Terra Brava

Breogan (Breo) Rodriguez, a bagpipe player, spear fisherman, tile layer, former heavy metal rocker and one of the Ribeira Sacra’s quietly rising stars, was a rebel as a child, and not much has changed. He’s never been one to follow the rules, and his choice to forgo putting the now cult-famous DO (Denominación de Origen) Ribeira Sacra on his label is true to this spirit. The decision lets him follow his own ideas rather than adhering to the regional laws outlined by the DO, and his move is an increasingly common practice among winegrowers in Spain who find these wine laws antiquated and restrictive.

Breo wants to explore less the well-known grapes (like Caiño Longo) that Mencia pushed aside simply because it’s so easy to grow and produce high yields. The cult of rebellious personality aside, Breo might be one of the most friendly and gentle people one could come across in a lifetime. His wines are just like him in personality and stature (he’s a lean wire of a man), and for a somewhat new winegrower he demonstrates an unusually precise touch in the cellar.

Breo seems to be half billy goat (necessary in these parts), doing everything by hand in his steeply terraced vineyards. He is deeply connected to the nature on his land and employs only treatments of sulfur and copper (both necessary in 99.9% of all wine regions in Europe, including organic and biodynamic farming for the management of powdery and downey mildew—the scourge of all European vineyards). All the weeds and grasses are maintained by hand with weedwackers—never herbicides, and he uses no fertilizers or pesticides.

(Click here to see a 3-D image of Breo’s vineyard site. His vineyards are the green sections above the main road. The vast majority of the vineyards surrounding are chemically farmed, demonstrated by their lack of green.)

In the cellar he is also hands-on. He uses all of the clusters during the two-month partial carbonic fermentations, and there are no punch downs or pumpovers made along the way other than a gentle push of the cap by hand each day back into the juice to keep the grapes healthy. There are only old barrels and stainless steel aging tanks found in his garage-sized cellar and none of his wines are manipulated by the use of unnatural enological products. His wines are clean, beautiful and deeply textured, and crafted with a great attention to detail.

A little more: The backstory of Terra Brava began with Breo’s father, José Manuel. For José’s retirement from banking his colleagues got him off to a good start by buying him a three hectare piece of undeveloped ancient vineyard land in Amandi, perhaps the most well-known wine sub-region within Spain’s Ribeira Sacra. He immediately began his new project, but a lifelong dream of working in one of the world’s most breathtaking and inspiring vineyard lands was cut short by his unexpected passing, and his dream was left to Breo.

Breo’s wines come from three hectares of steeply terraced vineyards in the Amandi sub-region of Galicia’s now cult famous and extreme wine region, the Ribeira Sacra. His vines are planted on a south and southwestern face principally on gneiss rock (the same principal mother rock of Austria’s Wachau and parts of the neighboring Kremstal and Kamptal) and granite (like in many parts of France’s Northern Rhône Valley and Corsica, for example). These soils are very acidic and as with grapes grown in similar pHs, the wines tend toward the savory and earthy side of the spectrum. Of course there is a good dose of fruit in his wines, but it is not their front-running characteristic.

The climate here is influenced by both the Atlantic (only about seventy miles away toward the west as the crow flies) and the Mediterranean, which is hard to imagine being that this region is so far north and deep into the mountains of Galicia, and more than 500 miles away. This tug of war between bodies of water can bring beautiful balance to a growing season, but as demonstrated in more recent vintages it can also break the spirit of the winegrowers just days before a harvest with hail storms that take out an entire year of work and severely impact the quantities of the year that follows.

Because of the extreme nature of this region’s topography, climate and spare soil depth, Breogan’s red wines are fresh, somewhat angular and deeply textured. The mouthfeel carries heavy impression of metal and mineral, similar to regions like France’s Northern Rhône wines grown on gneiss, granite and schist—quite similar to a Côte Rôtie, Saint-Joseph or Cornas. Not surprisingly, the gneiss and granite soils here are the rock and soil type that most dominates his extraordinarily steeply terraced vineyards (like most of the vineyards within the Amandi area of Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra) facing toward the south and southwest.

Extra: The Galician Massif is one of the oldest geological formations in Europe. The Iberian Peninsula was once in a totally different position and was twisted up north toward France (imagine the Pyrenees mountains being a sort of hinge point where the peninsula rotated northward) where it was connected to France’s Massif Amoricain (land of Muscadet and Anjou) as well as the Appalachian mountains in the Eastern United States. These mountains were all part of the supercontinent, Pangaea, and all the other areas mentioned previously were also part of this ancient continent; it’s no surprise that wines from these soil types can sometimes be connected by taste—they have the same soil parentage! -TV