As a Master of the Duero, Mariano García has detailed knowledge of the grapes, vineyards and wineries of Castile León. Having made wines over more than 50 vintages in legendary wineries like Aalto, Vega Sicilia and Mauro, his contribution to the prestigious reputation of Ribera del Duero wines is unquestionable. Creator of some of the best wines in the world, he doesn’t need to keep his wisdom to himself in order to look interesting. Mariano is very generous with his knowledge, as you’re about to see.
Your winemaking journey began at birth. Your father was a manager at Vega Sicilia. What is your first wine-related memory?
Being born in Valbuena de Duero, an exceptional wine region, and in an environment like Vega Sicilia really impacts you. Growing up, the vineyard and the wine were part of everyday life, with my grandfather Mariano working as an administrator at Vega Sicilia and my father Mauro managing the estate. They both instilled viticulture in us from an early age. Perhaps one of my first memories is of sharing a bottle of wine at the table when my father came home from the vineyards.
As a student at the Escuela de la Vid y el vino de Madrid (Madrid School of the Vine and Wine) in the 60s, how would you explain the key things that were taught back then? And what do you think has changed from then to what people study now?
The time I was studying at the Escuela de la Vid y el vino was at the height of technical innovation, new guidelines for filtering and clarification, and other trends that were more curative than preventive, unlike the trends that have been established since. This was an era of lots of new ideas in treatments and interventions in the winery. The vineyard used to be less important and the oenologists were used more for their role as chemists. After this technological boom and the leap towards the modern wine industry around 1985 and 1990, oenology became more refined. Current trends focus on intervening less and preserving the integrity of the wine.
Your first harvest at Vega Sicilia was in 1968. As technical director there for 30 years, you knew how to preserve and enhance the hallmarks of a Spanish winery known as one of the best in the world. How do you manage to stay on top with something as changeable as wine?
Vega Sicilia was a wine with its own personality. I tried to keep that Vega Sicilia style intact and, at the same time, update very classic concepts, perhaps too much, since they needed adapting to the times, like barrel aging, which was excessively long. You can preserve the essence, but the clock is ticking and the world of wine makes certain changes that you have to implement.
In 1999 you decided to set up your own project and together with Javier Zaccagnini you founded Bodegas AALTO. What is it that led you to leave a project as safe and prestigious as Vega Sicilia and have the courage to go on your own adventure?
Being away from Vega Sicilia allowed me to build myself an exciting, attractive project from scratch, where I was able to concentrate my efforts on carefully choosing each vineyard and the style and personality of the wines.
Much has been said about the origins of the name Aalto. Some say it is inspired by the name of the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto and others claim that the double A was added as a marketing strategy to put you at the top of the list in guides and anywhere else following alphabetical order. So, what is the answer?
The idea of the name came from Javier Zaccagnini, who suggested that the winery should be at the forefront as well “en alto” (on top), hence the name Aalto. We added the double “a” so that it would appear at the top of an alphabetical list.
Vinifying plots separately, prioritising qualities and limiting yields are now really common but when we were starting out, people looked at them with either indifference or suspicion. So, do you think there has been a real wine revolution? Or do you still think there is a lot to change?
Each plot most definitely has its own personality, which comes from certain unique features that mark the terroir itself: the orientation, the slope, the type of soil, the altitude and the age of the vines, among other things. These features all create diverse environments that are reflected in the aging and the character of a wine. I have always defended production by plot, even when it is more laborious, because for me it is essential to preserve the expression that marks each area, each vineyard and each terroir. In fact, we have used this production method to make wines from very specific, selected plots, like Terreus and Mauro VS from Bodegas Mauro and Cartago from San Román.
In the height of a trend towards light red wines, high-alcohol wines continue to have a strong following. What is so good about these wines?
When you imagine a wine you want to make, you don’t think about how strong you are going to make it, because there are various circumstances outside the producer’s control that set the strength: the area, the variety, the conditions throughout the vintage and aging, among other things. The most important thing is to produce great wines with their own identity, but using a high-quality raw material that is respected and cared for and not trying to achieve one extreme or the other.
For a few years we have been carrying out tests for a white wine made at Aalto with the Verdejo variety, and we will be releasing that soon.
