Skip to navigation – Site map

Luis Gutiérrez : Los nuevos viñadores

Una nueva generación de viticultores españoles
The New Winemakers. A New Generation of Spanish Vine Growers
Pablo Alonso González and Eva Parga-Dans

Full text

Luis Gutiérrez, Los nuevos viñadores

Una nueva generación de viticultores españoles

Planeta Gastro. Madrid. Published  30 May, 2017.

ISBN: 978-84-08-16644-3

1"What does a gentleman who has worked throughout his life for the Sherry wine establishment shares with the son of a bricklayer who has worked for more than a decade for a large industrial wine cellar and has spent his salary buying small parcels of old vines in his town to prevent their uprooting and who, eventually, brings the fruit of these vines to the market? And what do they have in common with a group of university friends who set up a wine consulting company that makes some of the most innovative wines in their different territories? (…) We are talking here about a heterogeneous group of people whose lives have a common thread." (Gutiérrez, 2017 : 27)

2This common thread is of interest to anthropologists and food scholars in general, or at least it should be. In his first sole-authored book, Luis Gutiérrez offers a detailed portrayal of a new generation of winemakers who are transforming the Spanish wine sector. Wine production in Spain was traditionally characterized by an industrial approach geared towards quantity rather than quality, leading Spanish wines to be the cheapest worldwide, both bottled and in bulk. This much-welcomed intervention would be less relevant were we talking about a person with less trajectory or influence in the real world. But Luis Gutiérrez is a wine taster and critic for Spain, Latin America and the French Jura region for the Wine Advocate, the most influential global wine magazine led by the famous wine critic Robert Parker. He also published extensively in culinary journals worldwide and for jancisrobinson.com, co-authoring the book 1001 wines you must try before you die (Beckett, 2014) and The Finest Wines of Rioja and Northwestern Spain (Barquín, 2011).

3The structure of the book is straightforward. After a brief presentation by Robert Parker, Gutiérrez introduces his book by saying that he will not talk about wine, but about everything that surrounds wine and goes into the bottle, i.e. the culture, landscape, tradition, and local gastronomy. He goes on to delve deeply into the stories behind fourteen winemakers (viñadores) from different Spanish wine regions in an informal style that conceals his profound knowledge of their trajectories and their significance in the context of Spanish history, economy and wine tradition. His conclusion brings all of these strands together and reminds us that this is a work in progress and that we are only witnessing the beginnings of a revolution in the Spanish wine scene. The book can also be read as a travel book, a journey that Gutiérrez started with his friend, the photographer Estanis Núñez, who illustrates the book. Escaping from his intensive daily wine tasting routine, Gutiérrez embarked on a two-year journey with Núñez, taking his time to understand the regions, the wines and their producers in context. The result is a critical and well-balanced narrative that reveals the human side of wine.

4Gutiérrez goes on to describe the work of fourteen winemakers (individuals and collectives) with a common thread: they all make quality wines, recover local and hitherto disregarded vine varieties, respect local winemaking methods, heritage and knowledge, are environmentally conscious in terms of viticulture, and reject the abuse of oenological additives and chemicals. Also, they are often despised by wine institutions and indications of origin controlled by large cooperatives and industries, which see their wines as potential threats and as products lacking the quality and typicity established under their homogenizing and standardizing rules. Gutiérrez tells us that they all do the same and walk in the same direction. 'Doing the same' here refers to Gutiérrez's endorsement of the motto 'The Future is the Past', popularized in the Manifesto Matador (Club Matador, 2015), issued by a collective of Spanish critical winemakers who produce quality wines and are respectful of authenticity, terroir, tradition and naturalness.

5This calling into question of the wine establishment in Spain is not a trivial matter considering that it comes from Gutiérrez and his influential role as a critic for Wine Advocate. Are we witnessing a sea change in the Spanish wine sector? The following quote describing the meaning of authentic wines testifies to this:

6"Wines that try to reflect the landscape, the place from which they come and the traditions of their areas of origin. They reflect what the labels of their bottles indicate: a place, grapes, a vintage. Naked wines that shed the burden of the past, getting rid of superfluous features that, during the last dark decade, have concealed wine under an excess of maturation, extraction, wood and price. These are wines from lesser known areas, abandoned or hitherto unexplored. Spain is one of the most diverse wine-growing countries. It is a shame to hide this diversity by trying to make all the wines look like one another." (Gutiérrez, 2017: 27)

7What does this all mean in practice, and why does it matter for anthropologists? We will highlight four key issues. First, Spain possesses the world’s largest wine-growing area and leads global wine exports, but it presents a 'New World' profile in terms of winemaking and governance structure, production and distribution methods, and overall approach to wine marketing. This has led Spain to sell the cheapest wine around the world, creating disruptions with neighboring countries like France. Here, wine activist groups and social movements like the Comité Régional d’Action Viticole (CRAV) have emerged to fight—sometimes with violence—imports of Spanish bulk wine that threaten their internal market and sustainability.

8Second, the consequences of this quantity-oriented approach that promotes agricultural intensification, property concentration and the use of chemical additives, both in vine and cellar, have been devastating for Spanish wine regions, traditions and autochthonous varieties, as well as for 'anonymous' peasant vineyards and winemakers who, due to the rapid decrease of grape and wine prices, have been forced to abandon their vineyards and winemaking. As Gutiérrez shows us, the viñador movement aims to revert this situation, criticizing the industrial approach pervading the Spanish wine establishment and creating networks with producers in alternative wine networks worldwide. In doing so, they increase the self-esteem of whole wine regions, recovering traditions and forgotten grape varieties due not to any 'biological' inferiority of local grapes, but to a long-standing sense of cultural inferiority regarding French wine culture that has led to the diminishing complexity of Spanish wines. This is evidenced in various occasions throughout the book, but perhaps most clearly in the case of the viñador Ricardo Palacios in the Bierzo region. He contributed to valorize the now world-famous Mencía grape, which was considered a minor variety only suitable for low-quality and young wines, unable to imitate the oak-aged and concentrated wines of Bordeaux or Rioja.

