César Márquez is part of a wave of young Spanish winemakers who has deep roots to the land stemming from a long family tradition of connection to the vines. His focus is locating and vinifying singular parcels to interpret the terruño of the Godello and Mencía varietals. He launched his solo project in 2015 with 4 wines. Each has a different expression based on their soils, altitudes and expositions. The wines showcase the enormous potential for great wines from Bierzo.
The following dialogue is a brief excerpt from a conversation between César Márquez, winemaker, and Angélica Intriago of Despaña Vinos y Mas.
Time: August 2021
Place: El Bierzo, Spain
Setting: At a table over food and wine in a popular resto for locals, a place where many winemakers also gather to share and break bread.
Informal Q & A format (loosely transcribed)
AI: Tell us about your projects?
CM: I’ve been very lucky over the last five years to get my hands on more parcels to work with. It has been incremental, which is good because I’m able to work the vineyards at the right pace, managing the parcels and the bodega, always looking for improvement and growth to reach new heights.
AI: What are the changes you see in Spain in terms of wine consumption? I remember when people only drank wines from La Rioja or Ribera del Duero. For example, albariños had to be of the current vintage.
CM: Certainly in the past people drank the wines made only from their zone, but that has been changing. There are so many good quality wines made from all over Spain now, and people are taking notice.
AI: How have you and your wines been received here in Bierzo?
CM: I’ve been very lucky to be working in Bierzo. Each year I’ve been working with many more parcels of vines. In Bierzo, I have the support of the people who understand my concept of winemaking and what I’m trying to accomplish here. My primary concern is to manage the vineyards and always improve. Never to be satisfied with what has been done. Always thinking and moving forward to improve the quality each and every year.
AI: With the globalization of the wine market, there can be a tendency for viticultors to make wines in a style the distributors ask for, commercial wines that sell. The United States market is vast. In large markets like New York, there’s room for all types of wines. How do you feel about that?
CM: My only concern is to always be improving. Not to change my style from what I believe to be a reflection of the land, of the grape varietals, and the way I vinify each parcel separately. This is very clear. The goal is to make wines that I like and that I feel people can enjoy from El Bierzo. I hope to finish restoring and building my own bodega in Valtuille where I know I can reach new heights in perfecting the styles of my wines.
AI: Albariño is already an established grape in the marketplace, but grapes like Godello are on the come up. What do you think is the potential of the Godello grape? Do you think it can reach the status of Albariño?
CM: The quality for the Godello grape is there. For example, La Salvación is made from vines that are over 100+ years old. In the future I hope to be getting more old vine parcels from Valtuille which is a very special place, some of the most distinctive godello in all of Bierzo.
AI: As everyone knows, you are the nephew of Raúl Peréz, who has garnered rock star status in the wine world. How has this influenced your trajectory as a young winemaker in El Bierzo? Do you think you are following his trajectory?
CM: People think it is easy to be his nephew, but the truth is there is a good part as well as a demanding part to this relationship. I was very fortunate to work for Raúl for several years. I learned so much and worked all over, both in the winery and the vineyards. Being the nephew of a famous winemaker can help sell a wine one year, but that is no guarantee for the next. Raúl is very demanding and exacting. I admire all that he has accomplished alongside the very long and rich history of winemaking tradition in our family. In the end it has made me to be even more demanding as I work hard to gain the respect from others that at first may have doubted my ability to grow and make my own mark in the world of quality wine from El Bierzo. Many people who know me will attest to that. I want to continue being very dedicated to the vineyards, to continue working in the bodega and without having to divide my time to travel as much as my uncle does. That’s very complicated. I have to be with the vines throughout the whole process, harvest, fermentation, bottling, etc. to the end. For it to work for me, I have to be with the vines.
AI: What’s beautiful is how you were influenced by your uncle early on, and now with so many new ideas and successful projects you can serve as an inspiration for the older generation too.
AI: How did you first come to love wine?
CM: When I first started working with my uncle, it wasn't my first calling. I endured many wine tastings until I learned to appreciate all of the different nuances. In 2013, I saw things a bit differently when the spark of creativity hit me, and I thought, how would one of my wines taste? Being exposed to many winemakers with different interpretations surprised me by the sheer variety and quality. So as I faced these wines, circumstances changed. My uncle Raúl encouraged me to start my own project. And this is how I was put on the road that I’m on now.
AI: Have you noticed a change in generational attitude towards working hard? Putting in the hours. An emphasis on being successful.
CM: I don’t think about attaining success. I have to think about the wines. What’s important is the work and I don't notice the long hours. That happens when you love what you do. I still work with my family that’s in its ninth generation of working the vines since 1700. So many of the people I work with still maintain the passion and the work ethic to do it right. My first project took 20 months. Things have to be spaced out in the right way with patience if you want to do it right. And this works. Nothing happens overnight. Persistence, dedication and patience are key.