An Interview with Ana Martín, Winemaker
Jim Clarke: What sparked your initial interest in making wine?
Ana Martín: It started quite by coincidence. When I was finishing my chemistry studies the Basque Government gave me a scholarship to learn wine analysis and I went to Madrid. There I began to love it and continued on with my thesis and Masters.
JC: Winemaking seems to be a profession that women have only recently made headway in. Did you find any difficulties when you were beginning your career because of your gender?
AM: It took a lot of effort to reach where I am, firstly because 15 years ago wine in Spain was not appreciated as something of quality, and an enologist even less so. An additional difficulty did arise because wine is part of the agricultural sector, where a woman in charge was not well looked upon. I was lucky to have good professional experiences during the years when wine began to be appreciated through until the 90s, and now I can choose my work.
JC: How closely do you work with the vineyard managers of the estates you work at?
AM: It is fundamental to work together with the people who raise the vines, since without good materials at the beginning it is impossible to make a great wine. From the pruning through the harvest there is constant contact. The viticulturist looks more to the quantity of grapes more than the quality, and that’s were you start to fight. It is much easier to work with young people in this sense.
JC: Your 1984 graduate thesis emphasized the character a wine derives from its geographical origins. With so many wines being made to suit the so-called “international style,” is this special character being lost?
AM: I believe that ultimately wines are “globalizing;” the whites, for example, are using selected yeasts and chilled fermentations to extract aromatic compounds, with good results but with very uniform wines. Among reds super-concentrated wines are being made, with an abuse of excellent woods and lacking in personality. At the moment in Spain there are a great many wines made in distinct regions and bodegas with no practical difference between the resulting wines. With Riojas, Ribera del Dueros, or Toros it can be much easier to know the origin of the wood and the winemaker than the region of production. I believe this can start to wear out the consumer.
JC: You’ve worked with a number of wineries in Galicia, especially in the Rias Baixas appellation. What drew you to this area?
AM: The first Galician bodega I went to was Guitian, in Valdeorras, in 1989. Then in 1990 I started at Terras Gaudas in Rias Baixas. At the time I was working with José Hidalgo as a consultant, designing the bodega and beginning to work on the winemaking as well. I believe that we got some good results and made a name for ourselves in the region, which also began to realize that there were many small bodegas there which were making quality wines.
JC: During my recent visit to the area, I found many winemakers were experimenting with barrique-aging, resting the wine on its lees, and similar Burgundian techniques. Do you consider these wines a deviation from the typicity of the appellation, or an expansion of it?
AM: The first Albariño fermented in barriques that we made in Terras Gaudas was in 1991, partially just to experiment with something new. With the passing of time I believe that what the wines gain in body and longevity they lose a little in personality and freshness. Since they are Atlantic varietals and this marks much of their personality, we are now substituting a few months on the lees but in stainless steel tanks to avoid the deforming effects of wood.
JC: Many of Spain’s younger appellations – Cigales, Bierzo – are still finding their identity on the market. When you work in such regions do you have a stylistic target that you feel represents the region, or is the geographical typicity still to be discovered?
AM: I study what has been done in the region historically, and then I attempt to maintain the region’s typicity by trying to use techniques that respect the grape and do not deform its character.
JC: You work with one winery, ItsasMendi, near your hometown in Basque country; do you have a special interest in developing the wines of the region?
AM: When I went to Madrid in 1985 Txakolis were acidic, turbid low-grade wines which were poorly thought of - very much homemade productions. I never thought that in a period of ten years they could turn things around to make quality wines there. Today one of the things I am most proud of in my work is that ItsasMendi is in the best restaurants of Vizcaya, is known throughout Spain, and is shortly to become available in New York.
JC: At Traslanzas you are not just the winemaker but also one of the owners; does this affect your approach to the wines - do you allow yourself a greater or lesser freedom than you have at other wineries?
AM: I never work at two wineries in the same region; it’s a policy that I’ve followed from the beginning; it keeps me involved not only in winemaking but in everything that can help my experience in the world of wine. It’s very complicated because I have to travel a lot, but I believe that it is more honest; I couldn’t do it any other way. One wine is always going to turn out better than another and it’s easier to not be in direct competition.
At Traslanzas there are three partners, all from the wine world, and in some ways we started this project as a challenge: to elevate a region of Spain that could be very good for red wines, not terribly large, but with excellent old vineyards, where four years ago 90% of the wine was rosé. It is also a challenge to develop all the marketing - the image and the commercial network, but being a small production and having had years of experience between us it isn’t as trying as starting from zero. Going out once in a while to sell and speak with customers is very good and helps you to see the state of the market much better - to see what people want, and which wines they really like and drink easily.
I stand up for those that make distinct, special wines, complex in sensations but at the same time easy to drink, wines that the consumer can talk about but at the same time can drink without needing to be a specialist.