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Allison Levine, Please The Palate: Two regions in Spain, two cooperatives and two women
Please The Palate

Allison Levine, Please The Palate: Two regions in Spain, two cooperatives and two women

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Maria Otero of Martin Codax and Yolanda Diaz of Las Rocas

Maria Otero of Martin Codax and Yolanda Diaz of Las Rocas

I recently had dinner with representatives from two wineries in Spain. One winery is in Rias Baixes on the northwest corner and the other in Calatayud on the northeast corner. What both wineries have in common is that they are both cooperatives and both have women holding positions of power.

The wine world has long been dominated by men, and Spain, as much of the old world, has had a tradition of machismo. But women are making a name for themselves. Enrollment of women in Spain’s university winemaking programs has increased by more than 40 percent over the last 20 years. No longer stuck in the lab or in marketing, they are making the wine and running the wineries. And, I had the pleasure to sit down with two of these women and learn about them, their stories and taste their wines.

Maria Taboada, Martín Códax, Rias Baixas

Rias Baixas is located in the northwest corner of Spain in Galacia. Exposed to the Atlantic Ocean, 90 percent of Galicia is coastline and the two most important economic drivers are the ocean and wine. The primary grape of the Rias Baixas is the white grape Albariño, which was introduced to the area in the 12th century by the Cistercian monks. The region was granted “Denominación Específica Albariño” status in 1980 and DO status in 1988.

Growing Albariño grapes was something nearly every family in the region has done for decades. And the land never leaves the family. Over the years, the land has been divided among children and then divided again the next generation. This leaves each individual with very small plots of land with enough grapes to make wine for home use but not for commercial production. The people knew how incredible their grapes were and in 1985, 50 growers came together to create the cooperative Martín Códax.

Martín Códax was a poet and a singer in the 13th century who had written about the Albariño grape. So they named the cooperative after him to represent all of the families of Rias Baixas. Today, there are 600 growers, spanning 2,500 vineyards, that make up Martín Códax.

Maria Taboada grew up in one of these families. Both sides of her family have vineyards and she grew up in the vineyards with her grandfather. She recalled her grandfather stressing over the fact that his three sons only had daughters and did not know who would take over the family properties.

Maria, who studied business administration at the university, saw the concern that her grandfather had and as the 10th generation in her family, she wanted to continue the tradition. She approached Martín Códax, of which her grandfather was one of the first 50 grower members, and offered to work for free, learning everything she could from the bottom to the top. Twelve years later, she is the export manager for Martín Códax and continues to share the story of Rias Baixas. And, every harvest, she can still be found working with her grandfather.

Martín Códax 2017 Albariño, Rias Baixas ($17) – Beautifully aromatic with floral, apple and pear notes, the wine is crisp on the palate with bright acidity and a mineral finish. If you close your eyes when tasting the wine, you might be able to imagine the ocean surrounding the Rias Baixas.

Yolanda Diaz, Las Rocas, Calatayud

Located in the northeast of Spain in the Aragon region, Calatayud is a high-elevation red wine area. A continental climate with diurnal shifts and good air flow results in red wines with good acidity. The primary grape grown in Calatayud is Garnacha. The Garnacha vines, of which many are more than 80 years old, thrive on the steep, rocky slopes to create rich and elegant wines.

A small region, there are 8,000 acres of vines planted and only 14 wineries. Of the 8,000 acres, 2,500 acres are part of the cooperative Bodegas San Alejandro, which is made up of 350 growers. The cooperative was founded in 1962 and named after Saint Alexander, whose remains are buried in the village’s Franciscan convent. In 2001, the cooperative launched Las Rocas de San Alejandro, which is imported to the United States.

Yolanda Diaz was raised in Calatayud, but her family was not in the wine business. She studied business in the university and continued her studies in the U.S. and France. When she returned home, her international experience and ability to speak four languages led to a job at the cooperative 22 years ago. While Yolanda intended to get her MBA, she fell in love with wine and stayed. While working, she obtained her MBA in wine business and then studied enology for two years to obtain another degree. Yolanda understands all aspects of the wine business and today is the managing director of the cooperative.

Las Rocas 2016 Garnacha, Calatayud ($14) – Made from vineyards with 40 to 60 years of age planted in gravel soils, the wine is a ruby red color and has a rich and vibrant nose with notes of blackberry and dark cherry. On the palate, the wine has tannins that coat the palate and a long finish.

Las Rocas 2015 Garnacha Viñas Viejas ($22) – The old vine Garnacha comes from 80 to 100-year-old vines. The wine has notes of dark fruits, vanilla and spice and on the palate is balanced with rich tannins and bright acidity.

Allison Levine is owner of Please The Palate, a marketing and event-planning agency. A freelance writer, she contributes to numerous publications while eating and drinking her way around the world. Allison is also the host of the wine podcast Wine Soundtrack USA. Contact her at

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