After spending some time in Bordeaux at the age of 15, he knew he wanted to make wine. He studied oenology as well as agricultural engineering and created Finca Parera with his father, a lifetime farmer, and Iñigo, a winemaker. They make radically organic wines following some biodynamic practices under Penedes DO. Proud to have given economic viability to the family tradition, Ruben Parera sees it clear: “as Seneca said, there is no man freer than a farmer.” We talked to him to get to know the story of one of the most interesting and innovative wine producers in Catalonia.
Ruben, what’s your story?
At 13 years old my parents sent me to an agricultural school and at 14 years old I did an internship at a Chateau in Pomerol. At that time, my parents grew cherries and plums, as well as some old vines. However, they were considering selling the farm. When I got back from that experience and my father asked me what I wanted to do, my answer was clear: “I want to grow vines and make wine,” I told him. So then we started pulling out the cherry orchards to plant vines. I studied and worked as a winemaker at a cellar for 3 years until 1999, when we made our own very first wine.
Why did you decide to practice organic farming?
My grandfather was doing organic farming without knowing it since there was nothing to kill the bugs at that time. However, during the past 50 years, companies have been manufacturing pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and things to kill everything that was alive. Its use is regulated, it’s legal and legitimate, but it has generated a brutal imbalance. In response to that, a movement controlled by the CCPAE where no chemicals are used emerged and we truly identify ourselves with those beliefs. Alternative ideas are used, such as playing with the bats biodiversity since they eat many insects, taking care of bees, etc. We’ve been practicing radically organic farming for 15 years and we are now starting to implement the biodynamic ideas.
Could you please explain what is biodynamic agriculture about?
Biodynamic is the last step. It is really difficult to understand, accept and implement. Now it’s become something trendy but in many cases it is pure marketing. Biodynamic agriculture is a philosophical process and much slower than the organic practices. When you have absorbed all the concepts that were born in 1924 with Rudolf Steiner, then you start with the practice. This year we’ve started producing compost, which is an organic fertilizer that is prepared and gives vitality to the soil. It’ll take us 10 years until we can say we are fully biodynamic.
“For us it is key that the entire structure of the wine comes from the grape and nothing covers the fruit that grows in the field.”
What other practices you carry out in the field?
We let the weeds grow. A natural ground cover is created and it is very positive for the soil. It helps to retain humidity and consequently, it takes more time for the ground to dry. If the soil is humid it is alive. The opposite is having a very clean farm such as the vines in the front of our winery, where there is no weed and the land is arid. Traditionally, dirty vines were not considered acceptable but this is now changing and there are more and more hectares with ground cover.
We also have olive and almond trees in between the vines in order to enrich the biodiversity of the land. Biodynamic is against single-crop farming.
How do these practices you carry out in the field are reflected in your wines?
For us it is key that the entire structure of the wine comes from the grape and nothing covers the fruit that grows in the field. That is why we ferment and age our wines in cement cubes and we are not using the stainless steel and barrels so much. We don’t like barrels since it covers the fruit aromatics with smoked, roasted and spiced flavors. Cement allows the wine to breathe without hiding the aromas. It makes very noble and elegant wines. We have a total capacity of 30,000L between the cubes we have underground and on the surface of the cellar. It is the investment of my life!!
Respecting the aromatics of the grape is one of the characteristics of natural wines. How do you understand natural wines?
Natural wines are those made with as little intervention in the process as possible. Therefore, they have the minimal addition of sulfur, aromatics, filtering, etc. However, there are winemakers with a more radical vision who understand natural wines as those that have no sulfur at all. Sulfur really does cover a little bit the fruit notes. However, it is a preservative that has been used for more than 4000 years, since the Egyptians. I believe the controlled use of sulfur as a natural preservative it’s not wrong. A minimal dose is enough for the wine to maintain its fruit notes and prevent it from oxidizing and turning brown.
What is the most rewarding aspect after more than 15 years making wine?
I am very proud of having solved many agricultural problems we used to have as well as having given continuity to my father’s career. At that time we had a big debt since we had to sell our grapes to big commercial wineries and cherries to Mercabarna at a loss. That situation started changing with the organic certification and has completely changed after making one product. Before our profession served us only for raising our debt. Now this craftsmanship allows us to make a living while enjoying ourselves at the same time.
What have you learnt from this craft?
I have learned many things, but above all, I have learned the psychological and human side of a job. I am in touch with students who want to learn and be trained, people from the commercial sector, chefs, bloggers, farmers, distributors, drivers… I really enjoy this contact with such a wide range of people of different generations. In the wine sector, this human quality is everywhere and fulfills me.
Would you please recommend us a place where you like to go to enjoy a glass of wine in Barcelona?
You’ll need to allow me two places that I love: l’Ànima del Vi at Borne and Viblioteca in Gracia neighborhood. L’Ànima del Vi is an excellent place to eat and enjoy wine. Benoit is one of the most knowledgeable people about natural wines I know, and along with Nuria they have a cellar difficult to find elsewhere in Cataluña. I love Viblioteca because Yolanda and Cedric are really nice people and because the pairing of food with the wines is excellent. They are both great places.
Finally, what do you think of the wine culture in Spain?
One day I heard a quote, which I found exceptional. It said something like: “when there isn’t culture, there is snobbism instead.” There is a generation that I’ve seen growing over the past 15 years with projects such as the firsts Parkers, wines from Priorat, the firsts wines from René Barbier and Sara Perez, firsts magazines such as Cuina, etc. Back then, it was pure snobbery. Now this has settled and a new generation that is coming back to the roots, interested in learning how to make good cheese or good bread. There is a new crowd that no longer cares about the elitist part but wants to know the craft side instead. And since there is an interest in the craft, there is culture again. I am very happy with this new generation. I feel very comfortable with them.
Rubén has served his wines at All Those Food Market (photos by Germán Parga):
Celler Finca Parera
Sant Joan Samora, Barcelona