Rafael Palacios is a talented, relentlessly enthusiastic winemaker with great ambitions, particularly for a new, premium interpretation of his beloved godello grape.
His ambitions are probably a result of being part of one of Spain's great winemaking families: not only are his brother and uncle esteemed winemakers, but he is also the youngest son of Jose Palacios Remondo, founder of the fantastic eponymous bodega. It was here that Rafael made his first wine in 1997 - Placet, a highly successful wine using the macabeo grape - and here that he realised that his passion was for white wine production.
Prior to working with his father, Rafael trained in St Emilion, working a harvest at neighbouring Pomerol giant Château Petrus among others, before moving to Australia's Coonawara region where he learned about the in-depth processes involved in winemaking.
His turning point came when he decided to go solo in 2004. Choosing the unknown Valdeorras region in Galicia - the indigenous home of godello - he bought some mature godello vineyards from local growers in Bibei Valley, an almost abandoned sub-zone in the O Bolo municipality. Bibei Valley's steep terraces and poor soil fertility make vine growth somewhat difficult, but Rafael wanted to use his experience as a consultant to unlock the region's winemaking potential. He has since brought Valdeorras to a much wider audience and significantly raised the profile of the region's wines.
He now owns over 20 hectares consisting of about 26 parcels of vines up to 90 years old, and range from 600-720m altitude, making them some of the highest in the region. They are located on the right bank of the Bibei river, where the poor, sandy-textured granite soils give grapes particularly high acidity and produce low yields.
Rafael is intent on producing Spain's first great single-estate white wine, so he is passionately involved in every stage of the production process. He has chosen not to use any herbicides or artificial chemicals in the vineyards, and he uses specially adapted lightweight machinery to tend the difficult steep slopes.
The result of his hard work is the 'As Sortes' range, a name derived from the fact that the Bibei region is made up of small plots of vineyards which are inherited by winegrowers through a system of drawing lots (called 'sortes' in the Galician language), often out of a hat. Of particular note is the range's second wine, Louro, which is carefully aged in French oak to produce godello at its lemony, creamy best; but even the third wine, Bolo, named after a local village, is a delicious example of how refreshing the grape is when aged in stainless steel.