AT Roca The Penedès Sparkling Wine Revolution
There is a revolution happening in Penedès and AT Roca is at the vanguard. After decades under the control of the sprawling and dominating Cava DO, a handful of producers have defected. It started with a single winery, but slowly more and more quality sparkling wine producers are disassociating themselves from this DO that has nothing to do with a sense of place. Catalans have never been afraid of separating from the masses, and in the heart of Catalunya, AT Roca is no different.
Over 75% of the total Cava production comes from just two behemoth wineries, and they control all aspects of the DO. The Cava DO is unique in that it does not have physical boundaries, rather the requirement is only that their sparkling wines be made in the método tradicional. The DO encompasses over 23 different regions across Spain, leading many of its Catalan members feeling that it cannot ever truly represent what is most important to them: the unique terruño of Penedès. Often maligned, Penedès has a reputation for only producing inexpensive wines of lesser quality. There’s a budding movement to change the way people view Penedès sparkling wines, and for people to start recognizing the importance and uniqueness of the terruño. A growing number of wineries have chosen to no longer associate themselves with the Cava DO, and have formed their own organizations with more stringent requirements such as aging and farming practices.
Agustí Torello Roca and his father and aunt, Agustí Torello Sibill and Lali Torello Sibill, founded AT Roca in 2013 with a focus on vineyards and wines with a sense of place. The name Agustí Torello is well-known and established in Penedès, having produced quality Cava for three generations under the label Agustí Torello Mata, named after the grandfather of the family. One of the first priorities for AT Roca was to join DO Classic Penedès, a subset of the Penedès DO that was formed in 2012. It started with just 10 members, and has been growing ever since. DO Classic Penedès is perhaps the first governing body that requires organic certification in order to be a member. In addition to the farming requirements, 15 months aging on the lees is the minimum (only 9 months is required in DO Cava), and all wines must be traditional method and vintage dated. AT Roca goes well beyond these standards by only using indigenous yeasts and harvesting 100% of their grapes by hand (most grapes in Cava and Classic Penedès are harvested by machine). For their single vineyard wines, they ferment in used barrels and age the wines on the lees under natural cork instead of crown caps, both of which are rarities in the region. Sulfur is only used once to block malolactic as an effort to retain the natural acidity of the grapes. All of their sparkling wines are zero dosage.
Agustí (the son) studied winemaking in Tarragona, and afterward apprenticed with vigneron Bruno Michel, one of Champagne’s pioneers of organic farming. A diligent student, Agustí is well traveled and always in search of wines which represent place. The mission at AT Roca is to showcase their region: the eastern part of Penedès near the Massís del Garraf and the foothills of the d’Ordal mountains. AT Roca only works with indigenous Catalan grape varieties, with a focus on Macabeu; the foothills of the d’Ordal mountains are a perfect growing place for this late-ripening variety. Most of their vineyards are within 20km of the Mediterranean Sea and sit on north-facing slopes, making for ideal growing conditions. They favor wines with tension, and in the warm Mediterranean climate of Penedès, north-facing slopes allow for less direct sunlight, and give the grapes more time to cool off overnight. This region has very marine-heavy soils from its time spent underwater 20 million years ago. The majority of their production is sparkling wine, but they make a small amount of still Xarel-lo from a high elevation, single vineyard site called Cantallops. A solera-aged sparkling wine is also in the works, one of the first of its kind in Spain.
It is an exciting time for sparkling wine in Catalunya. After years of complacency, real and radical changes are happening and there is a newfound commitment to showcasing place. AT Roca is certainly at the forefront of this movement, and their precise and pristine wines give evidence that there is much to be seen for the future of this notable region.
AT Roca Reserva This traditional method, vintage dated sparkling wine is 50% Macabeu, 30% Xarel-lo and 20% Parellada. The grapes for this wine are grown on a variety of different soil types in an effort to show an overall snapshot of Penedès terroir. The Macabeu is grown on calcareous, gravel and limestone soils in different plots located in the Massís del Garraf and the foothills of the d’Ordal mountains. The Xarel.lo is grown on clay-calcareous and alluvial soils in the Conca del Riu Anoia. Lastly, the Parellada is grown on sandstone soils in the Serra d’Ancosa at almost 700 meters above sea level. Primary fermentation is in stainless steel using natural yeasts, and then aged sur lie for a minimum of 20 months and bottled with zero dosage. Disgorgement date listed on the back label.
AT Roca Rosat Reserva This vintage dated, sparkling rosé is made from equal parts Macabeu and Garnatxa. The Garnatxa is gently macerated with its skins for 9-12 hours, giving the wine a very pale pink hue. The Macabeu for this wine comes from the Massís del Garraf subzone, grown in calcareous gravel soils at 320-420m elevation, whereas the Garnatxa comes from a lower area in Conca de l’Anoia where the soil is more clay-calcareous. Primary fermentation is in stainless steel using natural yeasts, and then aged sur lie for a minimum of 20 months and bottled with zero dosage. Disgorgement date listed on the back label.
AT Roca Pedregar This stony 3 hectare vineyard (the name Pedregar means “rocky”) has what Agustí sees as a perfect northwest facing exposition, giving the grapes plenty of time to mature slowly. Macabeu is co-planted among the Garnatxa vines on calcareous loam, making up about 10-15% of the blend. This wine is made as a Blanc de Noirs. After a direct pressing of the grapes, the wine’s primary fermentation takes place in used barrels before aging for a minimum of 30 months in bottle under natural cork. The phrase “Ull de Perdiu” is noted on the bottle as homage to the “Partridge Eye,” a typical name for Blanc de Noirs in Champagne. Bottled with zero dosage. Disgorgement date listed on the back label.
AT Roca Esparter AT Roca’s highest elevation vineyard in the Costers de l’Ordal. There is more limestone in the soil here than anywhere else on their property. It is 100% Macabeu planted in 1968. The vineyard’s northwest exposure protects grapes from direct afternoon sun, which helps to preserve freshness. Primary fermentation in barrel is followed by a minimum of 40 months aging in bottle under natural cork before disgorgement. Bottled with zero dosage. Disgorgement date listed on the back label.
AT Roca Cantallops 100% still Xarel-lo from their Cantallops (meaning “Song of the wolf”) vineyard in the Costers de l’Ordal subzone of Penedès. This vineyard faces north and is next to the Esparter vineyard, so shares a similar limestone-heavy soil and high elevation. This wine is aged in a combination of neutral oak and concrete egg for 9 months, and an additional year in bottle before release. Bottled unfiltered.