An interview with Jose María Fraile by Lynne Coyle, O’Briens Head Of Wine Buying
LC: What can you tell me Jose María, about the background to the winery?
JM: The winery was founded by myself and winemaker Alicia Eyaralar in 2003. We had previously been working together at Palacio de la Vega, which was one of leading Cooperatives in Navarra and was run for many years by my Father.
After Palacio de la Vega was purchased by Pernod-Ricard in late nineties, we both began to think about setting up an independent, quality focussed winery. We have built a modern winery which is sympathetically integrated into the local landscape and we follow the principles of minimal intervention in the winemaking.
The winery is built alongside the Camino de Santiago de Compestela in the cooler north-west of the Navarra region. The hot days and cool nights in this area allow for the retention of acidity and the wine and the harvest takes place up to three weeks later than in the rest of the region.
Of course the most important thing about our winery is our pioneering winemaker, Alicia: Following her training in Barcelona, Alicia began her winemaking career in Bierzo where not only was it very unusual for a woman to be a winemaker but also the region as a whole offered tremendous scope for modernisation.
Our current winemaking philosophy is to balance and blend the traditional practices and modern winemaking to achieve honest wines that reflect the region and the grape varieties.
LC: Why do you love Tempranillo?
JM: Tempranillo is key for us, but we believe to see it at its best it should be part of a blend and in particular when blend with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The relatively cool climate and the “Monte-Bajo” (Low mountain) terrain really brings out the floral notes of the Merlot and the herbaceous character of the Cabernet.
While it easy to think of these grape varieties as modern introductions to the region, there is a lot of evidence to show otherwise.
For a time in the 13th Century, the King of Navarra also held the title Comte de Champagne so it is easy to imagine that there would have been some communication and exchange of ideas between winemakers in these two regions.
More important is the role played by the Camino itself, with monasteries dotted all along the pilgrims path and a steady stream of monks travelling in both directions, such was the transfer of information along this path that in many ways it is useful to think of the Camino as the internet of its age.
With wine making so central to monastic life, we can be fairly certain that some of these monks brought with them new winemaking ideas and techniques and maybe even grape varieties.
Further evidence can be found in the stone carvings of grapes at the monasteries, recent ampleographical studies looking at the shape of the leaves in these carvings has shown them to be Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
LC: What would you eat with the wines?
JM: I always have a bottle of “Ars in Vitro” open at home as I find that its natural acidity makes it really versatile, but it works best with charcuterie, of course the fact that we bottle under screwcap means the wine stays fresh for two days when opened.
The “Ars Nova” is a more structured wine and I think it works really well with richer pasta dishes such as Tomato and Chorizo penne or proper cream-free Spaghetti Carbonara.
Of course this wine is also a perfect partner for a good steak.
LC: What marks you out from other wineries?
JM: We called the winery “Tandem”, which in Latin means finally, because for us to open the winery was to fulfil a dream.
We really believe in Navarra, when we were setting up many people said to us why not go forty minutes down the road to Rioja but our vision is to get Navarra to where we feel it deserves to be.
In our philosophy, non-intervention is key, so we use stainless steel for fermentation and we practice pigage as opposed to pumping over and as the winery is designed to be gravity fed we do everything we can to minimise the use of pumps.
For storage inert lined cement tanks protect the character of the fruit, and after two years settling we find that no fining is required meaning that not only do our wines retain their character but also are vegan-friendly.
The inherent paradox is our use of traditional techniques through modern methods.
LC: What can you tell me about the labels?
JM: We wanted something classic yet modern reflecting passion, colour, poetry, nature, structure and elegance.
The “Ars in Vitro” translates as Art in glass and is self-explanatory, for our flagship wine we chose “Ars Nova” (New art) which references the great leap forward made in music in 16th century, where simple Gregorian chants gave way to more complex melodies.
We feel that along with some other like-minded wineries we can bring about such a shift in the wines of our beloved Navarra.