KENT: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us at funfriendsfoodtravel.com You started winemaking at a young age with your father, but you were going to be a journalist. What made you change your mind? Tell us a little about the history of SonPuig?
ISABEL: Since I was a little girl, I’ve always been passionate about land and nature. I was starting my career on the local tv and realized that my father looked much happier working on the fields in the family property, so I gave it a try and here I am 13 years later!
My father has always worked very hard, sharing his job at “La Caixa’s Obra Agrícola” on the Balearic Islands. He spent years researching growing techniques for a variety of fruits and vegetables, including wine grapes. At home, we raised cherries - which we still grow. When my father retired in 2000, he decided to begin planting vines at home. In 2004, we produced our first wine!
KENT: Mallorca is a challenging place to grow wine grapes, strong winds, humidity and the heat. What is the microclimate is like at SonPuig? July and August are hot and dry where over the last ten years it seems you are harvesting earlier and earlier. How do you manage your yields?
ISABEL: Son Puig is located in Puigpunyent Valley. It is northwest of Palma and only a ten minutes drive. Unlike Palma, the valley is on average 250 meters above sea level. Much like the valleys on the Tramuntana Mountain range, it is cooler and rainier. As such, the ripening of the grapes, on average, takes place 2-3 weeks later than the rest of the island.
Recently, the summers are not as hot and dry as previous years, where we had significantly earlier harvests. This year we did start picking the grapes on August the 15th in 2017. This is 7 to 10 days earlier than usual. Like the rest of Spain, there were few grapes produced but, thankfully, the quality was good. What are we looking for? Ripe tannins, good sugar and color concentration.
Remember just because we produced less isn’t a bad thing, so long as we have good quality. The trick to the changes in weather is being able to adapt.
KENT: What kind of winemaker would you describe yourself as?
ISABEL: We’re quite classical, both farming and making the wine. We believe it is important to be honest and respectful of the land and grape while understanding our terroir and adapting to it. What does that mean?
All the works are done manually. This means pruning, picking the grapes, et cetera, are all done by us. We focus on preventive treatments with sulfur and copper, as all do in organic farming. In such a humid valley, we need to. This doesn’t make the wine less safe or healthy. That’s how we work.
KENT: You are using Callet, which is unique to Mallorca, how do you use it to create your unique blends at SonPuig? Are there any other local varietals that you use?
ISABEL: Callet is not only unique to Mallorca but also one of our beloved grapes! Callet’s floral and pomegranate aromas are gorgeous! It contributes this incredibly fresh Mediterranean style to the blends. Growing Callet does have its challenges. First, we cannot harvest it every year or at its perfect ripening moment. Here in the mountains, the grapes ripen in late October during the rainy season, which can damage the grapes or completely eliminate our yield.
Secondly, Callet is light in body, structure, and color, so we blend it with other grapes such as Merlot or Tempranillo to give it a longer life in the bottle.
We also have a similar challenge with Prensal, another indigenous white varietal we use in Son Puig. But we love the grape, so we now produce limited quantities of a Prensal white. We have found people love it because it’s fresh, dry. Its perfect for the summer! Both local wines grapes contribute to that unique and lasting finish in your mouth.
KENT: What is your winemaking philosophy? What are you trying to achieve with your wine? How do you differentiate your approach from other winemakers?
ISABEL: When we started this endeavor, we knew could never compete on quantity. So we concentrated our efforts on quality and creating something unique by exclusively using our own grapes.
We pick all grapes by hand. Instead of a mass harvest of all the grapes in the vineyard, we select the best grapes directly on the vine. We work in a very traditional/classical way. Of course, we do use technology, we have a laboratory, modern machinery, and temperature controls systems. Traditional methods lead our process, not the technology. This is how we consistently produce our top red wines and more modern-styles of wines that our customers also enjoy. Regardless of the style, is important that we are honest, respectful of our heritage and ensure our terroir presents itself authentically in our wines.
KENT: Is there any new winemaking equipment or techniques you have been impressed by or like to experiment with?
ISABEL: Of course! But, I’m not so fascinated by the latest gadgets. Believe it or not, I’d love to experiment with different size barriques (barrels) for our white wines. They typical barriques are 225 liters. There are 330 and 500-liter barrels I’d like to try. The larger the barrel used, the fewer oak lactones and oxygen are imparted into a wine - this all impacts the flavor and mouthfeel of the wine. I’ve been thinking about trying one or two foudres. Foudres are wooden vats that hold hectoliters of wines. (One hectoliter is equivalent to 1 liter.) But I have to be realistic, haha. Everything we do here is done by hand and also must fit through the door! So, whatever we decide the try, we need to be practical.
