Gregory Perez A Vigneron in El Bierzo
Nestled against the Cordillera Cantabrica in northwestern Spain sits El Bierzo, a region comprised of gentle rolling hills, rugged mountains, and a plethora of gnarly bush vines that dot the landscape as far as the eye can see. This wild, mind-expanding beauty is what led Gregory Perez to fall in love with the land, take root here, and eventually produce some of the most terroir expressive and elegant wines to emerge from Bierzo.
Gregory came to Bierzo from his native Bordeaux. Naturally, having grown up in such a prestigious French wine region as Bordeaux, Gregory found himself drawn to how wine is made. This led to his enrollment at the University of Bordeaux. While there, he befriended classmate Eduardo Garcia, a talented enologo and the son of reputable winemaker Mariano Garcia, whom helmed the famous Vega Sicilia estate for many years. In 2001, after graduation and internships at a couple of very well known French Châteaux, Gregory received a job offer at Luna Beberide, where Mariano Garcia was doing some consulting at the time. He didn’t think twice and headed to El Bierzo right away. This was a time when Alta Expresión wines were all the rage - the bigger, the oakier, the better. That same year he joined forces as a partner with the Garcia’s and the Luna family to produce Paixar, which quickly became one the most regarded oak-aged, old vine Mencía wines in the region.
In 2007, Gregory had begun to reject the oak and set out with a newly defined vision - to produce Bierzo wines, free of artifice, and that express the Bierzo terruño in a clear and concise manner. With the purchasing of his own 5 hectares, he started Bodegas Mengoba, named after the native grapes of Bierzo – Mencía, Godello, and Valenciana with a “B” (also called Doña Blanca).
A curious mind has more to achieve. Along with Mengoba, Gregory has since started a second label called Brezo to showcase his work as a micro-negociant. These Brezo wines represent some of the best values in Spain. With both Mengoba and Brezo his work with the native (and ignored) Doña Blanca is truly notable. Gregory also makes a wine from the little-known Estaladiña (local name for Trousseau) grape, an amazingly pure wine that brings to mind the smoky volcanic wines of Sicily’s Mount Etna. Working with obscure grapes is one thing, but Gregory has single-handedly revived the Mencía grape grown on the village of Espanillo. Located at the high elevation of 750 meters on the northern side of Bierzo, the mountainside vineyards of Espanillo possess an incredible array of soil types, from slate, sand, stones, to clay-iron. From this terruño, Gregory produces his Mencía de Espanillo. Widely considered to be one of the greatest expressions of Mencía in the region; it is a rich yet elegant vino tinto with smoky floral notes, wild mountain herbs, bright acidity, and silky tannins.
Gregory takes a practical and ecological approach in the vineyard, practicing, as the French say, lutte raisonée with no herbicides used ever. Any other treatments are used only if absolutely necessary. To achieve similar results with his work as a négociant, Gregory exclusively buys fruit from growers that focus on the health of the soil first, and that do not use herbicides. He believes soil aeration in his climat is important; so he plows by ox, gently working the land as to not compress the soil as a tractor does. All of the grapes are hand-harvested. In the winery, which essentially is a garage, fermentations are carried out with native yeasts. Minimal sulfur is added during elevage, where a variety of vessels are utilized for the raising of his wines. These days he is opting for large wooden foudres over barriques and stainless steel vats – see the fabulous beeswax and soil laden Godello from Mengoba, fermented and raised on the lees for 11 months in foudre, this is a structured white wine, reminiscent of fine Savenniéres or Chablis.
Many folks have passed through El Bierzo on the Camino de Santiago, the famous pilgrimage trail that starts in France and runs across northern Spain to Galicia. Some folks are so strongly drawn to the land and its people that they stay to forge a new path. Gregory Perez can be likened to one of those “travelers”, a talented winegrower on a mission in Bierzo.
Brezo Blanco Comprised of 80% Godello and 20% Doña Blanca, from multiple plots of 30-80 year old vines, grown on sandy loam and clay soils, at 550 meters elevation, located in the areas of Cacabelos and Valtuille. It is fermented with wild yeasts in stainless steel vat and raised on the lees with weekly battonage for 5 months. No oak. Brezo Blanco is a fresh, mineral, and elegant wine with notes of citrus, lanolin, and white pepper, a delicious wine to pair with fresh seafood, cheeses, roast chicken, and jamón. 1,250 cases produced
Mengoba Blanco Made from 100% Godello from different plots of 30-40 year old vines, grown on river stones and sandy loam soils, at 550 meters elevation, in the areas of Cacabelos and Valtuille. It is fermented with wild yeasts in large wooden foudre and raised for 11 months in 4000 liter oval wooden vats. Mengoba Blanco is structured and complex and shows flavors of quince, beeswax, and deeply pitched minerals, a perfect vino blanco to pair with wild game, rich seafood dishes, jamón, cheeses, and poultry dishes. 415 cases produced
Brezo Tinto This cuvée is comprised of mostly Mencía with a small proportion of Garnacha Tintorera, from multiple plots of 30-60 year old vines, grown on clay and sandy loam soils, at 550 meters elevation in the areas of Valtuille and Villafranca del Bierzo. 90% de-stemmed and 10% whole-cluster, fermented with wild yeasts in stainless-steel vats, and raised on the lees in vat. Brezo Tinto is a fresh, ripe, floral, and spicy red wine to pair with meats of all kinds, especially sausages, game, and pork dishes. 2,500 cases produced
Mengoba Tinto The fruit for this cuvee comes from a combination of 80 year old Mencía vines from the Espanillo mountain, located in between 700-850 meters elevation, and 30 year old vines grown at 550 meters elevation in Valtuille. The wine is fermented with natural yeasts in foudre, with, depending on the vintage, a small amount of whole clusters included. The wine is then raised in foudre of 5000 liter capacity for 6-10 months. The result is a well-structured wine with great freshness and classic Bierzo flavors of dark fruits, spice, and minerals. It is a wine to pair with all kinds of meats, especially braises, kebabs, sausages, and the like. 665 cases produced
Espanillo Mencía From a field blend of mostly Mencía with Garnacha Tintorera, and Godello, vine age 30-80 years old, grown at 750 meters on the mountain of Espanillo, where there is a good amount of slate in the vineyard. The wine was fermented with wild yeasts in 400 liter barrels with no destemming or racking. Bottled unfiltered, Mencía de Espanillo is a ripe, smoky, gently floral, herbal, and very mineral wine, medium-bodied, with silky tannins and lingering complexity. A vino tinto to pair with rich stews, grilled meats, and noble dishes of all sorts. 415 cases produced
Estaladiña Made from the Estaladiña (local name for Trousseau)
grape, the vines are 25 years old, grown at 540 meters elevation in the town of Cacabelos. The wine was fermented whole cluster in stainless-steel vats and raised in vat with no sulfur added until the bottling. Bottled unfiltered. One of the most interesting Spanish wines you will come across, Estaladiña is very fresh, pure, with notes of smoke, herbs, and minerals. Medium-bodied on the pallet with energy, verve, and firm tannins. A wine to pair with fatty fish, such as Tuna or Swordfish, rich meat dishes with sauces, dishes with herbs, and grilled vegetables. 100 cases produced