A benchmark producer for Spanish white varietals…
Rafael Palacios is a fascinating, paradoxical figure in the Spanish wine scene. Intense, charismatic and outrageously talented, yet remarkably humble and softly spoken. Rafa, as he’s nearly universally referred to, exclusively makes white wine, almost exclusively with the Godello varietal. The only exception to this being the odd interplanted Treixadura vine that shows up in older parcels. His work is also entirely contained within the town of O Bolo, on the upper end of the Bibei valley at the highest altitude edge of Valdeorras – the entire operation falls within a ten kilometer radius. There’s no side projects, no plans for wineries elsewhere. He’s been making wine under his own name in O Bolo since 2004 and he’s never produced a red. And that’s not because there’s no red here, O Bolo is the same village that’s home to Telmo Rodriguez’s prized ‘As Caborcas’ Cru Mencía vineyard, it’s also directly across the river from Fedellos do Couto’s prime Bastarda vineyards and several holdings belonging to Laura Lorenzo of Daterra. In short, Rafa’s limited scope belies the real ambition and intensity which drives this project. He’s here because he’s passionately convinced that O Bolo is capable of producing the best white wine in Spain. He doesn’t claim that he’s succeeded in making it, or that no one else can, just that this tiny, obscure village in Galicia with it’s dramatic canyons, high altitudes and raw, exposed granite soils can draw something unique and wondrous out of the often flabby and inert Godello varietal.
Rafa’s wines are anything but flabby and inert, instead they’re always stamped with an electric-granitic acidity. At their best this acid cuts through the sort of texture and complexity that’s akin to top white Burgundy. Whereas other reference points for top Spanish wine often feature wine making process – the long barrel aging of Vina Tondonia or Ygay or the wonders of flor-yeast in Jerez – what Rafa is chasing is the purest possible transmission of site through wine. In practice, this means fully certified biodynamic farming, incredibly intensive winery work, where selection harvesting and elevage is meticulously and carefully managed. There’s an obsessive intensity to every part of the project, but the results are stunning.
Wedged between Ribeira Sacra and Bierzo, the majority of land under vine in Valdeorras is found along the river flats bordering the mighty Rio Sil. But like its neighbours up and down river the best sites, and the best producers, tend to congregate in the higher, more out of the way and sometimes forgotten corners of Valdeorras. Rafa Palacios works exclusively in the granite soils only found high in the mountains to the south of the Sil river, along the Bibei tributory.