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Cume do Avia: The pursuit of sustainability

Think about it. We, the sommeliers and merchants, live on the beautiful side of the wine industry. We grab one of our carefully selected bottles, step at your side, and start telling you romantic tales about artisanally made wines that recover traditional winemaking techniques as well as being respectful with the environment in which the vineyards are located.

Isn't creating that connection between the wine and yourself an easy way to sell? Well, for us, knowing that the wine is also smashingly good, is easy. But, the raw reality is way more difficult than that. Otherwise, you'd better ask the guys at 𝗖𝘂𝗺𝗲 𝗱𝗼 𝗔𝘃𝗶𝗮, a family-run winery (headed by Diego, with brother Álvaro and cousins Fito and Anxo as partners in crime) located at the highest peak (cume = peak in the Galician language) of the Avia Valley, belonging to one of the most important historical wine regions in Spain during the Middle Ages: 𝗥𝗶𝗯𝗲𝗶𝗿𝗼.

"Welcome to 𝗘𝗶𝗿𝗮 𝗱𝗼𝘀 𝗠𝗼𝘂𝗿𝗼𝘀". That was Diego Collarte's welcoming shout last August as soon as I set feet in the middle of what it is meant to be (in the very near future) one of those iconic sites if, what I so call, the 𝗖𝗿𝘂-𝗰𝗶𝗳𝗶𝗰𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 of the Galician vineyards become a reality. Thus, Eira dos Mouros is a “pago” vineyard, meaning that is a very specific area whose characteristics of soil, climate and varieties, result in the crafting of unique and complex wines. This "pago" is mainly a granitic rock in which some traces of slate and quartz can also be found in some of the vineyards.

Walking through Eira dos Mouros you could see the ruins of the houses where his grandfather and grandmother were born, one next to the other, they were destined to be together. These houses, made with stones extracted from Celtic settlements, were abandoned in the 1940s. In the founding statutes of Cume do Avia, back in 2004, it is included to restore all this with the intention of building up a complex that allows them to have animals, rural tourism, and even a space for visitors to taste their wines in the vineyard. It didn't happen yet, but the project is still there.

It is precisely in here where the 4 cousins dedicate all their efforts to recover some of the indigenous grape varieties to the Ribeiro area, in search of that traditional Ribeiro style of yesteryear. A somewhat complicated mission since, unfortunately, there aren't winegrowers old enough that could pass onto them that knowledge. The older generation that remains today are children of the badly called “agrarian revolution” that was grounded on replanting with more productive varietals as well as promoting the usage of systemic treatments in exchange for juicy European grants.

In this way, theirs is an effort to re-understand (starting from scratch) not only the behavior of varieties such as Caíño Tinto, Brancellao, Merenzao, Treixadura, etc. but of everything that surrounds them: their soils, the climate, the diseases, the local fauna & flora… factors that create an ecosystem that must be in harmony to produce healthy grapes.

Their working ethos is sustained by a romantic speech of biodynamics. Beautiful to be transmitted to you as sommeliers but, in reality, is a bit of a nightmare for those who work like this, especially having unpredictable vintages due to climate change, making it impossible to anticipate what nature needs.

The biggest problems here are mildew (and other fungi such as powdery mildew or black rot), roe deers, wild boars (and its preference for white grapes), and birds (these prefer red grapes). To deter wild animals around, they have set up a timer that emits hunter's shotgun sounds, which has even scared us when we first hear it, but it seems to be working for them for now.

Working biodynamically in Galicia is very different from other regions of the world due to the influence of a humid climate with abundant rains, risk of hail, and a long list of etceteras. That is why many producers treat the vines since, otherwise, they would be doing "Taliban-like" viticulture. The key factor here is "how to treat" those vines without damaging the sustainable environment that surrounds them. In the case of Cume do Avia, as pre-harvest treatments they are using powdered silica (they prepare it), so the animals do not eat the grapes because it causes silicosis and, in addition, it protects the grapes from botrytis as Silica creates a thin layer around the grape skins which absorbs water. With regard to the treatment of their soils, the use of Ormus is very jazzy. This component is a multimineral solution extracted from the salts of oceanic waters. It concentrates dozens of bioavailable minerals such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, and zinc, among many other essential elements, which serve as a nutrient for the vines in order to correct any shortage they might have.

Cume do Avia has around 12 different indigenous grape varietals planted within their vineyards, vinifying both field blends and single varietals. Inside of the winery, everything follows a "low-interventionist" philosophy: indigenous yeast, spontaneous fermentation, no filtering, clarification by gravity, and SO2 kept to minimum levels and used just at bottling.

3 pillars sustain the ethos of this Cume do Avia's wines:

- 𝗢𝗻𝗹𝘆 𝗴𝗿𝗮𝗽𝗲𝘀. Meaning, no chemicals.

- 𝗦𝗸𝗶𝗻 𝗰𝗼𝗻𝘁𝗮𝗰𝘁 & fermentation with the 𝘀𝘁𝗲𝗺𝘀, to a greater or lesser extent in all their wines.

- Usage of 𝗰𝗲𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗻𝗮𝗿𝘆 𝗖𝗵𝗲𝘀𝘁𝗻𝘂𝘁 𝗯𝗮𝗿𝗿𝗲𝗹𝘀. Again, to be loyal to what the Avia Valley’s tradition has taught to them.

Their wines under the labels "Colleita" and "Dos Cañotos" come strictly from Eira dos Mouros. However, as it is understandable, this romantic viticultural approach has the direct consequence that every year the production of each of its labels varies completely, to such an extent that, if a difficult vintage is given, it may mean that they would not be able to vinify some of their monovarietals, drifting the little quality fruit that they can obtain to any of their field blends.

As you can imagine, this uncertainty also affects the economic viability of the project. In fact, one of the biggest struggles these 4 cousins ​​had to face was the dilemma of making wine from grapes not sourced uniquely from Eira dos Mouros. This is how "Arraiano" was born. They chose this particular name as an Arraiano was a person who made a living out of dealing with goods at both sides of the border between Galicia and Portugal right after the Spanish Civil War ended. All the grapes for these two labels (white & red) are sourced from vinegrowers outside Eira dos Mouros, helping them to preserve their viticultural patrimony.

I have to thank Diego Collarte for letting us taste their 2019 and 2020 vintages. We are putting together another post in which we will provide you with our impressions and tasting notes about their wines. In the meantime I would love to summarize dividing into categories how we should approach Cume do Avia's work:

- Vinos de chateo de calidad (Quality "by the glass" pours): Arraiano Blanco, Arraiano Tinto.

- Quality/Price: the Colleitas, both red and white.

- Natural healthy funkiness: Rosete.

- Catalyst of Emotions (aka beautifully crafted wines with potential to be kept in your cellar and forget about them +10 years): Dos Cañotos Branco, Dos Cañotos Tinto, Brancellao, Caíño Longo.

Miguel Crunia

Director at Fìon

for private cellar requests in Scotland:

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