Albet i Noya is one of the pioneers in organic winemaking in Spain, but when he started in the 70s, most other winemakers thought that he was crazy and that working the land without chemicals and with the lower yields of organic vineyards would not be possible. But Albet i Noya was lured by the idea of organic wines by a Danish wine expert and his initial production was almost entirely exported to Denmark where there was a clear market for organic wines.
Today, the company produces over one million bottles or organic wine in its 80 hectares of vineyard and organic is no longer just a dream as 60% of the Penedes vineyards have turned to this sustainable production method.
The beginnings of Albet i Noya
The vineyards where the cellar lies today were replanted in 1903 after the Phylloxera plague killed most of the European vines. Joan Albet i Rovirosa came to Can Vendrell, the current estate, to help in this replanting which consisted on grafting the desired variety onto American rootstock which had been found to be resistant to the European streak of Phylloxera. After the replanting work ended, he stayed to manage the Estate.
It was not until the fourth generation that the vineyards were progressively turned organic. A danish company came to the Regulatory Council of the DO Penedes in search of an organic producer only to be told that there was none in the whole of Spain. The DO Council referred him to Josep Maria Albet i Noya largely because of his strict vegetarian believes. He was sold.
The first organic wine that Albet i Noya sold was in 1979 in Denmark and was 100% Tempranillo and the estate has never gone back to using chemicals since, progressively acquiring the land they were farming as their own until 1986 and converting all the vineyards to organic.
Albet i Noya not only produces its own organic grapes but it also support local farmers in their endeavours to become organic and buys their grapes for the production of its wines. All of Albet i Noya’s wines are vegan as the cellar does not use any egg white for fining and filtering of the wines.
The philosophy behind Albet i Noya wines
Aside from a passion for organic wines and sustainable agriculture Albet i Noya is also focused on research and preservation of grape varietals that had disappeared with Phylloxera. Its vineyards grow fifteen types of grapes of the usual local and international varieties plus has devoted a bit more than a hectare to seven experimental varieties that survived well in the wild in conjunction with the Catalan Institute of Wine and Vineyards. These small vineyards have been grafted with two different rootstock and are processed separately in a small batch cellar devoted to this.
Organic production does not allow for the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides or any other chemical treatments but Albet i Noya has gone one step farther and has started implementing biodynamic methods too. The company estimates that this adds about 10% extra cost to the maintenance of the vineyards. All grapes are hand harvested.
Visiting Albet i Noya
On a tour of Penedes wineries we decided to add Albet i Noya for its pioneering role in organic farming and wine making. The winery is well known in the region among the wine connoisseurs and producers for its forward thinking. Although today most of the wineries are already organic certified, they were the first ones and their efforts to revive old varietals were fascinating so we booked a winery tour and tasting.
The visit starts in front of the main building, a large Catalan stone house where the store is and where the family lives. There is a garden covered with gravel, in typical Catalan style, with a few trees providing shade, and a few tables where we would end the tour with some wines and snacks. The vineyards start right in front of the house and there is where our visit kicked off, observing the vineyards.
We heard about Josep Maria’s organic obsession and early beginnings and then moved to the old cellar where we could see the Modernist architecture influences. The cellar dates from 1925 and the high ceilings and large arches provide a sense of space. From the cellar we walked to the barrel and aging rooms and we had a quick glimpse of the small batch cellar. But the best part of the visit was the end, where we got to sample Albet i Noya’s wines in the warmth of a beautiful spring day under the shaded trees and with the two family dogs roaming around. to say that it was pleasant was an understatement as we could have well spent the entire afternoon there.
Albet i Noya also runs several other types of tours including bicycle rental or electric bike rental which visitors can use to tour the estate and vineyards. The owner also takes visitors to the vineyards to learn more about organic wines if you manage to get a large enough group and tours of the research facilities and cellar are also possible. There are tie-ups with local producers, with restaurant owners and with other cellars or even chocolate producers from Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, the capital of Cava, just a few miles away, for a complete day out. All worth a try.
The wines at Albet i Noya
I grew up in Penedes but as they say, you never explore your back yard. My father makes wine and so all the wine we ever drank was the home made one. I knew of Albet i Noya, as they are very well known in the region, but I was not well versed on their wines. The tasting included the wine list with images and tasting notes and some snacks to go with it, with some slices of fuet cured sausage and cheese as well as bread sticks.
The Reserva 3 Brut Nature was a sparkling wine, not a Cava, as Albet i Noya prefers to emphasise the Penedes DO region than the Cava thinking that Cava has gone too far and it now too wide and overused a DO and it was pretty good, even for someone like me who, believe it or not, is not a bubbly fan.
We tasted the 2011 Col.leccio Syrah, an unusual wine for the Penedes region, but which was very pleasant with none of the stringency and a great wine to go with Spanish and Catalan food.
The 2009 Reserva Marti Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon is made from the oldest vines in the estate and is the star of the show. We agreed with its status and in fact bought a bottle to take home. A very special feat, considering we could only take very few bottles and were visiting 12+ wineries.
Of the new researching work on lost varieties that Albet i Noya has undertaken, two of the wines are already in full commercial production. One of them, Rion, is made of the grape of the same name, Marina Rion, after the owner’s grandmother. A white varietal that is similar to a Riesling.
All the wines we tasted were great, reflected the soil they had grown in, and were an expression of the Penedes region with clean palate and nose.