During our visit of the Arribes del Duero, we were lucky to stay at Charlotte Allen's place for a week and to share some of the vineyard & cellar work with her. Passionate, hardworking & a fantastic wine producer, we decided to ask her a few questions to share her vision with you.
1. MEET THE MAKER: So, you are Charlotte Allen, a British citizen locally known as “Carlota la Francesa” (Carlota the Frenchwoman) and you make wine in Fermoselle, on the border between Spain & Portugal, within the DO Arribes. Can you help us to understand all these origins you have by telling us a bit more about your background?
I started out in the wine business very young. I was still 19 when I was given the responsibility of buying wine for a small, country hotel. After a short stint in Paris to improve my French, I was lucky enough to find a job with one of the UK´s foremost wine importers, Richards Walford, where I handled some of the world´s best wines on a daily basis. In 1992 I did my first harvest with Domaine Huët in Vouvray. From there came my love of winemaking and biodynamics. In 1999, I left the UK on a quest to learn as much about winemaking as possible. I went first to South Africa, then to Bordeaux and finally settled in the Rhône where I studied oenology and viticulture. A chance meeting with a former supplier, Didier Belondrade (one of the greatest white wine producers in Spain) lead me to the Arribes del Duero, where I decided to settle. I have been here since 2007 producing wine and olive oil.
2. THE LAND & THE GRAPES: The DO Arribes is a unique environment in Spain: entirely located within a National Park, right where the Portuguese Douro becomes the Spanish Duero, with indigenous grapes full of character! Could you help our readers to understand what makes this part of the World so special?
Technically it is where the Duero becomes the Douro! The Arribes really is the land that time forgot. The rivers Duero and Tormes have cut two steep-sided, deep gorges through the countryside. The poor granite soil and steep-slopes are really unsuitable for anything other than the production of wine and olive oil, which has been what has sustained the community here since time immemorial. Most of the vines were planted at the beginning of the last century and the plethora of varieties has hence been maintained. I am currently working with about 20 different types of grapes, both white and red. We are also extremely lucky that the weather here is perfect for organic agriculture: situated at around 700 metres, the climate is dry with hot sunny days and cool nights. We have no pest problems (apart from the pesky wild boar!) and practically no diseases to speak of, so the vines require very few treatments, if any.
3. THE CHALLENGES: Every wine region has different problems to face: drought or humidity, heat or cold, pests & diseases… I think the year 2017 was marked by devastating fires in your area, you are currently looking for crowdfunding to save your finest vineyard. What Natural challenges do you have to face in the DO Arribes?
It is true that last year was particularly challenging. Frost wiped out about 40% of the
harvest, then hail destroyed two entire vineyards and the drought brought the crop down yet further. As a farmer you know that these are potential risks, but you don´t generally expect them all in the same year! By far the most difficult moment, however, was the fire. It was started intentionally, raged for four days and destroyed 3000ha of land around the village. In fact we came very close to having to evacuate the village itself. I lost my largest vineyard, along with 200-year old olive trees and countless almonds trees. It was wanton destruction on a huge scale, all of which psychologically was much harder to process. The vineyard I lost was not only the largest, it was also my favourite so I have mounted a crowdfunding campaign which will allow me to replant it.
4. THE WINES, TO EAT OR NOT TO EAT?: If our readers find your wines or other wines from the DO Arribes at their local wine shop, what food would you recommend with them or should they even eat at all?
All of my wines – white, rosé or red – are expressly designed to go with food. Apart from the aromatic intensity of the Arribes wines, they also have structure, acidity and – in the case of the reds – tannin. This means that they will hold up well with most dishes, even those that are heavy, rich or slightly spicy. I particularly like the Pirita white with “Alubias blancas con almejas” (white bean stew with clams) and the Pirita Crianza red “Rabo de toro” (oxtail stew).
5. YOUR FAVOURITE WINE IN THE WORLD: Now, the tricky question, except your own, what would you call your absolute desert island wine? If there are words to describe your choice, can you tell us why?
This is so difficult to answer because wine is like music – there are thousands upon thousands of different types of wine, so you can always find the perfect one to match your mood. I can instantly bring to mind some of the greatest wines I´ve ever tasted: Vosne Cros Parantoux 1982 from Henri Jayer, Grand Cru Montrachet from Domaine Leflaive, Vouvray moelleux 1947 from Domaine Huët, Tokaji Aszu 6 puttonyos from Istvan Szepsy…. But if I had to chose one wine to drink for the rest of my life, it would probably be a Riesling Kabinett from J.J. Prum, not because it is the greatest wine in the world, but is one which I doubt I would ever get tired of.