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Getting to know Ton Mata, CEO of Recaredo and president of Corpinnat

16/03/2022 Interviews

Rigour, authenticity, transparency and patience. Ton Mata’s wines are a true reflection of himself. The third generation of the Recaredo winery, his creations are true masterpieces. He has acquired these skills through knowledge and is an expert at transferring these skills into his wines. A strong champion of biodynamic principles as a form of proactive cultivation, he makes quality still and sparkling wines with absolute freedom and without consumer demands getting in the way. Not only that, but he has also been one of the driving forces in setting up the Corpinnat collective brand with the aim of distinguishing the great sparkling wines produced in the heart of the Penedés region. With such a wealth of experience it’s not surprising that every vintage there is a strong following of people eagerly waiting to enjoy his personal touch in every bottle that is manually disgorged in the wonderful winery in the heart of Sant Sadurní, in the Penedés region (Catalonia). Let’s take a closer look...

- Your grandfather came from a family of artisan ceramicists, but seeing how little money this made, his mother sent him to work in a winery. This is where the Recaredo legacy begins. Would we be right in saying that your great-grandmother was a visionary?

This was such a long time ago, but I doubt my great-grandmother would have imagined how the story has unfolded. It was a decision taken out of necessity because of austerity. But it undoubtedly inspired a vocation and an excitement in my grandfather, who then passed that onto my father, Antoni Mata Casanovas, and my uncle, Josep Mata Casanovas.

- Your grandfather’s story is really interesting. A cava maker and football player who decided to focus on football full time. However, as an expert in the art of manual disgorgement, he did ad hoc work in Sant Sadurní’s best wineries. Apart from keeping the manual disgorging technique in all your Corpinnat productions as a tribute to your grandfather, what else did you learn from him?

I remember my grandfather so well, his laughter, his small eyes, his curiosity, and his sense of humour. But also his incredible and thoughtful capacity for work, setting his own rules. He was innovative, a reader and a traveller, and was always learning. His legacy and my memory of him influence who we are as Recaredo today. He was consistent and committed to doing things well. He took the strong decision, together with my father and uncle, to use natural cork for the aging process at a time when industrialisation was taking over. He opted for the Brut Nature style and for long aging, as well as for using his own vineyards to create the best sparkling wine. These are undoubtedly the foundations of today’s Recaredo.

- As a child you hated the countryside and wanted to study aeronautical engineering. However, once you finished your degree, you changed your mind and decided to study agricultural engineering and join the family business. What led you to becoming fully involved with Recaredo? Was there any common ground between the two types of engineering?

The truth is that I didn’t really have a clear sense of vocation when I started college, so I tried Aeronautics because I had always been fascinated by the idea of flight. However, I found my studies very hard and too far from home. That distance from my family, the town, the environment I had always lived in, gave me a new perspective. Seeing things from the outside and from far away made me really appreciate all the work my father, my uncle and my grandfather did. That’s when I realised that they were something a bit different, that they were doing incredible things and I really wanted to be part of it all.

One day I had a serious conversation with my father and I joined Recaredo. I don’t think the two types of engineering have much in common, but it was great that they covered all the core subjects, so I could focus on Enology and Viticulture. I remember enthusiastically studying everything wine- and vineyard-related, it was a time of learning that felt natural, I absorbed everything so easily. When this happens, it’s an amazing feeling.

Over the years, I’ve become more and more interested in intuition and sensitivity, we think more about overseeing a wine than making a wine. We think more about respecting a wine than about managing a wine, we think more about knowing how to interpret the soil and the vintage than about trying to standardise things...

- Over the 25 years that you have been with the company, the work in the vineyard has been transformed, first from conventional agriculture to organic agriculture, and then to biodynamic agriculture. What does biodynamics mean to you and what does it bring to Recaredo’s products?

