Who: Primitivo Collantes
What: Vin de la Tierra de Cadiz and Sherry
Where: Chiclana de la Frontera
When: Since 19th century
Primitivo Collantes is a small, family-owned, family-run producer in the sherry region of Andalucia. The business is run today by fourth generation Primitivo (all the males are named Primitivo) who’s taking things in a new direction partly by necessity but also born of passion.
As sherry producers go, Primitivo Collantes is small-scale. They own 39 hectares and don’t buy any grapes. They’re based in Chiclana de la Frontera, which is the most southerly of the Sherry towns, about 25km due south of Jerez, and 50km south east of Sanlucar de la Barrameda.
The Bodega was founded in the 19th century. The story picks up in the twenty first century with Primitivo’s pivot away from sherry production into un-fortified natural wine production. Our friend and supernatural wine producer in the Gredos, Fabio Bartolomei of Viños Ambiz introduced us to Primitivo’s wines in 2018.
There used to be 3000 hectares of vineyard in Chiclana just 40 years ago. Now there are just 100! And Primitivo has 30 (plus 9 outside Chiclana). That’s the result of the crash of Sherry due to ramping up industrial mass-production in the 1970’s and 1980’s and making a product that just didn’t come anywhere close to the magic proclaimed in the text books. The industry planted clones made for high yields, added alcohol to make up for a lack of ripeness (as well as all the usual additives) and started to spin tales of cellar air magic as opposed to focusing on the very real story in the vineyards. When I first visited sherry country in 1999 you headed out of Jerez to Sanlucar through endless vines on blinding white soil. Today it takes a while to get through the housing developments before heading through drab brown potato, sunflower and cotton fields. It’s almost rare to see a vineyard.
But Primitivo does make great sherry as well as great un-fortified wines; if you love traditional styles of sherry, this is also a great address. The un-fortified wines are denominated Vino de la Tierra de Cadiz, are made from Palomino grapes, grown on exactly the same soils as sherry, so they express all the character of the best sherry without the alcohol and with different ageing regimes.
The vineyards are mostly in the Matalián site just a few kilometres inland from the Atlantic ocean where it’s always breezy and frequently very windy. Chiclana, like Sanlucar, is 10ºC cooler than Jerez in the summer, typically 28-30º, as opposed to the 35-40º in Jerez. Normally there’s enough rain (600mm annually) to support Palomino on the famous white chalk soils which sponge up the moisture to release back to the plant during the growing season. This is classic sherry albariza chalk.
Primitivo’s work in the cellar is simple. Once he’s harvested great fruit, the fruit he has grown all year, he simply guides it into bottle with the minimum of intervention but with each Cuvée imprinted with its own definite character.
Primitivo is a tireless promoter of the new wines of sherry, hooking up with young guns across the region, who are making un-fortified wines, usually naturally with no additions other than sometimes sulfites.