[Cellar Talks] S05E03 Rafael Palacios

On Friday the 8th of April we are moving into the northwest of Spain for another episode in Season 5 of our talk show Cellar Talks. Located in Valdeorras, Galicia our guest is Rafael Palacios. Famous around the world for his great white wines made from the Godello grape.

About the Winery

In 2004, Rafael Palacios began this personal project, buying neglected vineyards planted with native white varietal Godello, near O Bolo in the Bibei Valley (DO Valdeorras). The extreme topography and low-yielding soils, combined with phylloxera and the depression of the 1940s, had led growers to almost completely abandon this small but historic winegrowing region. 

The small plots, known as ‘sortes’ in Galician after the ballot process by which they are inherited, are mainly cultivated in terraces. They are located in the westernmost part of the Valdeorras region, on the right bank of the Bibei River, at altitudes ranging from 580 to 720 metres. The sandy soils, formed by the natural breakdown of granite rock, are low in fertility, high in acidity, and easily eroded. For this reason, lighter machinery has been specially adapted to cultivate the soil, preserve the structure of the terraces, and avoid the use of herbicides. These methods are helping restore traditional viticultural practices and preserve the historic landscape of the Bibei Valley. 

The property currently consists of 32 vineyard plots, with a total area of 19.5 hectares of Godello. These are cultivated in a traditional way with organic based treatments, and the older ‘sortes’ are managed biodynamically. Rafael Palacios personally oversees the viticulture and winemaking. He constantly strives to respect the identity of O Bolo and maximize the purity of expression of his wines.

About Rafael Palacios

Rafael Palacios has been linked to wine since birth. He is the youngest son of Mr. José Palacios Remondo, largest family founder of the winery with the same name in 1948 in Alfaro-La Rioja. In that surrounding he grew up together with his father and his brothers, with them he shared unforgettable moments and experiences around the family winery. 

Between 1990 and 1993, he moved to France. In 1990 he worked for a great negociant of wines in Bordeaux, (Dulong), and the following two years, he combined his studies of enology in Montage-St.Emilion with harvest practices in Ch. Petrus and Ch.Moulin du Cadet, both of them from Moueix family. 

There he happened to meet acknowledged Australian winemaker John Cassegrain and in early 1994, he travelled to his country to work closely with him in his winery, Hastings River. In Australia is where he is aware of his passion for the elaboration of white wines. After some months with Cassegrain, he developed his practices in Coonawara, South Australia, wineries from Southcorp group, (Winns, Rouge Homme, Penfolds). 

In 1994, July, he returned back to La Rioja and started developing his professional experience in the family winery. The evolution of the winery is evident by that time, and under de ever vigilant gaze of his father he is named technical director.

In 1997, inspired by the newly-emerging regions as Rueda and Rías Baixas and and the blessing of his father, Rafael made up his mind, to start elaborating higher quality white wines. That vintage, a new white wine, from Viura variety, is born “Plácet”. Which received immediate recognition. 

With this wine Rafael develops his technical potential and his confidence in the soil, though after several vintages he got the feeling that it was not enough, although he has done his best, he has reached the highest point as much as this area was able to offer. Therefore he started exploring new sides of viticulture in order to achieve the highest expression of his wines. 

In 2000 his father dies and many things changes are introduced in Rafael ́s life. During the following three years, he works hand in hand with his brother Alvaro, who ran the winery since 2000, but at that point Rafael understood that it was time to go his own way. Venturing into Galicia.

His interest for Galicia was not new at all. Rafael felt attracted in 1996 by the Godello variety, a wine from Valdeorras. He got impressed by the continental character of the variety, but especially by the volume and lengthiness showed in mouth, of these wines. After working together now and then with local producers, Rafael Palacios, starts his own personal project in 2004, within the “Valley of Bibei”, sub-region, in the municipality of O Bolo, buying old vineyards of the variety Godello, the typical variety of the area, to the old producers of the region. 

The reason why he choose this area, is its history, altitude as well as the texture of its sandy soils of granitic origin. The extreme orography together with the low yield of the soil, had contributed to the fact of progressive abandonment of this historic region, cultivated in terraces and banks. These little plots, were inherited by these winegrowers by lot, “Sorte” in Galician. 

During the years, he has brought back these vineyards to its natural traditional viticulture. He has completely stepped away of the systematic use of herbicides as well as synthesis treatments. This transformation has made a great impact to the quality of his wines, that every single year represent the highest expression and nuances of the typical sandy soil, with a remarkable saline character, full of minerality. 

About the Tasting

During the show we will taste Rafael’s flagship wine: AS SORTES 2019. This is the wine that has started it all and still one of the most exemplary wines the winery produces. Receiving recognition from media and wine lovers across the world it is one of the top Godello wines being made in Spain.

The As Sortes comes from the six oldest small plots of Palacios vineyards, bought between 2004 and 2007, and the vines are worked organically. The vines were planted in the late 1970s/early 1980s, and the soils are granite based and deliver low yields. The clear juice ferments in 500-liter oak barrels, and the wine matured with fine lees in those barrels and also in some foudres for eight months. It has a very Burgundian profile.

The 2019 vintage of AS Sortes was awarded with 96 points by Robert Parker and 95 points by Spain’s Guía Peñín. Josep Roca, one of Spain’s top sommeliers and responsible for food and wine at the famous restaurant El Celler de Can Roca, commented on the wine as follows:

“As Sortes is endowed with a sense of joyfulness, it has aromatic intensity due to the expression of acidity, – grapefruit, red apple, humid boxwood, chesnut flower – and an attractive mineral touch. Cold terrain and fruit blend into medium-intensity breezes. The Godello shows here its more bittersweet side, its angled and cold start on the palate is brilliant, it stretches out, lean, to be picked up at the end of the mouth with a warm, greasy coat and has a long-life script that projects it towards maturity, where the jovial part fades away and the mineral strength of the granite stands out”.

This Godello is imported in the Netherlands by “Wijnimport J. Bart” Click here to find more information (in Dutch) and the possibility to order the wine (currently they have the 2020 vintage available) and drink along with us.

We are looking forward to talking to Rafael and learning from his background, experiences and the winery. Be sure to tune in on Instagram Live through our Dutch Wine Apprentice account on Friday the 8th of April, 19:30h CET.

Click here for instructions on how to follow a live show on Instagram Live. If you have questions for our guest you are welcome to prepare them and e-mail them to us or send them as a direct message on our Instagram account.

You can find a link to the recording of the show here.