Accolades often flow freely for winemakers whose efforts exceed expectations, but Raúl Pérez is genuinely deserving of every superlative written about his wines. He is recognised as one of Spain’s most talented, innovative and restless winemakers. Pérez reinvents his portfolio relentlessly, and is universally considered to be one of the world’s most visionary winemakers.
In 1994 and aged just 22, Pérez produced his first vintage at his family’s winery. Ever since, he has been at the forefront of the conversation about The New Spain. In 2005, he left the family business to strike out on his own, creating Bodegas y Viñedos Raúl Pérez, which quickly became the point of reference for the Bierzo appellation.
His activities have since expanded to include the appellations of Rías Baixas, Ribeira Sacra and Tierra de León, but his heart and home remain in Valtuille de Abajo, the village in Bierzo where his family has tended vines for more than 300 years.
Pérez’s approach is to let nature flow in his vineyards. He’s low-tech, manual, and a staunch believer in the traditions of co-fermentation and hands-off winemaking. “I’ve always watched the birds carefully. They know which grapes are tastier,” he says.
His respect for nature’s signs and signals is a constant theme that continues with every new endeavour he undertakes.
Since leaving the family estate, Pérez has been on a seemingly never-ending quest to restore old vineyards. It’s his intuitive understanding of the vines and ability to produce elegant and fresh wines from rustic grape varieties that sets him apart from his peers.
Pérez pays careful attention to picking dates, with harvests typically occurring over a month or longer. Fermentation is conducted with whole bunches to retain the freshness and character of the grapes. The process encourages extended skin contact – of up to three months in some instances – with no punch-downs or pump-overs at all.
His reds rest in neutral barrels. There’s no sulphur added during elevage and no racking, battonage, or temperature control during the winemaking process. Instead, Pérez’s wines are simply left undisturbed before being blended and bottled. This happens when the barrels are at their peak, and without fining or filtration.
He has revolutionised winemaking in this corner of north-western Spain, was named Winemaker of the Year in 2014 by German food and drink magazine Der Feinschmecker and Best Winemaker in the World in 2015 by the French wine publication Bettane+Desseauve.
Pérez does not produce “winemaker” wines. Rather, he produces wines that are unadulterated expressions of the villages and vineyards from which they hail. Pérez’s genius is far exceeded by his humility and generosity of spirit. That humility is evident when enjoying his wines.
“Raúl Pérez is the archetype of the intuitive winemaking genius,” Master of Wine, Petro Ballesteros.