It’s difficult to explain biodynamics in one sentence, but for me it’s about working with nature and not against it. If nature has a way to close the nitrogen cycle, why when we “farm” do we break this cycle and not let nature close it? The answer is vanity. Biodynamics is holistic and paradoxical, because it puts man at the centre, as the person responsible, but it also humbles people in the face of nature. Only in this way, with this attitude, will we be able to express the best of our soils, climate, plants and ourselves.

Winegrower Steffano Belloti explained that when you are at traffic lights, with your car stood still, and you look over at the driver of the car next to you, if you’ve got a friendly look on your face, they will smile back at you. He says that this is like biodynamics, and it’s the best explanation I’ve ever heard.

- The truth is that, having implemented the more rational parts of biodynamics in 2006, you are now going a step further by opening up to the more philosophical and more conscientious part of this holistic approach to agriculture. Do you think that being aware of how and why every process is being done has a real impact on the wine?

Psychologist and writer Wayne Dyer said that when we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change. The Cartesian part is not everything. Consciousness is a fascinating thing, wine isn’t the same if we’re not aware of why we do things, how we do things, with what sense, for what purpose... Biodynamics goes beyond an “agricultural system”, it’s an “open style”, where all the people and all the plants that are part of Recaredo are at the centre. If we achieve all this, of course it has real consequences on the wine, and on all the people involved in the wine process and on each and every one of the vines that make the wine possible.

- At Recaredo you are great champions of the area, the landscape and the environment and that is reflected in each of your products. Is maintaining a high quality today a big challenge?

Penedès is a very beautiful area, self-managed by some 6,000 winegrowers who take care of this land. But on the other hand, we’re very close to densely populated and industrialised areas, with infrastructure needs, electricity grids, residential, logistic and industrial needs. As well as that, the usual price per kilo of grapes is very low and climate change means that we have increasingly lower yields in the vineyard. None of this is particularly good for a wine-growing area to flourish. I believe that the only remaining option is to focus on respect, prestige and maximum quality if we want to survive as a wine-producing area. Preserving the landscape is a priority for sustainability and is a major economic driver for a wine region.

- All your sparkling wines are Brut Nature, are you planning to try a new style, or are you sticking to the purely dry Corpinnat without expedition liqueur for a specific reason?

[Smiles] The truth is that there are no arguments here: the whole Recaredo team is firmly committed to Brut Nature. All Recaredo products are of this style and we like to explain that we try to offer honest and transparent wines that can tell stories about the landscape and the area without any kind of mask or interference. So, all Recaredo Corpinnats have a very defined style: they are vintage, they are Brut Nature and they are aged for a long time.

Wines have a great ability to record and express what happens in the vineyards. Droughts, rains, temperatures... every aspect of nature. They are great pictures of the landscape! We like it this way and we want to share it through our wines.

- Your Turó d'en Mota has been defined as a sparkling wine that, when it launched in 2008, reinvented the concept of ‘cru’ in Catalonia. Do you think that you might have started a trend that leads towards a return to the land taking centre stage?

There is no viable path in winemaking without a return to the land and, above all, to respecting the land and ecosystems. Wines are born and made in the vineyard, hence our obsession with connecting each of our corpinnats to the estates, the vineyards or the plots they come from. For us this is a natural path, one that makes us feel comfortable and that seeks to value the natural heritage and landscape of the Penedès.

In 2008 we released the 1999 vintage of Turó d'en Mota. This was the first single-variety Xarel·lo sparkling wine and the first to make a firm commitment to aging on lees for more than 100 months. But, most importantly, Turó d'en Mota was a small piece of bottled landscape that showed that Penedès winegrowers could make terroir sparkling wines with their own identity in the Penedès.

- Recaredo’s Reserva Particular represents the winery’s traditional focus and is an indisputable testimony to Recaredo’s commitment to long aging. A revolutionary idea in the 1960s that has made its mark today. How did you come up with the idea of carrying out such a feat?

The idea came from my grandfather with the help of my father Antoni and my uncle Josep. The three of them decided to make a very long-aged Brut Nature style cava using the Xarel·lo and Macabeo varieties, with the Xarel·lo fermented in foudres. Quite a novelty at the time!

