From the unblemished beauty of Mediterranean seascapes to the leafy boulevards of Barcelona—a port that has outgrown its geography—Catalunya is a breeding ground for talent. With each detail hooked to history and every footprint pushing toward the future, Catalan creators like Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí and Pau Casals have produced works of genius as reliably as the bells of the Sagrada Família, Gaudí’s iconic melting-castle cathedral.
Into this rarified atmosphere of pride and passion, amid the luster and brinkmanship of Spain’s central government and the secessionist spirit of Catalunya, Pepe Raventós has embellished the canvas with his own unique set of colors. Born to the vine and enamored of the bosky hills and sprawling vineyards of Catalan wine country, Raventós spent his childhood picking grapes at Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. Sant Sadurní is, of course, the home of more than eighty Cava producers and wine is cornerstone of the local economy. It’s also where 21 generations of Pepe Raventós’ family have lived, dating back to the 15th century.
Referring to the wine region as the ‘New Catalunya’, Raventós—whose love of nature, sustainable agriculture and natural vinification is perhaps unparalleled in the world—searched for several years before he found his dream property between the towns of Sant Jaume dels Domenys and Pla de Manlleu: The thousand acre woodland and farm of Can Sumoi. The vineyard had fallen on hard times, and Josep Mateu, a former masover (farmhand) who was born at Can Sumoi in 1936, was delighted that someone was willing to ‘recover the land’. Under the stewardship of Raventós and his childhood friend Francesc Escala, Mateu maintains that he can, once again, “see the sun shine through open door, watch the vines being pruned and cars going up and down the narrow path between the olive trees.”
At two thousand feet above sea level (in the Serra de l’Home range) Can Sumoi is the highest estate in the Penedès; Mallorca and the Ebro Delta are visible from the rooftop of the winery’s 350-year-old farmhouse. Below, 50 acres of vineyards sprawl across limestone-rich soil between stands of oak and white pine, which to the ecology-driven Raventós, share equal importance with the vines. “Forests,” he says, “protect the biodiversity of the estate; they are the green lungs of the world.”
The wines of Can Sumoi are also green insofar as they are produced using Certified Organic methods; vineyards are tended with natural compost, free of pesticides and with minimal intervention; a herd of sheep and goats is allowed to graze semi-freely among the vines. Certain esoteric biodynamic techniques may sound strange to laymen (such as timing vineyard activity to the phases of the moon) but to Raventós, they make perfect sense: “When the moon is ascendant, plant fluids concentrate more towards the roots of plants, and that’s when you want to do the pruning—so you don’t damage the plant.”
In 2014, Raventós began experimenting with Natural wines, unfiltered and without added sulfites— ‘Wine Spectator’ described his 2016 Xarel-lo Espumoso Ancestral as having ‘aromas of freshly baked apple pie and lemon rind and a tasty, almost salty palate, as if the process amplifies the marine character and especially the flavors, with a combination of faintly bitter and slightly volatile characters’. Raventós says, “I observe the countryside and see how it responds. If we apply earth-friendly techniques, I see that the earth is more alive, more balanced and we are getting better wines, so of course, I continue to apply them.”
In keeping with a desire to express aromas and flavors exclusive to Catalan in a natural winemaking style, Can Sumoi is planted only to indigenous varieties, Parellada, Xarel-lo and Sumoll. The first two are white, and are among the trio used in Cava. Sumoll, which occupies about five acres of the vineyard, is a wild and rustic red grape tamed by the estate’s high altitude; it produces mineral-driven wines with a distinctive cherry flavor. Each of Can Sumoi’s varieties expresses olfactory nuances unknown in any other wine region, often reflecting the flora of northeast Spain, and it is Raventós’ mission to produce high-altitude wines that define the balance, harmony and austerity of Catalunya; when you drink them—or any wine, for that matter, says Raventós—your mind and spirit should travel to the place of origin. “I try to create an essence of place, or at least, to interpret its authenticity. When you’re drinking a beautiful Nebbiolo, for example, you go to the slopes of Serralunga D’Alba or La Morra and even see the landscape. I try to do the same thing with the breathtaking sights and savory tastes of Catalunya.”
It is a spiritual quest, he admits; the smells and flavors of Catalunya are unique and exist in his soul as surely as in his wine. “To express origin, you really need to bring a lot of life into your farm. The principle is simple: The more diversity on your property, the more richness there is, the more resistant and strong your vines will be. The fewer treatments they need, the more authentic the wine will be. I left the idea of making perfect wine a long time ago. I think my duty is to make the most authentic wine possible.”
Can Sumoi 10-Bottle Pack $261 (tax included) contains two of each of the following four wines:
‘Ancestral Sumoll’ Espumoso (Sparkling) Brut Nature 2018 Rosé ($28): The name ‘Sumoll’ has roots in the Latin word ‘submolliare’ which means ‘to wither’, perhaps in reference to Sumoll’s use in producing high-end straw wines. Here, this 100% Sumoll occupies the opposite end of the wine spectrum as straw wine; it is a bone-dry, gently floral sparkler with fresh black fruit aromas accented by saltiness and toasted almond notes. Don’t expect a Champagne-ferocious fizz; rather than using Méthode Champenoise, ‘Ancestral Sumoll’ is partially fermented in stainless steel vats with fermentation completed inside the bottle, resulting in gentler effervescence.
‘Xarel-lo’ Penedès 2019 White ($24): In the Catalan language, the variety’s name is written with an interpunct dot (Xarel·lo) but in English, the dot becomes a hyphen. Either way, this wine delivers a clean, fresh and electric sizzle, echoing the wild landscape that produced it with aromas of fennel and thyme along with green, acidic apples and a hint of salinity.
‘Perfum’ Penedès 2020 White ($22): 30% Malvasia, 30% Macabeo, 25% Moscatell, 15% Parellada; the wine is an elegant triumph of aromatics, and hence, the name. Spring flowers, white peaches and freshly pressed grapes over a background of wild herbs and Can Sumoi’s signature saltiness well-balance by honey.
‘La Rosa’ Penedès 2020 Rosé ($24): 50% Sumoll, 30% Parellada, 20% Xarel-lo; a shimmery, orange-pink wine offering vibrant ripe cherry flavors and spicy tangerine with a touch of anise in the mid-palate, finishing with a sharp, chalky minerality.
‘Sumoll Garnatxa’ Penedès 2019 Red ($25): 50% Garnatxa Negre, 50% Sumoll; Can Sumoi’s clay limestone soils is ideal for Garnatxa (called Garnacha elsewhere in Spain and Grenache in France) and the elevation reigns in some of Sumoll’s feral foxiness, leaving a sweet boysenberry, cinnamon and pomegranate flavored, crimson-colored blockbuster, combining rusticity with an essential elegance that is, like salinity, a Can Sumoi trademark.