Nebbiolo. All of this in a Mediterranean climate, which is the leading climate for minimal intervention viticulture in the history of viticulture.

9- We know that one of the creations that has stolen your heart is Mas del Serral, a sparkling wine from a single plot that spends 10 years on lees.  No mean feat! Can you explain to us the secret to the success of such a long aging?

The secret is in the origin. The vineyard plot brings characteristics to this grape that give it a magnificent aging potential. At the same time, we have to bear in mind that we are talking about the Xarel·lo variety, which has one of the best aging potentials of all grapes in the world. That is why I say that Xarel·lo has more future potential than Chardonnay. It expresses the minerality with more forcefulness and its aging potential in a Mediterranean latitude is incomparable.

10- Committed to biodynamics, you are inspired by the traditional Catalan farmhouse for work. A return to origins that provides a great example of biodiversity. Were past times better times?

Of course. I am a romantic when it comes to the past. I think we are heading towards a lost world and we have to recover the values of the past. Slow down, don’t watch everything on a screen, listen to older people, etc. This is why I like to say that we are trying to bring history forward.
A day on our farm is like a journey where the destination is going back to the beginning. On this path, words like land, native varieties, landscape, animals and people, are what guide us to what we are today. This is an estate turned into a farm where nature, animals and people live in harmony in one place with its own ecosystem.

11- More than once you have said that “to achieve international recognition you have to be extremely local” Can you explain that?

I am not the person to explain it because I have no international recognition, but Joan Miró explained it very well with his painting. The way of expressing the colours of the Mediterranean, of his native Tarragona or his adopted Mallorca, drew the attention of people all over the world to his work. I think that in the world of wine it is quite clear. The most beautiful thing about wine is tasting origins, even if they are distant and over time.

12- Finally, could you give us the name of a wine you have recently fallen in love with and why?

I fell in love with Garnatxa Sant Antoni de Scala Dei made by Ricard Rofes, 2015 vintage. I fell in love with its balance between finesse and elegance and, at the same time, expression of origin, complexity, a certain rusticity and very acidic.