Godello Grape Story Image 1




Godello Grape Story Image 2

  Godello is a European white wine variety of the Atlantictype which grows on the slopes of the tectonic channel carved by the riverSil through the mountain ranges of northwest Spain. Its area of cultivationalong the river banks extends from the region of El Bierzo, in Leon Province,as far as its confluence with Galicia's principal river, the Mifio, nearthe town of Orense. in the course of its history, this variety spread towardsthe Duero river basin across the winegrowing area of Verin, in the southof modern-day Galicia, where it is known as Verdello. It is also foundin the little region of Betanzos, near La Coruha, where its local nameis Agudelo.   
  However, in neither of these two areas has it fully recoveredfrom the devastating effects of the phylloxera invasion of the late 19thcentury, and its presence there today is a mere vestige of what it oncewas. Godello's long history as a cultivated variety is attested to by thewide diversity of types and characteristics to be found in vines currentlygrowing in old vineyards, with differences so marked as tc warrant thedefinition of subvarieties.
  This diversity is particularly significant in the light ofGodeIlo's relatively small territorial spread and of the serious materiallosses inflicted by phylloxera, and can only be explained as the resultof countlese reproductions carried out by growers in the pasi to meet awhole range of different criteria imposed by time and space. This is notto mentior other factors such as the appearance of spontaneous mutationsin buds, to which vines are subject. All that said, Godello cannot be identifiedwith any other variety beyond the confines of th( northwest of the IberianPeninsula.


  Godello's origins are linked with the beginnings of organizedviticulture in the Sil Valley during its occupation by the Romans. A victoriousmilitary campaign against the Cantabrians and Asturians of northern Spainwas launched in 29 B.C. by Octavius (known as Augustus from 27 B.C. on),and concluded by Agrippa ten years later. This effected the definitivepacification of Hispania, after which, the Romans settled in the Sil Valley,creating an urban-type colonial economy on the strength of transformingthe small-scale exploitation of the area's abundant gold seams and placers,into a large-scale extractive industry. During the 250 years that it exploitedthese resources, it was to constitute one of the Roman Empire's most importanteconomic bases. The Romans' gold mining technique sometimes involved underminingentire mountains, using a method they called ruina montium, by feedingvast quantities of water, previously re-routed along colossal hydraulicsystems, into a warren of painstakingly excavated subterranean galleries.
  Remains of such works can still be seen in the imposing Modulasde Carrucedo in the El Bierzo region (see Spain Gourmetour No. 37) andin the equally spectacular Montefurado Tunnel (whose name derives fromthe Spanish monteperforado), in the province of Orense, which the Romansnamed Auriense, aurum being the Latin for gold. Strabo (58 B.C.-28 A.D.),a Romanized Greek geographer who enjoyed close connections with the courtof Augustus, attributes to the Romans the introduction of organized viticultureto the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula.
  He noted, too, that varieties imported by the Roman colonizersfrom eastern areas where climatic cycles were longer, failed to ripen there.Even so, they must have crossbred with the local wild varieties (evidenceof whose exploitation is provided by archaeological finds from the BronzeAge) thereby giving rise to early forms of known varieties.
  This is the explanation generally propounded by experts forthe origins of Atlantic varieties of European vines, of which Godello isan example. Under the aegis of the West's first monastic order, establishedby El Bierzo monk San Fructuoso, a disciple of San Isidoro of Seville,who died in the year 665, the spread of Christian monastic communitieswas so prolific that the region bounding the provinces of Lugo and Orense,on the banks of the Sil, became known as the Ribeira Sacra, or Holy Riverbank.These monastic communities established numerous monasteries which, fromthe 12th century on, received gifts of lands from monarchs and feudal lords.
  These lands were, in turn, let to tenant farmers with the requirementthat they pay a high proportion of the rent in wine, a stipulation thattriggered a major expansion of viticulture. Godello appears among the firstvine varieties mentioned in historical documents.
  Its most important spread occurred during the 18th centurywhen winegrowing in general was boosted by the growth in population, improvedcommunications, and the removal of commercial barriers that had existedhitherto. Around 1882, the year when phylloxera penetrated the northwestof Spain, Godello occupied some 33 percent of the vineyards in the Valdeorrasarea of Orense Province, an interesting fact given that this was principallyred wine producing territory


