The tasting at The Wine Hub’s new premises on Sibyllegatan resulted in a completely different dialogue about wine when Miguel Torres entered the scene. Torres certainly has a lot to brag about, but instead of focusing on the delicious liquids we had in the glasses in front of us, diagrams of carbon dioxide emissions were shown and there was talk of research and development.
The vitality is most palpable when Miguel Torres speaks. Presumably, the majority of visitors have time to give their own approach a thought when a man of over eighty years of age sparkles with goodwill and storytelling joy about his work. That’s right, work. Retirement at sixty-five may not translate into Spanish because Mr. Torres seems to be fully involved in a panoply of different projects.
Torres is a commercial brand and a wine-making machine of rank but this in no lessens the care it takes of its own deeds. With 1,900 ha of plantations and up to 1,300 committed workers, there is a no obvious connection to the small-scale grower. The caring little vintner who is so often praised as the most close to nature and genuine. A succession of tributes and words of praise to the small-scale should, in the name of consistency, place large-scale operations in some kind of grey area. But that is not the case with Torres.
Heat waves plague growers, large and small, and brutally strain the crops financially. At the time of writing (summer 2022), the alarming reports from the wine producers come in a steady flow. The heat and the lack of drops from the sky make 2022 a difficult year for many districts in Europe. When I this week visited Valtellina, growers were concerned but claimed nothing had yet been damaged. In Piedmont, the producers said the same thing, but certainly the leaves were noticeably brittle and the development of the grapes somewhat restrained.
Miguel Torres did not say a word about this year’s weather, conditions or trials. Instead, the basis of Miguel’s reasoning was a long-term insight into what is happening to our earth and how we should tackle the task of preserving it. Miguel clicks up a chart of CO2 emissions on the big screen with a description of the development between 1960 and 2020. We have a few glasses poured ahead of us but the tasting will be delayed, the environment seems to take precedence in this tasting. “We know that we will have to review the grape varieties that we grow because of climate change,” says Miguel Torres. “We have even acquired land at altitudes where cultivation is not yet possible,” he adds.
Miguel is full of stories but quickly switches back to seriousness and touches on topics such as global warming and the tipping point. As for their own operation, they are 35% self-sufficient via solar cells. In their new tractors, the diesel engines have been replaced by an electric drive. Overall, the carbon footprint per bottle has decreased by 30% since 2008, when Torres started environmental work on a larger scale. Trials are also underway with the pergola pruning and training system combined with mounted solar cells.
Miguel Torres claims that the environmental aspect encounters different challenges in Spain and (for example) Chile, where they established themselves already in 1979. Each country has its own challenges and conditions. “In Chile, we paid as much for 6,000 ha as an apartment costs in Barcelona,” laughs Miguel, only to return to seriousness a second later and touch on the work with climate-friendlier packaging. They have started to use returnable glass, but they still dislike bag-in-box, mostly because the packaging is rarely separated from plastic and paper, instead everything is often incinerated.
And what about the wines? Yes, after some time the tasting was also carried out. In short, all wines are consistently well-made, with both backbone and neat details in all cuvées. The favourite was the classic Mas la Plana of 100% cabernet sauvignon. You know, the wine that took the world by storm at the Wine Olympics in 1979. Of course, you can’t live on old merits, but a unanimous panel maintained that our 2017 should definitely keep a podium place. As a small note, it can be mentioned that 90,686 bottles were produced in 2017, but in Sweden there is only one left at a Systembolaget in Västerås.
The next time your eyes sweep over the shelf of Spanish wines, it is highly likely that one of Torre’s bottles will slip into the shopping basket. Not only in terms of taste and quality, but at least as much in the words of Miguel Torres about environmental work. Soon he will turn eighty-two and we are keeping our fingers crossed that the children who run the company today will take over the baton.
Some more comments by BKWine Magazine’s editor: more about Torres’ environmental work
A few years ago, Miguel Torres invited BKWine’s Britt to an environmental conference that Torres co-organizes in Catalonia, EcoSostenibile Wine. The invitation came as a consequence of the fact that we (BKWine) had recently come out with what may well have been the first book that went into detail about what organics is about when it comes to wine, as well as other aspects of the environment and wine production: “Biodynamic, Organic and Natural Winemaking; Sustainable Viticulture and Viniculture”. Britt was one of the participants in the panel at the conference.
In connection with that, we also had the opportunity to take a closer look at some of the environmental work that Torres was doing at the time, and which has certainly progressed much further today. Among other things, we got to see an experiment where they used algae to bind carbon dioxide, see the picture below. This was one of the experiments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the carbon footprint.
We also visited a botanical collection of local grape varieties, where perhaps some may prove important for the future. One of the grapes they had there is called sumoll blanc, a very unusual grape that is probably originating from Tarragona. This type of grape collection is becoming more and more important when looking for suitable genetic material for the future, i.e. grape varieties with desired characteristics. It may be to adapt to climate change. But also at least as much to develop grape varieties with better resistance to diseases in order to reduce the need for spraying in the vineyards.
In Sven-Olof’s text above, he talks about land that Torres bought at a high altitude, so high that grapes today do not thrive there. However, we had the opportunity to visit one of Torre’s experiment vineyards where it is possible to grow grapes, but thanks to the fact that it is at such a high altitude, today it is cool climate grapes. The Tremp vineyard, as it is called, at 950 metres altitude, is also the place where they experiment with some new grape varieties. Read more about that in this article: “The Torres family in Catalonia gets good results with old grape varieties at high altitude”.
You can see pictures of all this (and some more) below.