Sumoll: The lost grape

It’s an early rise and we head south out of Barcelona towards Penedès, one of the primary white wine growing regions in Catalonia.

Despite our tiredness it’s impossible not to notice the vast spread of vineyards across the land.

While other grape varietals are grown in Penedès Cava, the most produced wine in Spain is king and dominates.
In wine speak Penedes also has its own classification of area set in law known as Denominació d’Origen (DO).

It’s a Cava lovers dream travelling here.

We are lucky today weatherwise; the sun is shining for us but usually Penedès is cold and damp. Mould thrives in these cold spaces and in order to keep it away bug spray has to be used to keep the crops safe, leading to rather bare and dry scenery, in what is normally quite a beautiful vision of land.
We drive through Cava and our first stop is at a very small boutique winery, Els Jelipins. What sets this place apart is that they only produce the one grape variety “Sumoll”, it’s so little known and under the radar in the usual wine industry bibles it barely rates a mention.

It is a variety which is native to the region and was once grown throughout Catalonia and at one point was more widely planted than Garnacha– a Spanish staple nowadays. It’s almost near extinction was due to the phylloxera plague – an insect that feeds on the leaves and roots of grape vines damaging roots and causing fungal based infections which suffocate the roots from natural flow of nutrients and water to the vine.

The Plague caused havoc amongst vineyards across the Twentieth century and Sumoll was almost all but gone, replaced with less delicate and sensitive grape varieties, as Sumoll is particularly difficult to cultivate.
Luckily the grape has a resurgence of sorts thanks to a small number of skilful producers, albeit there is still less than 300 hectares planted worldwide of this unique variety. Rumours are circulating though that the grape has also branched itself over to the Canary Islands with a small number of hectares planted but known under the local name Vijariego Negro.

The wine itself, is a fruit driven that tastes of sweet red summer fruits balanced off with acidity. It handles Oak very well and if you are a fan of Barolo and Nebbiolo (and you should be) then Sumoll might be up your alley.
At Els Jelipins the wine is grown on a small fully sustainable farm, with vines over 80 years old.

Els Jelipins philosophy in the vineyard is total minimal intervention, to do as little as possible to showcase the pure characters of this little known grape.
The wine maker Gloria, who also presides over the vineyard, only makes 1500-2000 bottles a year. The wine itself is pure and energetic; much like its wine maker.

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