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Valdesil

Tales from the Galician Mountains
Valdesil

Surrounded by the three highest peaks in Galicia—Peña Trevinca, Cabeza de Manzaneda and Pico Montouto—it can get bitterly cold in Valdeorras. We found this out first-hand in March as we took in the breathtaking views across the Sil Valley. As the light was fading, Raúl Prada Luengo drove us to the small village of O Bolo, twenty-five minutes from his winery in Vilamartín. This is the site of Valdesil’s O Chao vineyard, whose old vines cling to the granite slopes that rise above the village. At the top sits Spain’s oldest Godello vine, believed to have been planted in the mid-18th century.


Astonishingly, this ancient vine still bears three bunches of Godello each year. Prada told us it has become custom for him to perform the harvest himself. More importantly, the vine's genetic material has been isolated and is being used to repopulate the vineyard. Across the valley, you see the flanks of abandoned terraces, some reclaimed by the forest, that serve as a reminder of the farming communities that once flourished here. Few are going to greater lengths to preserve and revitalise the region’s vinous heritage than Prada.


Later, in the relative warmth of the winery, Prada opened one of his last bottles of the 2014 O Chao Godello - the first vintage he bottled. The nose was deep and stony, wreathed in smoke, while the palate was filled with confit orange rind and the complex nutty development of bottle age. Wow.


It may represent a pinprick on the Spanish wine map but granitic, slate-rich Valdeorras is one of Europe’s most exciting white wine regions. No grower’s history is as intertwined with the region or its signature grape variety as the Prada-Gayoso family. Back in 1885, at a time when these remote slopes were planted with multiple varieties, José Ramón Gayoso planted the first 100% Godello vineyard. Fortunately for us, this pioneer’s descendants didn’t stop there. Using massal cuttings from the original site, Pedrouzos, the family went on to populate a mosaic of small vineyards, or pezas, across the Sil Valley. Today these form the core of the estate.


Valdesil continues to be a regional pioneer in viticulture and winemaking. Current owners Raúl and brother Borja were the first to introduce vertical shoot positioning, cover crops, strict organic methods and increased planting densities. Valdesil was also among the first to return to natural yeast fermentation and barrel maturation. It is also trialling biodynamic methods, a significant undertaking in this cool, damp corner of green Spain.


Engaging whites from low-yielding old vines are aged on lees and bottled unfiltered. Expect textural, vibrant, mineral Godello with a weight and silky mouthfeel that reminds one more of northern Europe than any Spanish stereotype. They offer the clarity, excitement and sense of place found only in the wines of the very best grower-producers of northern Spain. Fortunately for red lovers, the Valdesil story does not end there. The brothers are equally dedicated to Mencía, a variety indigenous to Valdeorras. Having topped the summit with Godello, Raúl Prada now wants the world to see the red-wine potential of this rocky northern pocket of Spain. He’s going about it the right way.

The Wines

“[Valdesil is] a producer who has been shaking up one of the most exciting white wine regions in Spain, in the cool, green, far northwest. Godello is the revitalised local grape variety…” Jancis Robinson MW, The Great Whites, Financial Times

“I know I’m starting to sound like a stuck record but I am loving the dry whites of north-western Iberia more and more... Luis (Gutiérrez), quite rightly, is a particular fan of the wines of Valdesil of Valdeorras, who also make a range of wines of differing quality levels and life expectancies.” Jancis Robinson MW, www.jancisrobinson.com

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