This Catalan estate began with a dream by Glòria Garriga, an agronomic engineer, to live side by side with nature on a hill in Font-rubí, near Barcelona. She always wanted to live in a house on that hill with her daughter, Berta, producing wines in tune with nature. Despite testing wines as part of her profession, Glòria had never made her own wine before, but still her dream became a reality, and Els Jelipins, as it became known, produced its first vintages in 2003 in Glòria’s father’s barn. After that, they used the cellar to a new house they built on top of the hill.
Away from the nearby farms, producing mass quantities of Cava using conventional techniques, Glòria located various small plots of abandoned Sumoll vines. “They looked like anarchist vineyards, every plant was very strange,” said Glòria. The Garriga family shunned conventional techniques, and concentrated on making natural wines in a place they love. To do this, they needed to work closely with growers to ensure natural techniques were used, asking them, “Would you work with us to change the way we do things?” That included embracing Sumoll, which was often seen as a difficult variety to grow, largely due to its delicate, thin skin (“When it rains, they can explode,” Glòria warned).
Despite the success of Els Jelipins today, it was initially difficult to gain a foothold in the local wine scene. “No one in the local market would have us,” said Glòria. “We first tried to sell the wine in Spain, it was a disaster. So we loaded the car and went to the Basque Country, northern Spain and Catalonia, where some very good restaurants opened their doors because they had foreign sommeliers. They understood the wine, and liked it.” Since then, the wine has become far more popular locally, as word started to spread and people’s tastes changed. “There has been a huge liberation of people who want to have their own experience.”
Rather than hire additional workers to increase production, Els Jelipins is content with its small operation. Glòria even refuses to increase the price of her wine, despite it arguably having the potential to be far more expensive. “I have a very austere life,” said Glòria, “I didn’t plan to get rich and I’m happy with that.” For her, this is not about the money, but the love of the task and the environment. So the estate only produces around 2,300 bottles of red a year and as little as 200 bottles of white.
Els Jelipins only uses a few selected growers with hillside vineyards, with whom they work closely to ensure vine maintenance is done carefully by hand. These vineyards are chosen on the basis of locality, soil composition, vine age and grape variety. When they manually harvest, only the best grapes are chosen, and transported in small cases to avoid damage. “If I don’t like it, I throw it away,” said Glòria. The vines are supported by local nature, with oak trees, an olive tree and wild boars adding to the ecosystem.
The wines are fermented with only naturally occurring local yeasts, and without fining or filtration. The solar powered farmhouse has been covered with plants to help maintain the temperature inside, the only way in which the level of heat is controlled. The ageing process takes place over a long period in large, open oak barrels. The only chemical additive is a small amount of sulphur during bottling. “I am very lucky, the cellar is under my room,” said Glòria. “I spend hours going up and down the stairs every day to taste all the barrels. You acquire an intuition.”
“What is important in wine is the sensation. This sensation of freshness and acidity, it’s like electricity in your mouth. It should give energy, not take energy.”
Each bottle is painted with a small heart-based design, differing by vintage. And each vintage is a new treat, offering characteristics reflecting the changing nature of the complex ecosystem of Font-rubí. “Now, everything is so quick,” said Glòria. “My challenge is to make a wine that allows you to meditate. We do what we want to do, and we do it with passion.”
~ VINTAGE 2004