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Almudena Alberca, the only Spanish ‘Master of Wine’: “I have been making wine for 20 years”

Almudena Pool (Madrid, 1978) is technical director of the group Entrecanales Domecq and Sons and member of its board of directors. She is an agricultural technical engineer, graduated in viticulture and enology and the only Spanish woman with the title “Master of Wine”, the most prestigious in the world of wine. Only 420 people have it. It involves years of tastings and studies on everything related to the world of wine and Almudena knows it all.

After reading this interview, you will have the same desire as me to try a wine from Almudena Alberca. He has the personality, the knowledge, the know-how and the passion to intoxicate us. Cosme Palacio, El Secreto, Caserío de Dueñas, El Aeronauta, La Poda, Anzil, are some of them.

How is the harvest going?

It’s a very strange year. I have been making wine for 20 years and I have never harvested so early, 15 days in advance in all denominations of origin and at the same time. Additionally, we have had a labor problem. Normally, it is sequenced by the different areas, and, in many cases, there has not been time for it to arrive. Everything has been complicated and somewhat chaotic. It took a lot of imagination and patience.

Why do wines have more and more alcohol content?

We cannot talk about climate change coming, that’s it. I started in 2003 and I would say that, since 2010, there has not been any harvest like it. The increase in temperature is causing an increase in degrees. The modernization of viticulture also influences. And starting in 2005, this concentration began to be understood as an attribute.

What effects are expected with climate change?

I think it is such a rapid transformation that we do not want to believe that it will be as severe as they are announcing. We are very aware and we try to get ahead as much as possible.

As?

In some plantations we are using clones that are less demanding of water. We have also buried the irrigation to spend less. We have a study with the Agrarian Technological Institute with ten or twelve native varieties that were almost extinct. They had a longer cycle, were more acidic, matured later and generated less alcohol. Before they were less interesting, when the objective was to produce enough and have alcohol.

In addition, we are planting other varieties and we try to buy grapes, for example, in Ribera, in the highest areas. And we are installing solar panels, insulating warehouses… We try to do what we can. And we are going very slow.

Do you think there is awareness of climate change?

In wine talks they continue to say that the most important thing is the “terroir”, the site, your vineyard… We should be thinking about what varieties to plant in order to gradually acclimatize. For example, Bordeaux has been testing different varieties for 4 or 5 years, including Albariño. We already know, not Spanish, but Portuguese… They look for varieties that can be adapted to maintain the style of their wines or add something. And they have already authorized them.

Why does Spain have so little prestige internationally?

We are the third producers in terms of volume of liters. The truth is that we have conditions, but we have never sold ourselves well. We are not able to establish ourselves as one of the top quality producers. At the moment we are at a very good quality/price ratio.

How can a bottle of a correct young wine cost two euros?

Let’s say our production chain is a little unbalanced. The Spanish winegrower is often not receiving the price of grapes that he should. It is now regulated by law and is not supposed to be sold below production costs. In Champagne, for example, a kilo of grapes is 6 or 7 euros. This means that the wine chain generates a lot of value, from the primary sector to the final consumer.

After obtaining the Master of Wine title (2018), do you consider it more?

I think so (laughs). Master of Wine is the most important title in the world of wine. However, the producing countries – France, Italy, Spain and Portugal – are more interested in managers, winemakers, field engineers… In England it has much more recognition, because it is granted there. They, above all, buy and sell.

Is taste learned?

Everyone can run 100 meters, it’s another matter if you’re going to be first in the Olympics. You have to have an innate ability and, as you train and develop it, you acquire a level. It’s as if it were your dictionary of the world of flavors and smells.

How does the landscape vary depending on the variety and the new viticulture?

It changes a lot in each area. It’s so beautiful because each place has its personality. For example, in Rioja you breathe wine, tradition, and wine culture. The people live from it. Everyone knows and has made wine at home.

How important is the soil?

A lot. You need healthy, living soil, where many chemicals are not used. There are soils that have greater aging potential, others that are capable of transferring different nuances to the grapes, but there are also grapes that are vehicles for transmitting these soils.

Equally important are the rest of the factors such as the variety, the macroclimate of the area, the microclimate within it, the rainfall, the temperature range and the human factor. I have been working for many years with an old vineyard that I love in Ribera del Duero. Before the father wore it and now the son. Well, the son makes different grapes from his father.

What is a day in the life of Almudena Alberca like?

Very intense. It always varies. I work with the teams, I visit the wineries, the clients, I make presentations, a lot of tasting and planning. There is also a lonely part. I go from project to project. My position is a cornerstone between the management of the wineries and transferring all of this to marketing, sales and management.

Do you decide when to harvest?

Yes. I am in charge of the technical management of vineyards (our own and those from whom we buy) and the wineries. The design of what the final wine will be like begins in the field.

The other day, with the winemaker from La Rioja, we tasted 50 samples of grapes to determine the optimal time to harvest and also to separate the qualities. The team is in charge of the day-to-day running of the winery and I work with them in the near future and in the medium and long term.

After tasting 50 types of grapes, do you remember which is which and are you able to continue differentiating?

I take notes. You remember a few by heart, but the ones that are standard, that do not generate any emotion or intense sensation, are easier to forget. In reality, the palate wears out… I try to alternate. But this year, since we have all the wineries at the same time…

How many wines have you created?

I haven’t counted them. I have always worked in wineries that wanted to make comprehensive transformations of their projects. Currently in Entrecanales quite a few. In Rueda there was only one wine and we have made 4 or 5 new ones. We have made the Valdeorras, Secreto, remade the styles that existed, many, many… About 20.

What would be the seal of Almudena Alberca?

I think I always like to get the best out of the place and make wines with different personalities, very respectful of both the environment and the way they are made.

For me the field is very important. I dedicate a lot of time to it. It is not so much what you do in the winery, but how you take care of what you have already selected so that it reaches this final process. Also that they are honest wines that represent what they are, faithful to their year, from the beginning to the end, but taking great care of them. Without trap or cardboard.

Is there a wine culture in Spain?

If we had culture, wine would be in our lives. What’s in a popular festival? Beer, gins… We have become the fashionable country for gin consumption, having a product like wine, which is from the countryside, from our towns, which maintains natural spaces and which is much healthier than a distillate.

In France, even if it is in an unswallowable wine bottle, there it is, on the table. Here you have refreshments. In Bordeaux you find people of different ages in a bar with an incredible wine list enjoying wine with an aperitif. If we were able to increase this wine culture, we could increase the value of our areas. We are our own ambassadors.

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