Elisa Úcar and Enrique are unlike other Navarra wine producers. Flying in the face of convention, they’re championing the region’s old vines – proving just how extraordinary Garnacha can be
“Passionate” may be an overused word, but there simply isn’t a better way to describe husband and wife team, Elisa Úcar and Enrique Basarte and the inspirational work they do at Domaines Lupier.
Their old-vine Garnacha project in a small Navarra mountain village, San Martín de Unx, is breathtaking. “Back in 2006, Elisa and Enrique discovered these old, neglected vines that people had moved to the city and abandoned. It was their vision to rescue these old parcels,” explains our buyer Catriona Felstead MW. “Old-vine fruit is smaller, and more concentrated; it has more sweetness and richness – and, in the case of these abandoned vines – it is brilliantly resistant and established in its setting.”
Garnacha – old vine or otherwise – is far from the in-vogue grape in Navarra. The Spanish region is better-known for inexpensive international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot or cheerful rosés. Bucking this convention, Domaines Lupier has 27 plots of Garnacha, the oldest of which was planted in 1903.
“They love the grape, because of its heritage in the region and they put their hearts and souls into rescuing these vines,” Catriona says. “Once vines are left untended they go to ruin, and it’s really hard to pull them back, but Elisa and Enrique have. And they way that they’ve done it is incredible – carefully tending to each individual plant by hand.
“The locals, their neighbours, just don’t understand why they do all this hard work. And, when they received recognition for what they were doing – a score of 97 Parker points for La Dama – there was a bit of an inhospitable reaction.”
THE TWO CUVÉES
La Dama is one of the two wines that Elisa and Enrique make – its non-identical twin is El Terroir. Both cuveés have a very high level of concentration and complexity, and a great ability to age, their tannins softening further over time. The wines are stylistically different – La Dama is more about elegance and grace, while El Terroir is more earthy and grounded. This is how Elisa and Enrique decide which fruit to use for each wine.
“I often describe wine as having ‘energy,’” says Catriona. “It’s quite often that common denominator in biodynamic wines; its this idea – or something aligned to it – that Elisa talks about with her wines. They select the fruit depending on its energy: downward energy for El Terroir, and lifted energy for La Dama. It doesn’t make perfect sense when you try to explain it, but it does when you taste the wines.”
As winemakers, Elisa and Enrique are incredibly connected with their vineyards and their soil; it is where they spend most of their time. And in their hands, with this instinctive, deep-rooted understanding of each plot, Garnacha is transformed from a workmanlike grape into something magnificent.
“Garnacha is thin-skinned, and tends to make straightforward alcoholic wines, but the way they make them brings a whole new dimension to the grape. It’s not an easy, cheap, fruity drink its structured with elegance and minerality; it’s silky, suave, intense and balanced.”
Given their intense connection to the land, and their vines, it is unsurprising that Elisa and Enrique are totally committed to organic and biodynamic farming; their intention is minimal intervention and maximum sustainability. This incredibly natural way of working is – they feel – the best way to nurture the sense of terroir in their wines. “It is hard to describe,” says Catriona. “You stand in their vineyards, and you can feel it – the absolute harmony of nature, the energy that’s there and the energy that Elisa and Enrique pour into their wines.
“If you want to taste one of the most pure expressions of Garnacha, a wine that really represents its terroir and the nature that surrounds it, made by two of the most passionate and inspiring people that you can meet, then try El Terroir.”