Josep: Raül, here we are, in a privileged place and a really peaceful setting, where I am overcome by an underlying need to ask you questions and to have an open conversation about you, about who you are and what you do. Why do you do what you do? And how? To start off, I’d like to propose something about your background, to suggest that what you do is linked to your family, that your overwhelming vitality could in a sense be fuelled by an ever-present memory. On this note, I’d like to outline your reality: you come from a family of farmers who worked from dawn to dusk.
Raül: Just like all the others.
Josep: What others?
Raül: Oh! Well, I mean all the families that have survived, or at least, say, the smaller ones. The ones that have survived are pretty much all like this. I think all humans are searching for peace and that here is a privilege, isn’t it? It is a privilege to enjoy landscapes like these, to have the chance to go somewhere you’ve liked since you were a kid. And then, because you know these places well, you are able to add on top a certain je ne sais quoi by way of method and experience, which is extremely important in terms of freshness and aroma precursors, not only for grapes and the wines they are used to produce, but also, as you know full well, for many other things beside. This is the hallmark of a gentle approach. A cold place like this requires this sort of method. There are inherent risks, frontiers that cannot be crossed, because then you land yourself in trouble. But it gives you scope to dream and to do big, or even infinite things.
Josep: But we are at the limits. You seek out the limits.
Raül: There are limits, which in the case of wine, have to do with varieties, latitude, altitude, and often also affect the orientations you work with. But you can find limits anywhere, can’t you? That is to say that it’s not an easy synthesis. But the limits here are identifiable. In fact, the snow is practically a stone’s throw away and you can do really interesting things here, provided you bear in mind that nature is going to teach you a lesson from time to time. That’s when, at the very least, you have to try to defend yourself.
Josep: Mother nature is always the boss, but the human factor has a role to play too. In this instance, I can see a very strong link between your work and your personality, or even, I’d go as far to say, your dual personalities rolled into one. On this note, I’d like it if you could expand on this constant duality in your life, which is made up of a mixture, a correlation of different elements, which sometimes blend together, while on other occasions they seem to be in conflict. Sometimes it’s as if you were split into two parts: your roots and your knowledge. Has your father’s hardworking example left a big imprint on you? Why do you work so hard?
Raül (laughing): No doubt it has left an imprint. I think cultural factors are important and especially here in Catalonia, it’s really tough. I think it’s something that affects a lot of people. Not only those from farming backgrounds – there are a lot of hardworking, industrious people out there. We’ve had to struggle here. The poor are poor in part because of the climate and landscape. It’s not like we have an abundance of water or particularly fertile soil, and I think this has had a particularly strong role in shaping people’s characters. Cultural aspects leave a lasting mark. There are two ways you can react. Either you can fight against it and leave, flee and try to cut your ties, although I don’t know if you’re ever really set free. Or you can embrace it, which is something that I think you can see even in many Catalan executives who come from farming backgrounds, they never lose touch with these roots, so to speak. I don’t think it’s a question of why I work so hard or why I like having so many irons in the fire, or whether sometimes there’s no need… need is always relative, it depends on you. Me, I don’t need much. Maybe sometimes I needn’t do so much, like many others besides, I guess. But it’s not about that. It’s about wanting to feel alive If you have ideas swimming around your head, then you can’t exactly hold them back, because that’s the way we are and part of life, of the way we conceive life, is to be here, only withdrawn from the action. The epitome of this comes in a sort of meditation, like through tao and zen . But on the other hand, you have to reconcile this with everything to do with the hand nature has dealt you, the opportunities you’ve had, the places you’ve worked, the people you’ve met, all your baggage, everything that is there bubbling under the surface. If I have different tools at my disposal, if I want to do things and have these experiences, then why shouldn’t I make the most of that? It’s not all about you; I don’t only work for myself; in part, sometimes I feel as if I were on some sort of mission.
Josep: You have something constantly tugging at you inside you?
