The inauguration of Celler de les Aus in DO Alella
For some time, the people who haunt the “natural” wine circles have been people I wouldn’t care to be in an enclosed space with, even if said space where the size of a football field. This is due to a bounty of reasons that typically distill down to foul body odor or driving me batshit crazy with their proselytizing how “natural” wines are the second coming. This is unfortunate as I strongly believe in nearly all of the tenants of this wine movement but yet I don’t want to be around the most zealous of believers.
Of course some of the more “commercial” wineries have had this trajectory for some time which is how we arrive at Alta Alella, in the tiny DO Alella having just inaugurated a new cellar that is focused on producing “natural” wines called Celler de les Aus. This of course may not seem to be the case at first as it butts up right against the larger parent cellar but the idea for this started some 10 years ago with the AA Breuel (now Bruant) which was the first “natural” Cava produced in Spain. It’s also confusing as the actual parent, Josep Maria Pujol-Busquets is the one you’ll see talking about the cellar while it’s officially owned by his daughter, Mireia Pujol-Busquets.
The main reason for this separation is that there were EU funds available to develop such a project but also because Josep Maria wanted to create something for his children and he sees that a great deal of the future of wine lies in the sustainability of winegrowing (all their vineyards are organic) and winemaking, thus the “natural” philosophy. Of course, we can easily understand what organic is but “natural” is a great deal more difficult to define. For Celler de les Aus it means non-intervention in the cellar and no added sulfites which will be enchanting news to all the bearded, tattooed, and insufficiently unwashed sommeliers out there. Whether or not said sommeliers will accept a relatively mainstream winery in to their fold remains to be seen though as they don’t make the “vinegar funk” wines that the hardest of hardcore “natural” wine disciples search out. Instead as both Josep Maria and Mireia are trained enologists they produce wines that are actually correct, quite pleasant to drink, and truly emblematic of their region, which has always been tricky for Alella.
Given the organic nature of their 4ha of vineyards however and that the cellar sits at the edge of a natural park, the name seemed sensible which in Catalan means simple, “Cellar of the birds” and they play upon this theme with all their labels featuring a local bird: Bruant, Capsigrany, Merla, Tallarol, and Puput–the last being absolutely adorable as birds go and thus a fitting name for a dessert wine. The cellar itself was designed by architect Alfons Soldevila with the premise of having it fit in to its environment and being excavated out of the base earth with recycled shipping containers for the rooms of the cellar. There is currently netting to block some of the sun but eventually they will cover the cellar and plant vines on top of it.
It’s already a lovely spot though where upon arriving at the top of the cellar via stairs made from old German railway ties (apparently the Spanish ones leech some kind of horridly toxic chemical), you get a view out over the sea with the vineyards in the foreground. The hearty, salt-tinged breeze makes it obvious as to how they can work organic given the excellent aeration of the vines.
With this official opening, it will be interesting to see the path that they take and how it will shake down to the rest of the winemaking community in Spain. Could a Torres or Freixenet “Natural Series” be in the works soon as well?