RIM Emporda Pét-Nat Rosat ‘Contraban’ 2021
95% Grenache Noir, 5% Muscat d'Alexandria
Emporda, Catalonia, Spain
Sourced from one vineyard of 30 year-old Grenache and one vineyard of 60 year-old Muscat d'Alexandria, both on fully slate soils. Co-macerated for 36 hours, pressed off to ferment in stainless steel tank. Rested on full lees before bottling, which happened just a few days before fermentation completed to make a natural sparkling wine. Unfined/unfiltered, zero SO2 added. ‘Contraban’ is a wink and a nod to a time during Franco’s dictatorship where laws about what could cross over the Roussillon border with Empordà became very strict, and black market trade over the Pyrenees flourished as a result. These wines are always made with some ‘contraband’ fruit from a Roussillon grower with whom Jordi is friends—the source and the grower changes each year.
Jordi Esteve is a really special human and vigneron. Born in Girona, but with ancestral roots in the tiny Alt Empordà village of Rabós, Jordi is one of those rare people who will pack up their urban lives and move to impossibly small places, places fully grounded in agriculture and traditional practices on the brink of being lost forever—to industry, globalization, city living. Jordi initially came to winemaking as an extension of culinary studies in Girona – specifically a food engineering course, where he studied fermentation and became very intrigued. Around five years of working in various cellars as a technical assistant then led to vineyard work, and then, as Jordi puts it, he felt “a call from the land to tend it and learn, a call that continues every year.”
Moving to his grandfather’s hometown of Rabós in 2014, Jordi began to seek not only vineyards to work but also people from whom to learn. He was the youngest person in the village by far and was initially greeted with a bit of suspicion; eventually, however, he began to make friends with the older residents of Rabós. These folks began to share with him their knowledge of how wine was made in the intense hills of the Alt Empordà before industry removed the majority of the population to the bigger cities to work factory jobs. In some cases, Jordi even was hearing oral accounts of pre-phylloxera winemaking—and phylloxera and war that were the one-two punch that destroyed what previously was a huge and vibrant winemaking community all throughout this appellation.
Now, with the help of some amazing local mentors and tips on old vineyards hidden amongst the forest, scrub, and olive groves of these mountain foothills, Jordi is working six different parcels, two owned, four rented; all of the vineyards are bush-trained, which is the tradition here; all farming is organic; everything is done with meticulous, even meditative hand labor. The vineyards’ yields are laughably low. These parcels and Jordi’s work with them, however, manage to express the particular intensity of the region, so different from the rest of Catalunya: it borders on wilderness. The wines at RIM, entirely conducted in stainless steel via spontaneous fermentation, have an unlikely elegance and vibrance, but they’re underpinned with the intensity of mountains rammed up against the sea; they speak of hard soils and an exposed, rugged place.
Jordi says: “The Empordà, specifically in the area where we live, is a hard land, with very extreme slate and a lot of sun. This, added to the old varieties—the Garnachas and Carignan—communicate enormous power. With red wines, I look for a certain maturity that conveys this idea of power, but I try to give a contrast in the cellar, more freshness from shorter macerations. With the rosés and whites, I also look for a certain maturity, but I like the wines to come out light enough, around 13% alcohol. (In the Alt Empordà, this conveys proper ripeness of fruit while still being ‘light.’) In a more philosophical sense, I look for a balance between technique and authenticity; I look for depth in wines. As a taster, I like to drink authentic wines, which are well-made but also a point of ‘naturalness’ that takes you to the vineyard when you drink. This point of balance is not easy to achieve—sometimes the wines have ‘escaped’ to wilder spaces that may not be my goal, but it is part of the learning process.”
We get a tiny amount of the wines from RIM each year, as Jordi only tends about six hectares and produces around 15,000 bottles annually, depending on vintage. We’re tickled to have them, however—few producers render wines that speak so transparently to the place and the traditions out of which they arise. These are intellectually challenging wines, in their way – the rosés are ruddy and tawny; the top white ‘Jan Blanc’ like a great dry Jurançon with age; the top reds, while the finest wines at the Domaine, are for lovers of rawhide, dirt, and roses. (Devotees of the northern Rhône are not remiss in investigating.) We’re proud to represent this small winery and Jordi’s labors, however, as we know both north and south of the Pyrenees, and really along the shores of the Mediterranean, there’s almost nothing being produced quite like RIM.