Raül: Yes. Maybe. But I don’t know if I’m conscious of it.
Josep: Is it conscious or unconscious?
Raül: I think it’s unconscious, but it’s a sort of refusal to ever settle for doing something just well enough. You want more, and at the end of the year…
Josep: You react?
Raül: You react, yeah! You react, and you give it everything.
Josep: And you like that process.
Raül: Yes, I like that struggle. In fact, it’s what keeps me alive.
Josep: That’s the case for you and a lot of people, but it also has to do with your particular sense of conscience.
Raül: Yes. Your team is hugely important. In any project of a certain magnitude, your team is absolutely vital, alongside your family, who are very often the ones there to help and support you.
Josep: Do you think your constant struggle and drive to improve, which probably shapes your aura of intensity, your demanding nature and constant vitality, also has to do with a need to keep proving something to yourself? Or can it be boiled down to the spirit of discovery?
Raül: I’d say no.
Josep: Is it about having the ability and talent to broaden your horizons and break new ground?
Raül: I think it’s like this: the phase when you want to prove yourself is a very logical one, and is a key part of everyone’s development, but there comes a time, or an age, let’s say, when you don’t have much left to prove to yourself. I think it stems rather from being grateful for what’s in your reach, and for your team… Ultimately, why not make the most of your hands, or your mind, or your friends, acquaintances and possessions to create something? Then, deep down there is also an issue of national and local identity. We have the urge to do things locally, on our turf, over here in Pallars Jussà. I challenge anyone to not fall in love up here! In other words, I think that if you can, then why not do something? Especially because there are so many people who have the talent but, because of their circumstances, are unable to do what they want. If you have the means, I think that makes a difference, and I think it’s being very ungrateful if you don’t try to create jobs and build something, to make things happen here in Pallars. I think that, in a sense, each of us has the duty to do things. It may be unconscious, but that’s what drives me on.
Josep: When you’re lucky enough to be able to study where and what you wanted and you’ve devoured everything you’ve been taught, how does that leave you feeling? This sort of dialogue with education, with your academic side, with the urge to find answers to your questions, all the way from when you were a child up to the present day. What’s your experience been like? What do you think?
Raül: More than anything, I feel grateful for all my education and experiences. For the people who have helped me, without whom what I do would have been completely unfeasible in many ways. First comes this gratitude, and then what I see is a progression. I see no difference between the dream I have now and the one I had when I was a rather rebellious kid. Often, you want the same things now as you did before, only you express it differently. This yearning to overcome this sense of dissatisfaction, to discover things, is a sort of progression.
Josep: A struggle of sorts.
Raül: Yes. They have the same roots. Exactly, the roots are the same.
Josep: These roots go very deep.
Raül: Yes, very deep indeed. The struggle never ends and maybe, even if I don’t realise it… maybe I can’t fathom my life without that struggle. Yes…. I think that if there were some sort of trouble or something happened, whatever the circumstances, my mind is geared up for a hard struggle. No doubt about it! Yes! Now that’s a different type of education.
Josep: And this, that ability to… gear up for the struggle, it also spurs you on to live life intensely. It’s like a double-edged sword: it can be seen from the perspective of unrest, but also as a drive for happiness. A willingness to take on the challenges that come your way: to say “I’m ready”.
Raül: That’s right, but there is also a danger. I mean, there’s a risk of undervaluing yourself, and turning the leitmotif of your life into struggling for struggling’s sake isn’t necessarily a good or a bad thing. I think that you try to work on the part of you that… to accept yourself the way you are and be more humble. That can be an advantage. In and of itself it means nothing, but if you embrace who you are, I think it can be a great source of satisfaction, because it means you can accept your nature and develop it. Some people develop in one way and some in others – I have my own path. But yes, that struggle is a constant in my life. There are times in life when the going gets tough and you need to struggle and rebuild to find happiness. When you’re a kid, you ask yourself big questions about existence, transcendence, spirituality, about why things are formulated one way or another, about social contradictions… And then as you get older, you ask the same questions, only expressed differently. Why can’t that also be the case for wine sometimes?