9Third, the book provides a thorough critique of the wine establishment in Spain, mostly questioning the governance apparatus of the indications of origin. Spanish Denominaciones de Origen (Appellations of Origin or DOs) receive massive public subsidies to promote quality and certify the origin of Spanish wines, shaping consumer tastes and productive processes to a large extent. For Gutiérrez, although DOs might have played a key role in the recovery of declining wine regions during the 1980s, they are now an outdated system for ensuring wine quality and origin in a global market. The political economy of DOs is a controversial matter in Spain, as many viñadores are expelled from them, but it is not the only issue. In addition to this book, Gutiérrez himself has created various polemics with DOs by tasting the wines of his choice in each region, instead of the wines the DOs choose for him to taste from their portfolio. Gutiérrez illustrates the absurdity of DOs in the case of garnacha (Grenache) wines from the Gredos region. Here, the viñadores "Comando G" created the association Garnachas de Gredos to support the foundation of a DO comprising various regions with different political administrations (Madrid, Castilla and León and Castilla-La Mancha). However, they were eventually left alone, and each administration created its own DO in their territory, making it impossible for Comando G and other viñadores to provide information on their labels for consumers to understand the authentic characteristics of their terroir: quality garnachas made in the Gredos area, disregarding administrative boundaries.

10Fourth, and perhaps most interesting, Gutiérrez’s book offers a good starting point to analyze the formation of new collective identities and social movements around food consumption and production associated with the reinvention and revalorization of territories, traditions and products. Gutiérrez's perspective is very much welcomed in his attempt to overcome the nature / culture division that is crossing wine social movements (e.g., terroir-oriented social movements like Manifiesto Matador, the association of natural winemakers PVN, or biodynamic associations like Terradinámica, to name a few). He brings together biodynamic producers, like Comando G, Ricardo Palacios or Pepe Raventós, and self-ascribed natural winemakers, like Rafael Bernafé, and purebred terroirists, like Envínate. In doing so, he contributes to creating the subject of his own discourse, the image of the viñador, whose definition he takes from the Spanish Dictionary of the Royal Academy:

11viñador, viñadora:

121. Vine grower.

132. Guardian of vines.

14This allows him to go beyond paper to the real world to encourage a break with the alienating separation between consumers and producers that the brand culture and the excesses of wine critics have generated in the wine world. Another issue worth exploring by anthropologists, and linked to our own work (Alonso González et al., 2017), is the question of the “fetishization” of the winemaker as an "author", someone who becomes the private owner of a commodity resulting from his or her artistic interpretation of a terroir, and the subsequent elaboration of wine through artisan methods. This question traverses the quality wine sector and social movements like the Italian Triple A (artisan, cultivator (word in Italian) and artist). Gutiérrez portrays viñadores (collective and individual) as ambassadors or representatives of whole regions, authors who put heritage, traditions, grapes and landscapes into bottles. Something which, from another perspective, could be interpreted as an appropriation of the symbolic capital of a territory and its heritage, while concealing the work of generations of "anonymous" peasant winemakers that inspire contemporary viñadores.

15However, the reinvention and rediscovery of whole areas by viñadores has positive cascading effects on their territories, allowing many wine producers who would have uprooted their vines, to make a living now thanks to their work. Thus, far from criticizing this fetishization of the winemaker, we think it provides fertile soil for anthropologists to carry out ethnographic work mapping the emergence of the author in winemaking, exploring the subtleties of nature-culture divisions, or engaging with deep-seated STS concerns over the complex assemblages behind the co-construction and assemblage of terroir, natural and quality wines. The fact that Wine Advocate has put Gutiérrez, a critical wine critic, into such a privileged position to enact real changes in the Spanish wine sector should be very much welcomed by both wine drinkers and anthropologists, who can now engage in action-based research with emerging transformative wine social movements in Spain and beyond with powerful allies.

Top of page

Bibliography

Alonso González P., Parga-Dans, E. & Macías Vázquez, A. 2017. The political economy of wine: How terroir and intra-sector dynamics affect land use in Spain. Land Use Policy 66: 288-292.

Barquín J. 2011. The finest wines of Rioja and Northwest Spain: a regional guide to the best producers and their wines. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Beckett N. 2014. 1001 vinos que hay que probar antes de morir. Barcelona: Grijalbo.

Club Matador 2015. Manifiesto Club Matador: Los viñedos de excepción. Madrid.

Top of page

References

Electronic reference

Pablo Alonso González and Eva Parga-Dans, « Luis Gutiérrez : Los nuevos viñadores  », Anthropology of food [Online], book-review summer 2017, Online since 04 August 2017, connection on 17 December 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/aof/8195

Top of page

About the authors

Pablo Alonso González

Instituto de Ciências Sociais, Universidade de Lisboa, Pabloag10@hotmail.com

Eva Parga-Dans

Grupo de Estudios Territoriales, Universidade da Coruña y CICS.NOVA, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Eva.parga.dans@udc.es

Top of page

Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
Anthropologie of food est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Top of page