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There are few vineyards in the world more 'coastal' than Lagar de Costa's. With some rows planted but a few metres from the ocean, they're home to Albariño vines averaging 40 years of age, cultivated by four generations of the Costa family.
Clem dusted off her Spanish to catch up with Sonia Costa, Head Winemaker and Co-Owner of the Lagar de Costa winery, to discuss the history of her family business, what makes her wines so unique, and how the vines have entwined themselves into her family history.
Lagar de Costa is located in Rías Baixas, which lies in the North West of Spain, on the South West coast of Galicia
Sonia: What I love most is, of course, its proximity to the sea. Ria de Arousa (the largest saline estuary in Galicia) is 200m from our winery - and zero metres from some of our vineyards! The Atlantic Ocean is just ten kilometres from us. It means we spend our days breathing in saline sea air - the smells of the ocean keep us company.
The region is mesmerising. We're situated in the lowest area of the Salnes Valley (the home of Albariño), in the parish of Castrelo. The image that most encapsulates it is that of the green of the vines united with the blue of the sea - it's beautiful.
We also continue to use traditional pergola methods of vineyard management (pictured above), and that definitely adds to the photogenic nature of the area, one that's completely rural, dedicated to the cultivation of vines and the collection of seafood from from Ria de Arousa. It's a region of environmental conservation - it belongs to the Natura 2000 Network, which observes migratory birds coming here from Northern Europe on their way to Africa.
We are people of the country - we love where we are and what we do.
Lagar de Costa's vineyards and their proximity to Ria de Arousa
Sonia: I think so, yes! I think all of our wines really reflect where they come from. Through the way we make our wines, we like to highlight the freshness that comes from their soils, which are acidic and brimming with minerality thanks to a mixture of granite and sand content. The region also provides through salty notes we adore - a salinity that appears in the slightly more mature examples of Albariño, which we manage to store for four or five years without drinking them...that really makes it noticeable.
This is really our point of difference as a winery - salinity (from the proximity to the sea) and minerality (from our granite-sand soils).
Sonia: The story began 100 years ago when my Great-Grandfather, and subsequently Grandfather, planted the first Albariño vines.
They were planted at the start of very challenging times - with civil wars clouding the subsequent years. As a result the family was mostly focused on financial survival - all of the wine production was for their own consumption. They made their own wine, their own bread, they grew potatoes and corn and also kept animals.
Little by little, over the last 50 years, my Grandfather, and then my parents, pushed their focus definitively to the winery, planting new vines, making Albariño wines as traditionally as ever. Since 2001, with the arrival of the fourth generation (that's me and my brother Manuel), together with our parents, we've turned our wine into a brand, and have been exporting to global markets. Today we export to over 15 countries, maintaining a philosophy we maintained since day one - quality, quality, quality.
Sonia: The philosophy has always stayed the same - as I said, it's always been about quality, quality, quality.
We only ever make wine using our own parcels of grapes, all of which grow right next to the sea. That's something we've always stuck to. As well as the grape variety we use. We use Albariño and grow it using the same method of trellising - the pergola method - with the same granite structures we've always used. Training the vines in this way ensures the grapes enjoy sufficient air circulation. In such a humid and damp area, the grapes need space to dry, so as to avoid rotting.
In that sense, everything is done with the aim of continuing the tradition of growing our vines in a way that best reflects their true identity - vines stemming from this particular region in Spain.
Of course, we need to move with the times and the demands of the market. To do that, we've updated the winery when needed. We've incorporated stainless steel vats to store the wines, as well as wooden foudres (large wooden barrels), cement eggs, pneumatic presses and racking pumps that help us produce the wine to the highest quality possible.
Despite the changes, every innovation happens with the same goal in mind: to sustain quality, quality, quality.
Albariño grapes from Lagar de Costa's vineyards
Sonia: I was born here, amidst the vines and the winery. I can't remember exactly when it really became instilled in me, nor when I said I was going to dedicate everything to this. It was something that happened very naturally.
After leaving home to study something else, I decided to return to my roots and study oenology. I came home and I've been here since - my return was the day the Lagar de Costa brand was born.
Sonia: As my brother and I do the same job, it's a team effort, and our wines reflect more than gender - they reflect the equal passion we put into our roles. He is more focused on the vineyards, while I'm more focused on the winery. But we both work with the same enthusiasm and respect that our family has always had for our vineyards, our winery, and our Albariño vines.
Sonia: Oh, absolutely. As we well know, this world of wine is really a world of men. Fortunately, more and more women are doing great, super cool things. That makes us more recognised as a valid, talented force within the industry. We're valuable contributors to the industry, and no one should forget that, no matter what stage of their career.
Sonia: The first thing we want people to really understand is the ginormous potential of the Albariño variety. It's world-renowned, and it's opened so many doors for us as a winery.
But Albariño can exist in so many places, so the most important thing for us is to ensure its association with Rias Baixas, its home, where it exists in harmony with the soil, and the Atlantic climate (which brings plenty of humidity, above all in our area). That's what constitutes its vibrancy, a wine with great acidity, good length, lots of fruit and freshness - and, of course, a wine that's very saline. That's what makes our wine so special.