“Aalto XX Aniversario is a special, iconic and very limited edition Aalto wine made to mark their XX Anniversary. You can buy it at Decántalo while stocks last. Discover the characteristics of a unique, iconic wine.”
Another of your projects in Duero is Mauro, an adventure where you managed to position a wine without a denomination of origin among the best Ribera wines. What do you think of the current state of the Regulatory Councils? Do you think they need an overhaul, or to just not exist at all?
The regulatory councils played a fundamental role in the beginning, setting the common rules of the game and laying out a map of recognised quality, and throughout their time, they have managed to position the production areas in the markets, contributing to the promotion of denominations of origin and their wines. But times change. Today it is the wineries themselves who regulate their operation in different aspects. Regulatory councils must broaden their horizons, provide more freedom, regulate mostly the origin and help wineries with promotion and advice, but without forgetting that wineries have their own personalities, their own styles, a way of working that comes from their own ideas about who they are. Regulatory councils should not get in the way of that rich diversity. They must reflect the spirit of continuous renewal that emanates from the wineries in one area.
Along with your sons Alberto and Eduardo, you have also set up a viticultural project in El Bierzo using Godello and Mencía vineyards. How is it working with the family? Are there any generational disagreements? How is the new García generation getting on?
We have been making the Mauro Godello wine at Bodegas Mauro using white grapes since 2013, and we have not ruled out making a red wine with Mencía at some point under the family umbrella. My children, Eduardo and Alberto, are how my projects can continue. They guarantee stability and a future, expansion with new challenges, like Garmón Continental, the third winery in the family, located in the heart of Ribera de Duero. They were born into the world of wine and have inherited our philosophy. I am really happy that they have chosen to work in the world of wine with that same passion, dedication and preparation.
Curiosity has led you beyond the Duero and into places like Rioja and El Bierzo. Have you considered looking into some other Spanish wine regions? And abroad?
One thing at a time. At the moment we are very busy laying the foundations of our recent project in Baños de Ebro, La Rioja. We have not planned any work abroad, but if we are going to dream, I have always been passionate about Burgundy white wines.
It is clear that for you wine is more than a profession, it is a passion. But, outside the vineyard, what do you spend your free time on? Any favourite hobbies?
My main hobbies are travelling and gastronomy, which for me are intrinsically related to each other and to the world of wine. Both passions allow me to taste different wines, learn about other visions of the wine world and, of course, other aromas and flavours and other cultures.
Bearing in mind that you are the creator of some of the best wines made in Spain, which one are you most proud of?
The San Román project was exciting, a challenge. When I arrived in Toro looking for vineyards in 1994, most of the grapes were sold to other areas and there were hardly any wines made there. Only Bodegas Fariñas and two cooperatives, Morales and Toro, were still going. It was a forgotten area because the wines were not valued, they were considered rough, and vines were even uprooted. But the potential I saw there was enormous, undeniable. That is why I chose this region, as I knew the historical context of these vineyards that were not affected by phylloxera and whose wines were chosen for Christopher Columbus’ first transatlantic voyages thanks to their ability to withstand the passage of time without spoiling. Toro’s terroir is spectacular: strong and healthy vines on poor soils, which hardly suffer from the dreaded spring frosts, and have the potential to produce quality wines. In this context, all we had to do was showcase the elegance and finesse of Toro wines and civilise their ancient strength. In 1997 I produced the first vintage of my first Toro wine: Saint Roman. It was very satisfying. I predicted a great future for this area and it has been exciting to watch the revolution that has taken place since the 1990s, with immense quality wines that have nothing to envy in the great wines from any part of the world.
And to finish, could you tell us which wine you have tasted most recently that has impressed you?
Without a doubt, La Chapelle 1970 by Paul Jaboulet. Several years ago during a visit to the Rhône I discovered this wine and was deeply surprised. I still had a few bottles and I recently opened one of them and the wine touched me with its sincerity and character.
The post Discovering Mariano García, technical director of Bodegas Aalto first appeared on the Decántalo Wine Blog.
The post Discovering Mariano García, technical director of Bodegas Aalto appeared first on Decantalo Wine Blog.