With a degree in Chemical Sciences and Oenology and working as a Technical Director for more than fifteen years in one of the leading Ribera del Duero wineries, Almudena Calvo Abad began her career in this very winery in 2003. Over this time, she has become a leading professional whose achievements are clear to see in the projects she leads at Pago de Carraovejas and its sister winery Ossian Vides y Vinos. A track record that definitely deserves a closer look.
Could you tell us about your first memory of wine?
Honestly, I can’t really remember the first time I came across wine, it’s the kind of thing that you don’t remember coming into your life, because it feels like it’s always been there. What I do remember clearly is taking my first proper steps into the world of wine. It was the year 2000 and I had finished my Enology degree. That’s when I started making more ‘professional’ visits to wineries and looking at their equipment. I discovered different production methods, different ways of working with terroirs and lots of other things.
How old were you when you felt the call from the winemaking world? When and why did you decide to go in that direction?
I think I’ve always been fascinated by the industry. Wine is something very special, it’s not just another industry, it’s an experience. So many significant moments in life happen around a bottle of wine, and I think that’s what has always caught my attention. Because of all that, although my first degree was in Chemistry, I wanted to get into the world of Oenology as soon as I could.
Are there any gurus, experts, colleagues or even family members who have influenced your career path?
There are so many people and experts I admire and try to learn from, but looking back on my career, I would have to say my team at Alma had the biggest influence. I walked into Pago de Carraovejas in 2002, I was very young and full of enthusiasm, just like I am now. I like to remember that everything I am and everything I’ve achieved is thanks to the people who have been by my side over the years and who have always stood with me and encouraged me to go one step further. My team is my guru.
You joined Pago de Carraovejas in 2002 and it wasn’t long before you were leading the technical team. How did that happen? What did this challenge mean to you?
I joined in 2002 just to do an internship and had no idea how significant this place would become for me. I quickly became part of the technical team and in 2007 I began leading it. Without a doubt, it was a huge challenge for me, and a great responsibility to implement all the projects and the strategy set by the entire winery team and by Management, but I have always felt very safe thanks to the huge team of professionals at Carraovejas; that's what has made it possible.
Since the first harvest at Pago de Carraovejas in 1991, it has become a leading producer in the area. What do you think the secret to your success is?
The truth is, I don't think there is a secret. There are many professionals in the industry doing very interesting things in the area and I think the only real secret is to keep working towards better things, because that’s how we grow. In terms of Pago de Carraovejas, I know that our way of doing things is what makes us special. We care for the environment and its biodiversity; we’re committed to innovation; and, above all, we always put people at the centre of our decisions. This culture is in everything and I think that is what makes us different; and that shows in our wines, the passion that we put into our work.
There was a significant change in the winery when you launched the 2015 vintage. The traditional categories of aging, crianza and reserva were abandoned and in its place there is just one Pago de Carraovejas sold with a generic label. Why the change?
This was certainly a very important moment for everyone. Honestly, I think it was what we needed; it no longer made sense for us to stick to those traditional categories. Of course, throughout the history of wine, and our denomination, these categories have been a very useful way of boosting wine value, but I think we were ready to go one step further and to see our Pago de Carraovejas wine as one that is capable of expressing our landscape, the terroir of our estate. After deep reflection and analysis, the Carraovejas team and Management decided to go ahead with this with the aim of having more flexibility and seeking that more honest expression of our land.
We are also committed to single-plot wines. In Cuesta de las Liebres and El Anejón, what challenges do you face in maintaining the identity of the area that is so clear to see in them?
The best things about our most special wines is their birthplace itself, the characteristics of their terroir. These plots lie just a few minutes from the winery, so we can visit and gain an understanding of the special nature of the grapes growing there. Cuesta de las Liebres is the purest expression of our Tempranillo and every vintage it reflects this plot lying more than 900 metres above sea level on slopes that reach a gradient of over 40%. Meanwhile, El Anejón has a very different landscape of terraces, in fact, there are very few examples of this in the denomination; and the blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot showcases the plot’s minerality and floral character.
As Technical Director of Ossian Vides y Vinos as well, a project with pre-phylloxera Verdejo vineyards in the Nieva area (Segovia), you have managed to give unique wines like Capitel, Ossian and Quintaluna a personal touch. What’s the secret?
This is clear to me: the key lies in the impressive viticultural heritage of these hundred-year-old vines and, of course, in our respect and care for this unique legacy. Walking among those vines that have been there for more than 100 or 200 years reminds you of the force of nature and compels you to work hard every day to convey the uniqueness of these landscapes in our Ossian wines.
Global warming and climate change are a reality. How does this affect your vines and what strategies do you have in place to fight it?
All of us who work ‘on the ground’ have the enormous advantage of understanding the force of nature and consequently our vulnerability to it. Faced with the challenge of sustainability that we have as a society, all we can do is continue working to understand our little piece of land better every day and learn to take care of it. Our raw material is nature and that makes us even more aware of the need to take care of the planet. As well as that, caring for the environment has been one of the basic principles at Pago de Carraovejas since the very beginning; that means we have developed innovation initiatives, like the GLOBALVITI project that seeks to improve wine production in the face of climate change and, in addition, in our day to day we work to improve our biodiversity with small projects like our recent agroforestry plan or the installation of nesting boxes for birds throughout the estate, etc. The important thing is to stay alert and remember the importance of maintaining sustainable growth that takes care of the environment.
In today’s wine culture in Spain, there are more and more women working in every part of the winemaking process. For example, in Rueda most of the winemakers are women. Do you think the world of wine now has woman at its heart or is there work still to do?
In the world of wine, as with other sectors, there is still a long way to go. Much progress has undoubtedly been made in recent years, in parallel with the progress of society and thanks to the work and dedication of many women who have proven their worth. Everybody knows that the agricultural world and, in particular, the world of wine, has traditionally been very male-dominated and I have a few sad little anecdotes on that, but, personally, I have been lucky to be part of a project that has always been committed to equal opportunities and I have never felt that gender was a handicap in my professional development at Carraovejas. Still, as I say, there’s a long way to go.
How do you balance work and family life? Is that even possible?
Balancing personal and professional life is one of the great challenges we face as a society, both for men and women. Finding that balance is always difficult, even more so in professions that don’t have fixed schedules or weekends, but I think it’s our responsibility as people to seek that balance so we can grow in every area of our lives. And, of course, it is also a challenge for companies to offer support in making this balance possible. Personally, I have a lot of work to do in this area, but I think I’ve found a good balance and Alma, the Management and the entire team are completely committed to this issue, which encourages us to keep working to achieve it.
Wine must be your main passion. But do you have any other hobbies, either connected to, or separate from the world of wine?
I think everything can be connected to wine. I have many hobbies, but there are two in particular I’ll mention: I really like to read, and I love going for walks along the beach. I know they’re nothing unusual, but they both help me unwind.
Finally, can you tell us about your latest wine discovery?
There’s a wine I tried very recently at a dinner with friends, a Trimbach Riesling from 2007. I have very good memories of that dinner and the wine.