KENT: How did you get all that winemaking equipment under the Manor?
ISABEL: It was incredibly difficult. As you know, my brother Marcos, was the architect in charge of renovating such a century-old building to fit a wine cellar beneath it. He was constantly in touch with the various contractors and equipment suppliers.
The fermentation tanks, for instance, had to be disassembled in the factory in such a way we could fit them through the existing cellar door. It took the long and hard work of a generous team to install and get everything working.
KENT: For those trying your wines for the first time, what are you serving recommendations?
ISABEL: We have a range of wines to fit everyone’s palate. For those of you learning the joys of wine for the first time, we have a range of wines that are approachable, fresh and light-bodied. For reds, consider trying: Son Puig Estiu, Son Puig Callet & Merlot blend. For our whites: try Son Puig Blanc d’estiu and Son Puig Prensal.
Our premium wines, wine lovers will enjoy Son Puig Blanco barrica (barrel), Son Puig – 2014 now – and Gran Son Puig) which are round, tannic, full-bodied and smooth at a time. We’ve included serving temperatures on the back table of each bottle.
KENT: For most of Europe, 2005, 2009 and 2011 were the remarkable years. Did you also see higher quality yields in Mallorca?
ISABEL: Yes, indeed! Our little valley, produced marvelously unique wines those three years. Personally, I liked 2005 and 2011 over 2009. But that is what is so enjoyable about wine. Every year is unique. So your personal tests preferences matter.
KENT: What misconceptions about wine do you want to dispel?
ISABEL: Wow, that’s a difficult question to answer because there are so many! From the pricing misconceptions to the tasting descriptions. There are hundreds of details that go into producing wine but the average wine drinkers is unaware of. The challenge is: how do we as an industry help the wine drinking public understand what they are drinking and how it is produced. Let me highlight a few.
Let us talk about “corked wines” first. Sometimes people pretend that they understand wine. Whether it is ego or wanting to impress someone, the lack of self-honesty hinders their opportunities to enjoy wine. It is a terrible thing to throw away a bottle when the wine just needs time to breathe. Wine, like all good things, needs to be enjoyed over time -not gulped down like a soft-drink! Corked-wine will smell and taste like soggy wet newspapers. There is a very distinct difference between corked and underdeveloped wines.
There is also the confusion over sediments found in at the bottom of a glass or decanter. This doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong with the wine. Some winemakers filter their wines. Some not at all. Unfiltered wine has an advantage. The peel gives the wine an additional opportunity to further develop the aromas, flavors, and body that various filtering methods would have prevented from occurring.
One last one misconception, often people will ask me “how long can we keep this wine?” In jest, sometimes I answer: “What do you want to keep it for? Its great now, so enjoy it!.” At Son Puig, we age our wines several years before it goes to market. We know when it is ready to drink, so once it is out on the market, there is no need to wait. Yes, it will develop over time. As winemakers, we want you to enjoy the wine, as it ages! You won’t know unless you start drinking it now. So don't wait! Buy a few bottles and try them over time. Don’t risk missing out on a great experience.
KENT: What do you suggest to people who want to learn more about Spanish wine?
ISABEL: If one wants to learn about Spanish wine beyond just the pleasure of drinking it, there are a wide range of books, blogs and wine tasting schools to learn about the wine growing regions, the varietals and the winemakers.
But if you really want to understand Spanish wines, really the best thing to do is to systematically taste a wide range of wines made with different grape varietals from various winemaking regions - not just Spain but around the world. Spanish wines are distinct from France, Italy and the new world. Each winemaking region offers something different and gives context to the various styles each winemaker is trying to achieve. Understanding Spanish wines in this context gives you an opportunity to enjoy and understand wine at a different level. One more thing…and this is very important: go visit a winery. Do a little online research, visit those wineries that are open to answering questions about their wine and their facilities. As you visit different wineries over time, the truth of their winemaking process will be apparent.
Kent is a management consultant who has spent years traveling for work. His refuge is looking for the perfect meal so that he can reproduce it at home with his wife and friends.