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The Merayo family can trace its history of viticultural in the Bierzo appellation for several generations as both grape growers and wine producers. In 1989, Pedro Merayo decided to shut down the family winery and focus his attention solely to the vines. He did so at a time when winegrowers were first rediscovering the tremendous potential of Bierzo’s old vine material, left in disarray during the Franco era where Spain’s wine industry largely favored quantity above quality. He meticulously tended to his family’s vineyard holdings for two decades before relaunching the Merayo winery and brand in 2010, observing a reenergized and renewed Bierzo that embraced contemporary winemaking practices and achieving international acclaim. Today, Pedro is joined by his winemaker son, Juan.
Merayo’s greatest treasure is its tremendous wealth of old vine material. The winery only works with fruit from their own head-trained vineyards, many of whose vines approach 100 years in age. Merayo is firmly dedicated to producing site-specific wines, bottling several of their vineyards individually, including Vinalia’s collaboration with Merayo, a Mencía from their Tres Filas vineyard. To achieve that nuance of expression, Merayo is stalwart in their environmental commitments, prohibiting herbicides in the vineyard, championing biodiversity, maintaining low yields, and cultivating indigenous grape varieties.
While genetic analysis indicates that Godello likely originates in northwestern Spain, specifically alongside the Río Sil in Galicia, the grape’s earliest reference is in Portugal’s Douro Valley in the early 16th century. There, and elsewhere in Portugal, it is referred to as Gouveio. In the late Franco-regime, Godello neared extinction with sparse plantings that amounted to little more than a few hundred vine trees. Efforts by a handful of winegrowers in the 1980s worked to resuscitate Godello, first in Galicia’s Valdeorras appellation; only in that decade was the first varietal bottling of Godello commercially released. Today, the grape flourishes with more than 1,000 hectares planted in Galicia and the neighboring Bierzo region in Castilla y León. Godello’s compact bunches and thick skins yield concentrated, mineral-laden wines of complexity—among the most ageworthy white wines in the whole of Spain.
Sandwiched between the Portuguese border and the Bay of Biscay, Bierzo serves as an entryway into northwestern Spain, whose wines enjoy a distinctive freshness and unique identity from the rest of the country. Technically in the autonomous community of Castilla y León, Bierzo shares much more in common with the wine regions of neighboring Galicia.
Bierzo’s history of winegrowing can be traced to the Romans, who settled in the vicinity to mine for gold. (The region still enjoys a robust mining industry.) Its ancient wines are documented in the writings of Pliny the Elder and Strabo, the Greek historian-geographer. Production persisted into the Middle Ages, during which time Bierzo offered an important stop and wine source during the camino de Santiago—the annual pilgrimage on foot to the burial site of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela, a tradition the continues today.
For much of the 20th century, Bierzo, like Spain generally, focused production on quantity over quality, uprooting more pedigreed grape varieties in favor of higher-yielding ones. Beginning in the late 1980s, a handful of wine producers rediscovered the potential of Bierzo’s surviving old vine Mencía, and steadfastly worked to restore the region’s prized vineyards. Today, Bierzo continues to rise as one of the most lauded wine regions of Spain. With a Burgundian ethos, its producers have successfully petitioned the Spanish government to recognize various villages and vineyard sites on their labels. While predominately planted to Mencía, Bierzo also succeeds with a host of other local red grapes, as well as in rosé and white wine production.
The most prestigious red grape of northwestern Spain, Mencía is celebrated for its complex wines, often hailing from vineyards approaching or exceeding a century in age. The grape variety is most predominately grown in Bierzo and Ribeira Sacra, but can be found in each of Galicia’s major appellations, as well as in Portugal, where it is called Jaen. Mencía is commonly likened to Gamay or Pinot Noir due to its fresh berry flavors and naturally softer tannins. Like Pinot, Mencía can be stubborn in the vineyard, with small, tight clusters that face challenges with various vineyard maladies. With tender care, its wines demonstrate exceptional transparency to the terroir in which they are grown.
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