Viñatero profile: Bat Gara
Updated: Feb 3
The first meeting we held in the association was an unique occasion. For first time in Uk, I have been able to gather together a bunch of professional Spanish sommeliers with a sole intention of helping our wine industry to promote its quality wines, with an emphasis on artisan wineries, indigenous grapes and emerging regions.
It was the first time that we had all met together, and many of us did not know each other in person. As a host, I felt the pressure, not just to explain what I had in mind, but to choose a winery whose wines exemplified the values outlined in our manifesto.
I had a clear name hovering in my head for days: Bat Gara.
I love their project. In fact, I have been including their wines on my wine lists during the last 3 years. Bat Gara is a young winemaking project, born in 2012 under the name of Bodega Goianea (Cooperativa) as result of the partnership of a rancher, a restaurateur and a priest (the latter is not longer linked to the winery); who hired the services of the oenologist Roberto Olivan.
We are in the province of Álava, under the domains of the Arabako Txakolina denomination of origin. Txakolí is a style of wine, not a grape. In fact, the term derives from the local Basque language meaning "wine made in the caserío". The caseríos are the typical rural houses in Basque Country. This hamlets are the soul of the Basque people. Their society developed around them and, in consequence, Txakolí too.
Truly speaking, no one considered Txakolí wine serious for centuries, and very few would have mourned its disappearance. Compared to powerful wines produced by Rioja Alavesa's bodegueros (winemakers) filled with a higher alcohol content, Txakolí was considered of little interest. Txakolí has always been part of a familiar economy, and there was no advanced Txakolí industry prepared to rigorously elaborate this small oenological gem until a few decades ago.
Those heady and popular wines were the result of a winemaking of dubious skill. Fortunately, a new generation of winemakers are changing things, producing white wines with a marked Atlantic character capable of looking face to face at the best whites in the world, due to their unique character, inspired by a specific terroir and climate, and also for the know-how of several generations of winegrowers.
I had the chance of interviewing Txema Gotxi (the rancher) via email en he confirmed that Bat Gara's viticultural philosophy walks hand in hand with what we have just read: Recovering the tradition of Txakolí in Spain, under a philosophy of viticulture based on respecting the vines, soils and elaborations; without forgetting that, in this part of the world, a few minimal interventions are always needed.
The protagonists of our story are, doubtless, the Hondarribi Zuri and the Hondarribi Zuri Zerratia. Their names might sound the same, but they are a bit different.
The former, is a variety that depending on its maturity provides wines very different in style to each others. When planted on a good soil, the final wine will gain a mineral character, structure, complexity and will be able to keep its tartaric acidity alive.
The difference between Hondarribi and Zerratia is the size of the grape. The cluster of the Zerratia is smaller and compact, making it difficult to grow, giving less yield in its production. However, all this makes up for it with a greater concentration of aromas and flavors of its must, increasing the complexity in the wines.
The winery has two vineyards:
Arrugalde is on a clay-calcareous, east oriented soil. A very ventilated plot since it is at the top of a plot at 400m above sea level. Let me translate it for you, soils with this composition will allow slow maturation, giving the wines structure and allowing them to retain a good natural acidity.
Urtarán is located at 360 meters of altitude, composed of a clayey soil filled with veins of sandy ferro-stone. South-west orientated. This orientation gives maturity and health in the vineyard, resulting in wines with elegance, volume and minerality.
The DO Arabako Txakolina also allows them to plant some foreign varieties that can reach up to 15% such as Chardonnay, both Gros & Petit Manseng, and Riesling. Because the first three, under their point of view, were not going to contribute anything to the indigenous varietals, and as a lover of Rieslings, they decided that a small amount of that variety would add elegance and length to their wine as they age.
As you can see, understanding in a very schematic way the climate, soils, etc. puts us already in situation for what we are going to find inside of the glass. But those factors are just 2 thirds of what is happening. Now, is the turn to find out how the human factor enters in the equation:
In our case, we have tasted the two flagships of their catalog: UNO 2018 & Urtarán 2016.
The process has started in a similar way in both cases. After harvesting manually & transferring the grapes to the winery, they get de-stemmed before pressing. The must is moved to a tank in which it remains 24 hours before, depending on the vineyard from which it comes, is poured into either a stainless tank or a barrel to be fermented spontaneously. These fermentations usually last around 50 days in stainless steel and 70 days in barrel.
Txakolí UNO is a coupage of the stainless steel tanks. It arose from the idea of being able to make a Txakolí with a bit of aging (6 months on its lees) that could stand out to the complexity of our gastronomy and to improve over time.
Meanwhile, To make Urtarán, the vines with the most potential are selected within each plot and vinified separately in both oak & chestnut wood after being harvested in the second half of October. It remained 8 months before being assembled. Urtarán arose from a different idea of Txakolí too. They wanted to play with different woods to create a wine in which every king of wood gave elegant nuances without losing its varietal virtues.
The use of chestnut wood is given in recovering the wood that was used by their ancestors in the elaboration of the Txakolís and ciders, who chose working with chestnut as it was easier to craft barriques out of it. The chestnut wood used comes from the mountains of Galicia and northern Portugal and is made by a cooperage in Catalonia.
They also chose the Hungarian oak wood from the Demptos cooperage for being more elegant and less aggressive with both Zuri & Zerratia.
Unfortunately, we could not taste the rest of their range, but we are considering on doing a new tasting to get to know the rest of their products launched in 2018, under the a lable called BATGARA that includes R&D wines from the winery: 18 months (aged in old French oak barrels), Aromas del Sur (Oxidative in style), Sutsu (Ancestral method) & Ioritz (their orange wine with two years of aging in oak and chestnut barrels).
Founder of the Spanish Sommelier Association