Sonia: In the case of Lagar de Costa and Tradición, the labels are really simple. They have a few leaves of the Albariño vine dancing across them. We needed a label that suited all audiences and markets - it's timeless, beautiful and we love them.
When we develop new labels for other wines we always want to look for something a little more modern - but we always make sure there's a good reason behind every choice.
There are few more classic combinations than oysters and Albariño
Sonia: Well, there's no question that what goes best with Albariño (whether young or more mature), is seafood! Particularly given the region we're in, Ria de Arousa, we're surrounded by amazing seafood: clams, cockles, crabs, mussels, oysters. Delicious!
I think the best way to eat seafood is super simply - just boiled, or even raw. That's the local way.
Also, Albariño goes stupendously with octopus 'a feira'*, fish from the river or even white meat. Cheese, of course, is also a winner and Iberico ham goes pretty well, too.
To be honest, we're pretty lucky when it comes to the grape we work with - Albariño wines marry beautifully with almost anything!
*Polbo a Feira is the Galician name for this octopus dish. Its name comes from the fact it was so popular at fairs (feira), and on market days, selling out quickly among the bustling stalls.
Sonia: As a natural wine, the Rego do Sol is a bit of a risky bet..! Because, basically, I do nothing...there's very minimal intervention in the winery.
The must (unfermented grape juice) ferments on the skins of the destemmed grapes and we avoid adding sulphur through the whole winemaking process. Once fermentation has finished, there's a couple of days where the wine stays in contact with the skins, then it's pressed and moved quickly for storage in stainless steel. It gets just one racking before it's bottled in the Spring or Summer - without clarification or filtration.
I started out just making 200 litres. Now that I have more and more demand, I'm making around 800 - long may it continue....!
Sonia: I remember very clearly my father once telling me that, when he was little, they made wine like this at home -- without any preservatives, fermenting white grapes like a red wine (i.e on the skins). He always recalled it as exceptional, and lamented that so few were made like that any more. That's what inspired me to do it. To recreate the wine he remembered from his childhood.
Sonia: It's a style of wine that's incredibly wild and very intense - all of the wines made in this way are, naturally. The avoidance of sulphur means the yeast and bacteria from the winery impact the colour and flavour of the wines quite a lot - it causes the more volatile flavours to really rise up and out of the glass, and the wine to take on a golden colour. The acidity we can harbour from where we are makes our skin contact wine very fresh - it's beautifully pleasant to drink, and I'm very happy with it.
Large oak foudres used for adding texture and flavour to the Tradición wines
Sonia: The key difference between the two is how and where we age them. The vines are the same, situated next to the sea, with an average age of 45 years.
The regular Lagar de Costa Albariño is fermented and aged in stainless steel, while the Tradición starts its fermentation in steel, before finishing it in 2,500 litre untoasted, French oak foudres.
Lagar de Costa undergoes a little aging on lees - about two-three months, while for Tradición, its aging on lees depends on the vintage. Sometimes it'll be on the lees for four months to develop texture and complexity, sometimes it will be more.
Lagar de Costa is then stored in stainless steel for at least eight months before bottling, while Tradición is aged in its oak foudre for a year before it's bottled.
That means Tradición hits the market a year later than our regular Lagar de Costa Albariño - or sometimes even later...the longer we wait, the better....
Sonia: Ah, I remember one moment with particular affection. It must have been about 25 years ago, a bottle of Espadeiro - which is the red variety from our region. I was just starting to drink our Albariño and my Father and Grandfather would always be drinking Espadeiro instead.
My Father encouraged me to try it - hearing them talk about it has really stuck in my mind, perhaps because I didn't really like it at first. It's very unique. They said how much they loved the taste and the colour. To me it was, let's say, "different"! It's an incredibly personal wine - above all, it's Atlantic.
I have to admit, I really struggled to enjoy this wine, but every time I try it I like it more and more. Parents and Grandparents really do know what's good! Ha ha!
Sonia: Looking to the future, I'd like to believe everything will continue to go at least as well as it's gone so far! Since families are always growing, it would also be nice to think we can grow a little in terms of our production - we need to be sustainable, after all. But the focus will always remain the same: QUALITY, QUALITY, QUALITY.
I hope women decide to continue to dedicate themselves to our winemaking tradition. Since the next generation of the Costa family is made up only of women (currently between the ages of two and eight!), we certainly hope some of them will continue the generational relay.
The Lagar de Costa winery guesthouse
Sonia: Coming to stay really would be the best way to understand the wines. The family home, the winery and the vines are so close to the sea, you spend every moment that you visit breathing in the region's salty air. You also get a feel for the cool Atlantic temperatures, which stay pretty steady throughout the year, and which bring the rain...there's a lot of rain...
To really give you a sense of the importance of place though, there's an anecdote we like to tell. It really highlights the value of coming to see the vines themselves:
Many years ago a Japanese journalist was tasting ten examples of Albariño from different producers. One struck him as particularly unique - it stood apart from the others, so he contacted the Rias Baixas Council, asking to organise a visit to our winery. He could tell from miles away that there must be something specific about Lagar de Costa that made its wines so special.
He came to visit, saw the vines, tried the wines and then said:
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