What Makes a Truly Handcrafted Wine?

En Numeros Vermells Priorat We throw around the words ‘handcrafted,’ ‘small production,’ and ‘garage wine’ frequently, whenever we are trying to communicate how hands-on a winemaker is and/or the limited availability of certain artisanal wines.

But the wines of Priorat’s Silvia Puig definitely qualify. We feel privileged to be able to carry these wines and to support this winemaker. These are truly small production (she made only 323 bottles of one), truly made in her garage, and as for handcrafted – her hands-on attention even includes her one-of-a-kind sketches on each cardboard case.

Silvia’s Story 
silviaSilvia Puig was born into the wine business – her father, Joseph Puig, is a longtime restaurateur, export manager for Spain’s Miguel Torres and founder of Torres’s operation in Chile. Silvia followed Joseph into the trade, learning winemaking at school and while working at properties in Bordeaux and Spain (including Vega Sicilia’s Alion winery). Eventually, she and Joseph founded their own estate in the Gratallops region of Priorat, in the province of Tarragona southwest of Barcelona.

Silvia and Joseph named their new venture Vinedos de Ithaca, a nod to the Greek settlers who first planted vines in this rugged corner of Spain, and carved an estate vineyard out of the steep hills around the winery.

Fairly early on, local importer Jonas Gustaffson met Silvia on a Spanish wine-buying trip with importer Olivier Daubresse and began offering her wines here around 2005. Working with their own vines and grapes and fruit Silvia purchased from old-time farmers and families across the region, the wines quickly found success in both Spain and in the international wine press both for the traditional reds and for Silvia’s striking whites (a rarity in Priorat).

The steep slopes of Priorat

The steep slopes of Priorat

Striking Out on Her Own
Like so many successful winemakers, Silvia wanted to do something completely on her own, and in 2008 she began the project now called En Numeros Vermells. The name, “Numbers in the Red” and clever label design by local graffiti artist Adria Batet evoked the rain of bad news showering down on Spain and the world during the late 2000’s financial meltdown.

In contrast to the larger production volumes of Vinedos de Ithaca, Silvia designed this project to let her intimately nurture small amounts of wine from grape to bottle on a barrel-by-barrel basis. The organic/biodynamically grown fruit comes from Priorat’s best sites – high altitude, steeply sloped, and covered in the cracked “Llicorella” (slate) that gives Priorat its distinctive mineral cut.

And her small scale let her largely ignore the normal time and financial pressures of winemaking – with a total production of only a few hundred cases, she was free to let each wine find its own way to maturity and use only the barrels that actually fit in her final blends.

Made in a Garage … Truly!
The En Numerous Vermells “cellar” is the garage of Silvia’s house in the Priorat village of Poboleda, a building that also serves as Silvia’s home and her husband’s (Belgian chef Pieter Truyt) restaurant – Brots Restaurant.

In this tiny space, Silvia does everything by hand. She tends the 10 or so barrels stacked in the space carefully, tasting and re-tasting to learn how each is developing and gaining a deep understanding of each cask’s unique character, strengths, and weaknesses. Multiple blending trials allow Silvia to explore how her charges work together (or don’t), and create an ideal marriage that lets each site and varietal shine without fighting or overwhelming each other.

Even the packaging is by hand! Silvia dips each bottle in wax by hand and decorates each cardboard six-pack with a unique, often whimsical, drawing in pencil, pen, and marker.

New Blends for 2012
For the 2012 harvest, importers Jonas Gustafsson and Olivier Daubresse were visiting Silvia as she began her blending, and it was with their encouragement that she explored blending her best Garnacha and Cariñena into a new cuvee, one with no Syrah. The results were fantastic, but a few barrels seemed to too powerful, distinctive, and intense to be hidden in a “larger” (if you can call 700 bottles large) blend. And so Silvia produced two cuvees, each with its own Priorat story to tell.

All of this is pretty cool, but what really matters is what’s in the bottle. And our experience is that Silvia’s garage wine is really, really, good. Join us to try them with Jonas on Saturday, with these very, very, limited quantities, you’ll want to secure your allocation as quickly as you can.