When I was at the big Barcelona wine fair in April, Berta’s wines stopped me in my tracks.
My friend Ferran Centelles, writing on JancisRobinson.com, declared ‘Berta Valgañon is producing highly intense and expressive wines. Remember her name!’
So I had to visit her on my travels in northern Spain a week later, to find out more.
We meet at Berta's winery/garage in the tiny village of Cuzcurrita in Rioja Alta.
The tour doesn’t take long - there’s a space for tanks, an area for barrels and bottling, and an underground cellar for ageing her bottles. She then proudly shows me her new tasting room upstairs beside her office. It’s simple but perfect.
It doesn’t get any more small-scale and artisanal than this.
We get talking - between her limited English and my limited Spanish, we make it work.
Berta explains that she’s the fourth generation in her family to farm the vineyards, and the first woman to do so.
These aren’t just any old vineyards - they’re really old vineyards. The oldest was planted in 1901.
In 2016 she decided to give up her career as an engineer, to restore the family’s precious old vineyards, and start making wine from them.
To revive the family tradition, before it was lost forever.
We taste the wines, and they’re every bit as good as I remember at the fair.
I ask her about where she exports her wine - and she laughs.
Between tending the vineyards (with organic and biodynamic principles), making wine, and mothering two kids, she doesn't have time for sales.
She occasionally hosts small groups in her tasting room, and gradually boca-a-boca (word-of-mouth) is getting out there.
We hop in Berta’s car and drive 10 minutes to her vineyards. We’re in the furthest, most northwestern corner of Rioja. It’s a wild, remote place, with unpredictable weather and harsh conditions.
According to Ferran, this could be the most extreme place in the world for growing Tempranillo.
Berta tells me the only way to grow good fruit around here is from low-yielding, old vines.
As we stand in the vineyard, what really hits me is the dedication, passion and, above all, hard work that's required from Berta and the generations before her.
Compared to how easy it is for us to just buy the wine and enjoy it.