Reserva Particular was the cava enjoyed by the family, with a gastronomic style, fine bubbles and infinite nuances on the palate. We slowly started sharing it with friends and clients and that’s how we got to where we are today! Reserva Particular is celebrating its 60th anniversary, focussing on old vines, in this case three plots planted in 1950 and 1955.
Over time, wine lovers and connoisseurs made us realise that Turó d'en Mota was a revolutionary concept... Although in my opinion, Recaredo Reserva Particular was even more revolutionary, daring and groundbreaking for its time.

- Doing what you really like to do and having it valued as it should be is not an easy job. Is this why Recaredo has dissociated itself from the D.O. Cava and forged a new path under the umbrella of the Corpinnat collective brand?

Corpinnat has allowed us to show people where we are from and how we do things. Corpinnat territory, CORazón del Penedès, organic viticulture, winemaking entirely on the property, Mediterranean varieties, 100% manual harvesting, long aging of at least 18 months and so much more. Corpinnat is associated with all these values and commitments that we would not be able to convey as part of the D.O. Cava. Likewise, Corpinnat is a commitment and a requirement that involves the whole company and therefore every product, not just some of them.

- There are currently 11 wineries that make up Corpinnat. As president of this collective brand, you are working to bring more wineries into the association. What are the technical and quality requirements to become a Corpinnat member?

Corpinnat has very clear foundational requirements, which are applicable to the whole company, not just certain products:

    1. To be within the CORPINNAT territory, the Heart of the Penedes.
    2. Work must be 100% organic.
    3. All winemaking must take place on the property, no wines can be purchased from third parties.
    4. Working mainly with native varieties.
    5. Manual harvesting of all grapes destined for CORPINNAT wines.
    6. Aging for a minimum of 18 months on lees in the bottle.
    7. Grapes can be purchased under long-term contracts and at a fixed minimum price, which will be around €0.75 for the 2022 vintage.
    8. To be a winegrower who owns at least one vineyard.

All these requirements are set by Bureau Veritas and Corpinnat’s legal status is a Collective Mark of the European Union, approved by the Intellectual Property Office of the European Union.

It’s one of the most demanding regulations in Europe in the wine sector. And we’re aware of this, but if we want to convey prestige, we have to have very rigorous standards. We expect more companies to join very slowly, but due to the demanding requirements, this will not be a quick process.

- On a personal note, you are also dabbling in something new. Bufadors is a new project that you have set up with your wife Encarna Castillo. Didn’t you have enough work? Or did you feel like exploring other places (particularly Cadaqués, in the Empordà)?

There are some things we do that we don't really know why we do them, we only know that they are meant to be because we want to do them, because there is energy and enthusiasm for it.

Bufadors is a small intimate family project in the Penedès. We have 3.5 hectares of Xarel·lo and Macabeu vineyards and we make two completely natural CORPINNAT, with no sulphites, no sugars, no clarifying agents, no filtration, no stabilisation and very long aging.

On the other hand, Encarna is from Cadaqués and in 2018 we planted a small vineyard there. It’s not easy to plant a vineyard in such a harsh area, because of the wind and lack of water, but it’s a wonderful place. We must be patient, the wine from this vineyard will be a while yet.

These are concerns that we have been fortunate to be able to work on.

- Between your work at the winery, your position at Corpinnat and your own project, you can’t have much time left. But if you do, what do you like to spend your free time doing?

When I spend time in the vineyard I’m happy. The truth is that I really enjoy my work.
But my other passion is my family.

- Finally, could you tell us about a wine that has pleasantly surprised you recently?

I have recently really enjoyed Llegat Familiar de Llopart 2007 and Collection Torelló 2010. Both Corpinnat wines, the standard is very high, the subtlety, the depth, the complexity and the authenticity stuck me with both.

A few years ago these wines didn’t exist, but the vineyards they came from did, they were already here in Corpinnat in the heart of the Penedès. Imagine all the exciting challenges ahead of us!!!!

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