Who: Constantina Sotelo and family
What: Rias Baixas (not in Appellation)
Where: Castrelo-Cambados
When: Bottles since 1999, the family has farmed here for more generations than are recorded

Constantina Sotelo is a very lone voice in the Rias Baixas; to our knowledge the only producer who has embraced completely natural methods of winemaking and thus making the most terroir transparent wines in the region across their entire range and is fully organic in the vineyard, just in itself a massive challenge in this damp, cool climate.

They are located just metres from the sea, or rather one of the inlets or Rias, the Ria de Arousa, in the Salnés valley in the village of Castrelo part of the Cambados commune. They are less than 50m from their illustrious neighbour Alberto Nanclares.

All of the vineyards lie on granite soils within a few hundred metres of the family house which was built in the eighteenth century and where they make the wine in the converted garage. There are around 40 small parcels each of which is worked carefully by hand with the vines trained on pergola up rustic granite posts. There’s a healthy and brilliant cover crop in each vineyard, which is merely scratched and trimmed during the growing seasons. Geese wander in the vineyard closest to the house. The vineyards are mostly planted to Albariño with a few plots of Espadeiro and Caiño, two low alcohol, crunchy red varieties.

The vineyards are not certified organic for various reasons. First is a rule that there must be a certain margin between organic and non-organic vineyards. If you’ve ever visited the region you’ll know that such margins are simply not possible given the tightly squeezed nature of plots – unless you own all the plots! So on the one hand the rule favours big, or rather very big producers. On the other hand, what do you do as a result? In Sotelo’s case they just get on with their chemical free way of working and rely on the good faith of their neighbours not to pollute their land. Second, while the favouring of big producers is already evident, the rules around organic production are more about serving big corporations to sell organic products than to encourage real non-chemical farming and sustainability of the land (which we see everywhere and now particularly in France).

Instead of the plethora of permitted organic treatments often including copious amounts of sulfur and copper (one a product of the petro-chemical industry, the other a heavy metal) Sotelo focuses on the protection and reinforcement of the defensive mechanisms of the plant, in particular the application of diatomaceous earth and infusion of horsetail. They regularly test with other natural products and eventually use very little sulfur particularly given this is a mildew-prone region. They also remove the soil once a year in winter after pruning, approximately 10 cm to bury the remains of pruning that are carriers of spores of the mildew fungus. This process is accompanied by a broth of nettles, and mountain microorganisms to revitalise the earth and help break down the old wood from pruning.

All the family, Constantina and her husband, and her two children David and sister work together and very much as their ancestors worked the same vines, working with the natural rhythms of the day, the season, the moon and stars. And there’s nothing fancy or calculated about this, it’s simply a continuation of ancestral ways.

But in the garage there’s some magic at work. These Albariños are nothing like the industrial mainstream big brands which have become so familiar, even fashionable at home and abroad. The Sotelo wines are made without any entrants in inox and old barrels, both oak and chestnut, as well as clay jars and demi-johns. Some are “orange” or fermented on their skins, some whole bunch, all express an incredible purity, a thrilling energy, a beautiful ripe and complex fruit character. All the wines have a wonderful freshness and all the bottles we’ve had retain their purity and freshness for a good two weeks.

The wines are under the radar. We have very occasionally spotted them in Ibiza and in Barcelona. A bottle on the beach in Ibiza at the wonderful Nudo restaurant at Aiguas Blancas in the summer of 2022 was too good to ignore and we called to visit.

Constantina Sotelo Location