The first thing that strikes you when you listen Sara Pérez talking is the passion she conveys. The movement of her hands, her intonation, the light in her eyes… Her eyes spark with the conversation. She talks about wine, her wines, as living entities, not as a fermented grape juice product. Her tone is not high, she doesn’t need it, for the way she talks is enough for you to get absorbed into it. And the best thing is when you realize she is not pretending. Her wine philosophy is her life philosophy.
In our daily life, we talk a lot about some activities that we consider more than just a past time. We call them a way of life. Owning a Harley-Davidson is a way of life, hard rock is a way of life, playing American football is a way of life… but more often than not, when we say this we mean we have a big passion occupying a part of our lives. For Sara, winemaking is not a job, is not a passion, it is a true way of living. You might think Sara works her vineyards and her wines organically because it might be a trend, or she practices biodynamic methods because it is a label that gives you a special aura when making wine. But the truth is that whatever it is what Sara does, it is not a jacket she puts on when she arrives in the cellar, let’s say at 8 am and she removes it at 5 pm when she leaves. For Sara, that philosophy continues at home, continues in her family, continues wherever she goes, as biodynamic practice is something she not only takes to work but rather during her whole day, as if being part of herself. Biodynamics says that in a farm the animals, the vineyards, the humans, form a holistic entity, all being part of it.
The father of the Natural Agriculture, Japanese Masanobu Fukuoka*, had a maxim that I think reflects quite well what I want to say about Sara: “The aim or end of agriculture is not producing food, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
I remember when I played football (I hope my faithful reader will indulge my brief biographic break), before every game I looked to myself in the mirror of the locker room, when a mirror was available. If I felt the shoulder pads, the protective gear, the uniform were becoming part of me I knew I would play well. But if the pants were not properly fitting, the pads did not fit well or there was a minor discomfort, the sensations were not the same. Sara uses demijohns for ageing wines, and she has a lot of them. As you know, demijohns are glass containers big in the base and mid part and narrow in the neck area. This glass is very fragile. If you crack one and try to open it, you run the risk of making it burst and losing all the wine, and usually each of them contains 64 liters. Usually demijohns come protected by a plastic basket covering them from the bottom to halfway. Sara did not like to go down to the cellar and see the demijohns in baskets, so she had all the baskets removed. She says that if she does not like what she sees when going down to the cellar, she prefers not to go down to work at all because she feels uncomfortable. Therefore, she takes the risk of losing some demijohns and the wine inside, which occasionally happens, for being able to work at ease, comfortable. I do not think it can be considered something trivial, quite the opposite. To me this reflects the fact that one of the characteristics of biodynamic culture is the integration of all elements of a farm or a winery in a single entity. Sometimes this means you can see sheep, chickens and even cows grazing on the streets of a vineyard. And I think that in order to work with wine, as we are talking in this case, it has to be something more than just a liquid with which one works. And that’s what she does.
Something special happens when you taste Sara’s wines. Sometimes you remain listening to her oblivious to still having the glass in your hands. Because she does not explain to you the wine from a systematic wine tasting approach of color-nose-palate standpoint but rather it is about the soul of the wine, its spirit, its development as living entities, the passing from a small child to a full grown adult. She explains the personality of her wines, how they are, how they grow and how she is expecting them to develop.
Sara likes to experiment with her wines to see how they evolve: different containers: steel tanks, oak barrels, clay amphora, glass demijohns… She employs different periods of ageing, red wine macerations of only one week… then she writes all of this down and ten years later, she opens the bottles and analyzes how the wine evolved. I was imagining her in a big old table under a gaslamp light, using a goose feather for writing in the pages of a large parchment book where you can see notes of experiments she performed on the old vintages she worked on.
We tasted a few samples of her wines. I really enjoyed seeing the difference between her beautiful Clos Martinet 2015 aged in oak barrel, in amphora and demijohn. Sara explained the difference in how the wines reacted to the vessel. Again, you might think she was talking about her children: This is going to be braver; this one is going to be more tamed… and again, her eyes, voice, and hands were showing her passion.
We also had the opportunity to see three demijohns with an orange wine made with Macabeo (or was it Xarel.lo?). And shortly before we left, something very special. A centenary Garnacha rancio wine that was ageing in old oak barrels, the biggest one had engraved the manufacturing year: 1885. A rancio is a wine that is aged in oak for a number of years and its alcohol volume is increased. Then, as you take wine out of the barrel, you can add more. This way the barrel contains wine from different vintages.
Leading to my visit, we were making plans for when we got together. We would talk about wine, we would talk about life, we would enjoy wine and we would dream. We tasted a lot, we talked a lot, we enjoyed a lot, we dreamed a lot.
And I keep remembering how Sara talked about her wines. And the inflection of her voice., And her hands. And the sparks in her eyes.
*Masanobu Fukuoka (Japan, 1913-2008), developed a agriculture philosophy that he named Natural Agriculture, also known as Fukuoka Method. It is a system based on doing nothing and recognizing the complexity of living entities being part of an ecosystem.
The five principles of natural agriculture are:
When laboring the soil, using any tool is unnecessary, as well as the use of any machinery.
Fabricated fertilizers are unnecessary, as well as the process of manufacturing compost.
Do not plow grass or herbs, either by plowing or herbicides. Just a small and minimum cleansing of the grass with the lesser perturbation possible.
Using pesticides or herbicides is unnecessary.
Pruning of vines or trees is unnecessary.
Photo Sara Pérez (c) Josep Oliva