Image Courtesy of Familia Torres
When Miguel Torres, the fourth-generation proprietor of Spain’s Familia Torres winery, began seeking out almost-extinct ancient grape varieties in Catalonia almost 40 years ago, it was an act of historic curiosity. It was not, as it would later become, a mission that could potentially rescue Mediterranean viticulture from the ravages of climate change.
In truth, Torres was always more interested in French varieties than those that are considered Spanish or Catalan. His wine Torres Mas La Plana, from the vineyard of the same name, is made with 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.
“In the 80s, he did a sabbatical year at the University of Montpelier, where he worked with Denis Boubals, a very important teacher of viticulture there,” explains his daughter, Mireia Torres Maczassek, who works alongside her father and brother Miguel. “He convinced my father that it was interesting to recover all these ancestral varieties, the [ones] that were lost with phylloxera.”
Her father started searching for these varietals. “In the 80s, we put advertisements in the local press asking for ancestral varieties,” Mireia says. Every year since, the winery has had multiple grape growers visit with ampelographers—those who study grape varieties.
Today, Familia Torres has successfully recovered 52 long-lost grape varieties.
Rescuing Ancient Grapes
Of course, there is much more to “rescuing” ancient varieties than simply replanting. On a recent intensive visit to the family’s wineries and vineyards in Catalonia, not far from Barcelona, Miguel Torres Maczassek—known across the wine industry as Miguel Junior—explains, “the process takes around 14 years, depending on the variety. Some of the varieties we find in vineyards, but others we find in places where there are no vineyards anymore, in the forest, climbing a tree or close to a creek, and they survived somehow.”
But these varieties are not ready to be made into wine. “They are full of viruses and the wine will not be very good, it will be just average,” says Miguel Junior. “We have to replicate them, but without the viruses.”