On a cold, overcast day in mid December, we plowed our way through a chaotic mess of construction in an effort to visit a small cava producer in the heart of sant sadurni called, Heretat Mestres. Wrapping our jackets tight around our shoulders as the cold penetrated our skin, we excitedly sauntered up the back driveway expecting to see our host awaiting us, but not a soul was to be seen. Under a canopy of thick vines, we stared at the u-shaped building in front of us housing two doors. Having peeked into the door on the left, a desolate conference room, we opted for the door on the right. Walking slowly and cautiously through the door, unaware if it was the correct entrance, we found ourselves in a small warehouse stacked floor to ceiling in boxes ready for shipment. And in the midsts of this tornado of activity stood a young guy, casually loading boxes with an air of coolness and tranquility.
“Excuse me, we’re looking to talk with Joan Aura Llargués, who has offered us a tour of the facility.”
“Wait in the office across the way. He’s on a call and can come meet you in a moment”, he responded with a touch of annoyance in his voice.
Fair enough, I thought. I rationalized his attitude was related to the simple fact that few people strolled through cava houses at the end of December asking for winery tours. Only lunatics like ourselves assumed cava houses had a half a second to spare during the busiest time of their year. In fact, more than half of all cava sales occur in December and January alone.
As we gazed at old family photographs, awards and reviews framed thoughtfully on the wall, Joan walked briskly through the door. Medium build with dark hair and piercing eyes, he immediately apologized that our tour would be cut short as a result of our late arrival, which was absolutely true, even by Spanish standards. Having come from business lunch with another winery, we felt rather sheepish that we had made this poor man wait so long for us, but a tour was a tour, and we happily accepted his offer.
Out of the conference room and into the warehouse, Joan explained that the winery was built in the 16th century and wasn’t expanded until several centuries later. While stepping ever so carefully around towering boxes and equipment, we found ourselves facing a winding staircase heading straight down five floors. Turning to us, he explained that in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, space was obviously limited, and in order for a winery to expand its operation, there was no other choice than to go down. And so they did. Several centuries ago, Mestres underwent a major excavation, whereby creating a labyrinth of small rooms and interconnecting tunnels. Dank cement floors lined with dusty cava bottles and cobwebbed ceiling with only the occasional bulb to guide your passage marked the perfect setting for a psychological thriller. It was daunting and eerie, ramping your imagination into high gear. I wondered if our host ever felt nervous traveling these dusty, cramped hallways at night. I suppose if someone was lurking behind the corner, he was only an arm’s length away from a solid, blunt object to protect him.
Yet this medieval staging is exactly why I fell in love with this winery. Image ranked second, if not third, to winemaking. Step inside their two room office and you’ll encounter piles of paper stacked a foot high on the desk, teetering dangerously close to plunging to the floorboards under the slightest breeze; or the warehouse attendant who casually chatted with the manager, while feverishly munching on his lunch. The entire situation reminded me of my father, who is known in the family for placing practicality before design. Ask him to build a table, and he’ll do so with gumption and excitement. It may not win an award from Better Homes and Gardens, but it will most likely be the most durable and well-constructed table you’ve seen in quite some time. Mestres name falls in the exact same category for me. Although their winery looks haphazard in nature, their winemaking is absolutely spectacular, as is their labeling – a subject I’ll get to in a moment.
Mestres’ mission statement is to produce wine of the utmost quality using completely natural and traditional methods. The story of the Mestres family dates back to the Middle Ages, when they were first recorded to have traded grapes, grain and wine in the 14th century. In 1925, Josep Mestres began to experiment with secondary fermentation in bottle, releasing their first cava in 1928. What’s interesting is that Mestres defends that they were the first to coin the term “cava”, claiming it was utilized well before the DO laid claim to it in 1972. They also attest to have elaborated the first “Brut Zero”, or Brut Natural, meaning that no additional sugars have been added to the wine after the degorgement.
And unlike the majority of Cava producers who buy their grapes from small private growers, Mestres is in the unique position to have retained the same 80 hectares they acquired in 1312, divided into two plots: Clos Damiana and Clos Nostre Senyor. Primarily composed of calcareous clay, they pride themselves on exclusively growing the three traditional cava grapes: 45% Macabeo, 35% Xarel.lo and 20% Parellada.
Mestres harvests manually to ensure that each and every grape is picked at their optimal maturation. Whereas, most cava producers must rely on the skill and care independent growers apply to their vinification practices, unable to control the end product arriving at their door, Mestres has an added advantage of choosing which grapes are suitable for their cavas. Once in the winery, only the must collected from the first pressing is used to elaborate their cavas.
Once the yeast falls to the bottom of the bottle (now called lees) creating a nice thick lining of sludge, their enzymes begin to release various compounds into the wine that give it those characteristically bready notes. This process takes time to complete, which is why DO Cava requires a minimum aging period of nine months for their non-vintage and vintage cavas. Mestres, as we were told, believes that cavas should age longer than nine months in order to give their cavas greater complexity and depth. Joan states that Mestres will age their wines no less than 18 months in bottle for their Mestres 1312 and up to 7 years for the Mestres Mas Via.
Is it worth taking the time and effort to elaborate your cavas traditionally? In this case, I would say, absolutely! Of the 30 plus cavas we tasted throughout December, Mestres Cavas were exceptional and easily recommendable. Neither of us were avid Brut Nature lovers in the past, but as a result of tasting their wines, we have discovered a newfound appreciation for this style.
Before leaving that day, we ran briefly back into the conference room, feeling the cold chill of the rain stream down our necks and soaking our clothes. Walking passed us, Joan stood in front of a series of posters each with their cava bottles printed upon them. Pointing to each one, he eagerly tells the story of the label’s design, the reason why each were named as they were, and the time and effort they placed into their creation. As he carefully unraveled the history of each bottle, giving it life and personality, I couldn’t help but feel connected.
There are times when I visit a winery, nod politely as they give me the tour, and walk away feeling as if I just wasted an entire afternoon. Why? Because I simply didn’t feel it. Here is a guy running us through his winery in 20 minutes flat, possibly thinking about his meeting and what he needs to bring home for dinner and I’m hooked. I’m connected because the passion to adhere to one simple tenant, quality, has been respected for close to a century. Image is like a house of cards, able to be destroyed in a blink of an eye, but a winery whose built on a solid foundation of good winemaking is priceless.
For additional information on how Mestres adheres to natural winemaking processes, such as using cork instead of a crown cap during second fermentation, subscribe to our newsletter coming out next week.
Address: Plaza del Ayuntamiento 8, Sant Sadurni d’Anoia 08770 Barcelona
Telephone: +0034 938 910 043
Fax: +0034 938 911 611
Barrels Produced Annually: 35
Bodega Founded: 1928
Hectares of Vines Grown: 80
Enologist: Antonio Mestres Sagués
Grape Varieties Grown: Macabeo, Xarel.lo and Parellada
Cava Wines Elaborated:
Brut – Mestres 1312 (1999), Brut Mestres Clos Damiana (Vintage), Brut Mestres Clos Nostre Senyor (Vintage), Brut Mestres Coquet (Vintage), Brut Mestres Coquet Bn (Vintage), Brut Mestres Cupatges (NV), Brut Mestres Mas Vía (Vintage), Brut Mestres Rosat (Vintage), Brut Mestres Visol (Vintage)
Main export markets: Japan, Switzerland, Poland and Korea
US Distributor: Currently searching for a distributor.