  In the early 1970s, northwest Spain adopted a new approachto wine producing, opting for high quality and distinctive personalityin line with market trends. The main obstacle to this objective was posedby the varieties then dominating local vineyards. After the phylloxeraoutbreak, which was particularly virulent in this part of Spain, it hadnot been replanted with traditional varieties but with others from theMediterranean area. These were more productive but, because they adaptedpoorly to the shorter climatic cycles typical of Atlantic climates, theyfailed repeatedly to fulfill their excellent potential.
  The basic policies of the new approach were set out clearly:reinstating ancestral varieties, exclusive to these parts, was to be combinedwith the most up-to-date oenological techniques. Godello, then limitedto occasional isolated vines or small clusters within old plantations andon the verge of extinction, was to be the pioneer variety in the recoveryprocess.
  In 1974, an association was set up in the wine-producing areaof Valdeorras under the name of RE.VI.VAL (Restructuracion de los Vifiedosde Valdeorras-Restructuring the Vineyards of Vaideorras), and it was thisassociation that drew up the basic guidelines for this process: productionincentives were to be provided by companies setting higher prices for Godello,and an ambitious research project was to explore the best approaches toits cultivation and vinification. These efforts have paid off amply.
  Today, Godello is a rapidly expanding variety with a sound,research-generated backup, ranging from stocks of healthy clonal selectionmaterial to precise knowledge of the most suitable cultivation techniquesin specific conditions. Meanwhile, cutting-edge technology is becomingthe norm in- the wineries where it is vinified.


  The ecological environment in which Godello grows is a veryvariable one, dictated by the accidented course of the river Sil. In generalterms, the production area may be defined as a Mediterranean enclave withina predominantly Atlantic climate, sheltered by the mountain ridges whichseparate the provinces of Leon and Orense. Low in the valley, the climateis markedly thermal, of Mediterranean type, as is proved by the importanceof olive growing there until well into the 19th century.
  As one climbs higher up the valley sides, however, summer aridityis rapidly modified by the Atlantic influence, enabling the grapes to ripenin moderate temperatures and ambiental humidity. It is in just these Atlanticizedzones that Godello achieves its highest quality: favorable conditions duringthe ripening period reduce the combustion of acids through respiration,which helps musts from the harvested grapes maintain a high acid contentwhich contributes to their intense, individual aromatic potential.
  New plantations are using a spacing of 2.50xl.25 m (8.2x4.1ft), with a density of 3,200 vines per hectare (2.4 acres). The vines areespalier-trained, with two horizontal arms 80 cm (31 in) from the ground.The vines are pruned to threebud spurs, making a total of 58,000 buds perhectare (2.4 acres). This variety has a particular tendency to producetwo or more fertile shoots per bud, and it has been demonstrated that suppressingone of these produces significant improvements in quality. The most appropriaterootstocks for this variety have been found to be 99-Richter in slaty soils,110-Richter in sandy acid soils with underlying granitoids, and 196-17Castel in acid soils of average texture and fertility.

  Under appropriate ecological growing conditions, Godelloproduces musts which combine high alcoholic strength (1 1. 5 to 12-50)with notable acidity (7 to 8 gr/0.25 oz of tartrate per liter) and intense,individual aromatic potential.
  Godello wines, when vinified in controlled temperature conditions(18-20,C/64680F) during fermentation, combine robustness of structure withdelicacy of expression. They are pale yellow in color, with steely, sometimesolivey tinges, and are glyceric and compact in appearance. The aromaticcomponents are reminiscent of the source grape, with hints of green fruitin which apples of a non-specific variety pre-dominate, though they areextremely complex and subtle. They are well-structured wines, expansiveon the palate, smooth in the mouth, and slow and persistent with a long,satisfactory finish, corresponding perfectly to the typical characteristicsof European Atlantic wines.
  Hitherto the key ingredient in the multi-varietal whites traditionalto the Sil Valley, Godello is now poised to go it alone in more ways thanone. Its intrinsic high quality and individuality are now being privilegedin monovarietal wines, on which this long-established wine growing areahas opted to stake its future. Pedigree will out.

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Dr. Josi Luis Hernaez is an agronomist.Former president of the Regulatory Council of the Denomination of OtiginRibeiro, be is currently director of Galicia's Viticultural and OenologicalStation.

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