Monique Ortiz 2023 Sabbatical

When I first heard about the Bill Powers Sabbatical award, I immediately started thinking about all the places I could visit for improving my understanding in the field. As a Viticulturist, my focus is Washington vineyards and biodiversity practices that suit our land. I wanted to pick a wine growing country that experiences similar climate and grows world class grapes.

Thanks to WSU PhD graduate Geraldine, I was put in contact with her previous viticulture Professor in Spain, Jose Ramon Lisarrague. Jose owns a vineyard consulting company out of Madrid called GIVITI. He has taught for many years and has clients in every wine region I wanted to visit.

I started in Madrid, visited the city center to understand the history and food in the area. I believe that inspiration for quality wines first starts with cultural surroundings and food. I was able to dine in beautiful restaurants trying new to me dishes that featured seafood and flavors I had never had before. After Madrid I made my way to El Bierzo. This region is world renown for growing Godello and Mencia. I visited vineyards that were over 100 years old which gave me a fresh perspective on farming practices for longevity. In this wine region irrigation is prohibited and many farmers aim for sustainable biodynamic, and organic vineyards. Due to the amount of precipitation this region receives, Powdery Mildew is the biggest pest viticulturist have to be mindful of. In Bierzo I met with the winemaking consultant, Olga Verde who has farmed and vinified wines for Godellia for the last 10 years.

After my visit in El Bierzo I traveled to Galicia, a province in the Riax Biaxias. The main grape grown in this area Is Albarino. The region is Seaside and also receives a lot of rain. So much so that in some vineyards I witnessed Snails climbing up the trunk of pergola trained vines. During bud break this is especially bad as the snails start to feed on the buds, removing fruit from this year and stunting the fruit for next year’s crop. Currently the only way to maintain this issue is hand removal which is very costly. In Galicia I visited the vineyards of Martin Codax and Bodegas Fillaboa. Fillaboa was one of the most stunning experiences. Museum quality art lives in the tasting room that is exclusive to wine professionals. The vineyard is planted on steep slopes near an abundance of water flowing through a local river. I spent the afternoon discussing soils, tasting through aged albarinos hand crafted by the enologist, Isabel Salgado.

La Rioja stretches just shy of 7 hours east of the country from Galicia. I was able to visit Heredez Lopez y Tondonia and Bodegas Muga. La Rioja is full of people who are prideful of the crop bearing land that looks stoically desert like with its giant surrounding rock features. I loved seeing life push its way through the rocky, iron rich, soils.

Continuing to head east, I entered Catalonia in the Lleida province to visit Raimat. With nearly 3000 hectares of vineyards, it is the largest biodynamic vineyard in Europe and possibly the world. Often it is described as a new world vineyard settled in the old world. Raimat is vigorous with many scientific trials from different cover crops, trellis systems, PRD irrigation to implementing the planting of varieties that have never grown in that part of Catalonia.

On one of my final days in Spain I traveled to Penedes where I visited Pares Balta who host the winemaker of the year Marta Casas. The property is lush and full of history. Marta shared Cava with us and the origin of the family-owned winery. My last stop for vineyard peering was Albet I Noya, where the focus is not only growing 25 different varieties but grafting crosses between different vine species in hopes to find natural resistance to fungal diseases such as powdery mildew and downy mildew. I was blown away when told they mentioned 4,000 crosses to date.

My last day is Spain was spent in Barcelona where I stayed seaside in and out of food coma, visiting the historic gothic district with its beautiful architecture.

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