[This is part two of four in the series showcasing the winemakers, wines, and wineries discovered during my recent trip to the Montsant region of Spain, sponsored by the DO Montsant. Part one can be read here. ]
A young appellation with a deep history, the stature of DO Montsant is rising in the global wine marketplace thanks to a group of farmers and winemakers dedicated to making distinctive wines that express the diverse soils and mesoclimates of the region.
Among the winemakers leading the DO Montsant’s emergence from the shadows of the better-known regions of Spain is Jesús del Rio Mateu.
Farmer, winemaker, PhD Anthropologist, retired professor, poet and philosopher, del Rio Mateu is the landlord (as he refers to himself) of El Mas de l’Abundancia, ‘Manor of Abundance.’
I met Jesús on a sunny, brisk day in March on a plateau at El Mas de l’Abundancia, situated just above his winery and adjacent to a steep sloped Garnacha vineyard with a view overlooking the Siurana river.
Located in the area of El Masroig in southwestern Montsant, the historic property belonged to the monks of the Prior of Scala Dei until 1838 and has been in his family since 1892.
My motto is, “It can be humble, but it should be excellent,” said del Rio Mateu as he poured his beautifully textured and aromatic 2016 de Calpino Grenache Blanc. The de Calpino was made from 120 year-old vines grafted with the first American cuttings that arrived in Catalonia and planted by his great grandfather in 1900-1901.
“The characteristics of my wines is they are modest. My desire is to produce wines of terroir, of this place,” he explained to our group.
In the 1980s, Jesús was invited by the U.S. State Department to “learn about middle America” as part of his Anthropology studies so he moved to Iowa for two years. After returning to Spain, he taught Anthropology and worked in politics as Chief of the Catalan International Affairs.
About 20 years ago, Jesús began his second life when he retired from teaching Anthropology and history at the University of Barcelona and moved back to his boyhood home — El Mas de l’Abundància — to cultivate grapes and make wine.
“I was in the middle of the path of life,” explained Jesús. “I already had two degrees and a doctorate when I decided to go back to my origins and do what I would have liked to do when I was a teenager.”
He farms four hectares of vineyards planted to Cariñena (Carignane), Garnacha (Grenache) and Cabernet Sauvignon atop slopes of llicorella (slate) and alluvium soils atEl Mas de l’Abundància.
Jesús makes four wines; three red blends and one white made from 100% Grenache Blanc. A different blend of Grenache, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon, each red is thoughtful, aromatic, layered, with lively acidity and perfectly balanced.
“When someone drinks one of the wines of the Mas de l’Abundància, I want them to know they are tasting an honest product, deeply tied to the land and air, to a landscape and vegetation,” Jesús told me in a follow up interview.
“It’s not just making a great wine. It’s about drinking the vine, the fruit of a piece of land determined with history, tradition and future vocation. It is a great analogy of our civilization. In the end a wine is a strange mixture of a mother – the earth – a father – the sky that shelters it – and the man who cultivates it”
Humble with deep intellect, growing grapes in diverse soils and topography to make distinctive wines of place, Jesús del Rio Mateu and El Mas de l’Abundància is Montsant!
“I want to be known for making authentic wines,” Jesús said as he concluded our visit.
Mission accomplished Señor del Rio Mateu!
[Part three of this series featuring Josep Grau and Celler Capcanes will be posted next week. The series will conclude with ‘A Case of Montsant Wines to Seek Out.’]