The riu-rau is a low building with an arched open front where grapes were spread and left to dry naturally, to become raisins, although if the weather should turn unseasonably damp thousands of kilos of them would be dragged inside into the narrow storeroom behind, were the drying process would continue with the aid of a large wood-fired stove – and then all dragged back again when the sun came out.
In the mid-1900s, raisins were big business in the Marina Alta, which rises from the shoreline of Jávea and Dénia on the Costa Blanca, to almost three thousand feet above sea-level. So important, in fact, that the good old British Co-Operative Wholesale Society kept a warehouse in Dénia, shipping the local product to Liverpool and London.
The breezes wafting from the Mediterranean create a microclimate which brings out a higher level of acidity and flavour from the grape and produces the intense aroma of the Muscat d’Alexandria, known locally as Moscatel Romano, but the only wine produced in those days would be a couple of casks of Moscatel that each grower would make for his personal use.
With the end of the raisin trade the growers slowly converted to wine making, a number of them achieving the Dominación de Origen de Alicante. The D.O. covers fifty-one towns in the province and the wines are recognised as being very fruity, usually using the Bobal, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir and Monastrell varieties for the reds and Chardonnay, Moscatel Romano, Planta Fina and Merseguera for the whites.
Many would say that the sweet Moscatel is the pride of the area, but when Armando Francés and his sister Núria decided to begin producing their wine commercially from the old family riu-rau in Parcent, they decided that they wanted to create something that would be highly personal to them, and not something that would be found on just any supermarket shelf – but it was going to take them a while to get there.
“In 1996 we began making vinos de calidad, using grapes grown on our own land,” says Armando, “and from the very beginning everything was grown organically and made by hand – all the picking, the pressing, the bottleing, the labelling – and it still is. We wanted to make wines that had very personal characteristics, but which could be produced on a regular basis while maintaining their own personalities. When you make wine this way – what we call vinos d’autor, artisan produced wines – you can never guarantee that the wine will taste exactly the same one year to the next because we never know what the seasons will bring and how the quality of the grape will be affected, but we worked very hard to ensure that ours would have similar characteristics each year.”
It took almost a decade of experimentation to come up with the range of eight wines that Bodegas Parcent produce, three reds, La Quintana, Cabernet Sauvignon and Comtat de Parcent, two whites, Grà D’Or and Auro, judged in a blind tasting in January of 2008 as being the best white wine in the Alicante region, one Rosado, Rosat, and two liqores, desert wines, Dolç D’Art, winner of the national Baco de Bronce award in 2004, and Fruit D’Autor, a totally original sweet Rosado liqueur. All have the coveted D.O de Alicante.
“We only take off 50-55% of the grape juice during the pressing, which gives us a very high quality start to the process which, hopefully, will result in a very good wine in the bottle. When people think of Moscatel they usually think of a sweet wine but with Grà D’Or we remove all traces of sweetness during the fermentation and it finishes as dry wine but with a deep bouquet with a slight hint of jasmine and a long flavour in the mouth.”
With his second white, Auro, named after his mother, Armando uses a 50-50 mix of Chardonnay and Moscatel, something not done elsewhere. “There are thousands of 100% Chardonnay’s and 100% Moscatels, but by blending 50-50 we’ve created a totally different wine that has almost tropical aromas of mango and banana that develop in the mouth but don’t have the heaviness that some of those that use one hundred percent of the same grape variety.”
Armando and Núria are quite rightly proud of their wines and don’t want to grow much larger than the 20,000 bottles they produce annually, preferring to maintain the quality of their passion. And as the village baker who gets up at two each morning, Armando has enough on his plate!
Bodegas Parcent, Avda. Denia 15. Open Mon-Fri 16.30-19.00, Saturdays and wine tastings by arrangement only. Closed Sundays. Tel 636 536 693 www.bodegasparcent.com