Josep: Speaking of which, we’d better get onto wine now.
Raül: Right (laughing).
Josep: You can say that again! Let’s get cracking, then.
Josep: Your limits have taken you to a place that doesn’t look suitable for wine making. Or at least not on the surface. What is this all about, Raül? What do we have here?
Raül: Well, it may not look like it, but it is actually really well designed, so that you don’t end up drudging away just any old how. We use fermentation tanks made out of stone, although they mustn’t contain any calcium, or else the wine would absorb it. Tanks like these have been around for ages – monks from the Order of St John used them in the 12th century. Everything we do up here already, including the gravity calculations, already existed. Everything I’ve told you about using open fermentation so you know what’s going on, which is now the latest rage, like we have here in the kitchen, was already present here. All that stuff about a 1:1 ratio, about height and breadth, about extraction in red wines… No, we humans often take credit for inventing things that already existed. That’s what we have here, among other things.
Josep: And what’s your take on this? What can you say about a farmer’s son with a PhD from the University of California, Davis, who has studied so much and is now, in a manner of speaking, looking back and seeing that all this has something to say for itself?
Raül: There are different ways of looking at it. There is always one big risk involved: you could exploit it as a marketing gimmick, which would be a very superficial outlook. We have eight fermentation tanks here, and all have one key feature, for better or worse: the lack of yeast. Any yeasts contained are native. Secondly, the stones used aren’t incidental. These silicates contain certain trace elements, which produces a particular extraction. This comes about owing to the surrounding elements, whether lichens or something else, and to the composition of the stone itself. This means that every tank produces a particular flavour, with slightly different nuances. Well, that’s one difference. Now, to once again go back to the issue of roots, there is another aspect that is extremely difficult to pin down. It has to do with a place that lies just around the corner, by an old hermitage, where the profusion of stones has left a deep imprint on the surrounding nature. In part, I was drawn here because I was looking for somewhere full of energy and peace. Which is fine, but once you’re here, you have to apply yourself. That’s just the way it is. Again, it’s about struggling on – you realise it must have taken a lot of time and effort for people to build things up here. They must have done it through trial and error. There must be a reason why things up here have been done this way. What I’ve done is to add on top some pieces of knowledge, like knowing to do the pumping over using truncated cone-shaped gratings. Or by covering the tanks in a certain way. But, that aside, the biggest surprise on my part has been how people have taken to these wines. In fact, I can remember doing tastings with you once or twice. People come back for more, don’t they? For better or worse, all wines have a soul. And their dimensions are perfect for experimentation.
Josep: Wine is also a symbol of the struggle we were talking about, right from the very beginning, when you have to choose the variety. I can also picture it being a bit of a struggle when you start pruning, taking on the plant, so to speak.
Raül: Yes. When you are in extreme locations, you have to adapt to nature. In this regard, of course up here you have to be very attentive, because you can go from wet springs to hot, dry summers and then back to it being cold and wet again when it comes to the harvest. All that lends itself to the way I do things, which is to have a somewhat heterogeneous approach to both the grapes and the wine making process, trying to produce the maximum number of colours and striving to make it turn out as close as possible to my original idea, to my vision. That’s a big part of the way I am.
Josep: And what is your vision?
Raül: First of all, we are all influenced by a concept of each wine, and behind each wine is a dish. Then, there is also a certain idea of freshness. Of course, being up here, that freshness is added too by the nature around me. My vision is that when you try a wine from these parts, you should at the same time get a taste of the landscapes around here – in other words, undergrowth, wild mushrooms, minerals. All this comes together and leaves a mark, which means sometimes…
Josep: And there certainly is a lot of stone around here.
Raül: When you make wine with stone… I think it leaves its imprint more in terms of the texture than as pure expression or aroma, which is something more volatile and, what’s more, is always changing.