28-03-2019 ~ 3 Comments

The Mas Doix – Lede Family partnership

In Priorat, you hear a great deal but often know very little. This was shown no better than hearing changes were afoot last year with Mas Doix in the village Poboleda but not really knowing anything concrete. These murmurs then shifted to something tangible when they started work on a new, larger cellar perched on a hill just outside the village. And then reality really set in as fewer and fewer barrels were seen downstairs as everything was being moved to the new cellar in time for the 2019 harvest.

For some time, it had been quite clear that Mas Doix’s cellar, where they started 20 years ago, was bursting at the seams so to speak. While a quite decent-sized space to start a family winery, their last installation of fermentation tanks saw some of them standing in a corner where you had to duck under a support beam of the roof for work. Bottle storage and a bottling machine installed permanently? Forget about it.

When they started work on the new cellar, I assumed it was solely out of necessity for their future. They currently produce about 65,000 bottles (or 5,400 cases in American terms) and were scraping by in terms of bare adequacy. At the same time, they appeared to have little trouble selling the excellent wines–see scores below. My thinking went that in the post-Crisis Era of Spain, they’d proven to a bank they could justify the loan for the new construction and it was happening.

Things had indeed been happening, but they were more than were previously thought as it was announced that Lede Family Wines in California had invested in Mas Doix and it was this investment which was funding the new cellar. In talking with Valentí Llagostera (co-owner of Mas Doix) and Remi Cohen (COO of Lede Family Wines) they emphasized that each of their entities now hold an equal share of Mas Doix.

For me, this was a most curious turn of events, namely for the fact that I can’t think of another winery in all of Catalunya that has American investors from a wine background except one, Mas Perinet–which ironically is a neighbor to Mas Doix in the same village. The original incarnation of Mas Perinet had folded many years ago and was eventually bought by Americans for 50€ million as was reported in local media. They’ve had a tough time getting started as spare grapes are hard to find these days in DOQ Priorat and while apparently able to now produce a reported 60,000 bottles, it’s a very small total for a cellar that can easily produce at least five times that. It’s would also seem to be a difficult path to recoup such a large initial investment.

And this was the question I put to both Valentí and Remi in that this is something of a reverse funnel approach as a winery in the “New World” usually moves laterally to other “New World” regions where it can amplify production. Or then an “Old World” winery moves into the “New World” as shown by Torres and others. Moving to the “Old World” is going to inevitably be a difficult step for wineries accustomed to demonstrable growth as European Union regions have very tight production totals in appellations. Also, they only only allow new plantings comprising 1% of the total vineyard area in a region, thus DOQ Priorat at 2,000ha can only plant 20ha new, especially as the practice of buying vineyard rights from other regions in Spain has been put to an end.

Lede Family Wines produces, between their two brands, about 30,000 cases a year (or 360,000 bottles in European terms) which is something like five times what Mas Doix produces. It seems like an odd fit, but according to Remi, it has little to do about wanting to invest and crank up production but more to broaden their portfolio and looking down the road 20 or 30 years–a rather typical family winery trait.

Apparently Cliff Lefe (founder of Lede Family Wines) was initially looking to Italy but his son Jason as well as Remi had happened upon the Mas Doix wines at the tapas bar, Zuzu in Napa town and they’re both fans of Grenache. About a year and a half ago, while on holiday in Catalunya, Remi visited Mas Doix, found out they were looking for investment to expand the cellar and thus we arrive to the arrangement today.

I suppose it was the shock of seeing my old stomping grounds of Napa showing up in my backyard again that initially made this all seem a bit sideways. In actuality, I’ve realized that it’s not that strange of a partnership despite how disparate the profile of each winery appears on the surface.

Mas Doix has been and continues to be a family-owned winery. While started by the Llagostera and Doix families back in 1999, the Llagostera family bought out the shares of Josep Maria Doix and his wife, Maite Mora in 2016 although Maite continued to manage the vineyards until a year ago. Their daughter, Sandra Doix, who was head of enology since 2010 left at the end of last year. But Mas Doix is neither one of the region’s smallest cellars nor its largest. Valentí says that with the new cellar, they hope to double their production to 140,000 bottles in 10 years. Even with the warmest of goodwill to work out grape contracts with those in the village, I haven’t any idea how it will be possible to get the additional 90,000kg they’d need for that, but if there’s one person who can do it, it’s probably him.

Lede Family Wines on the other hand, at 360,000 bottles isn’t a huge Napa Valley winery. Yes, that’s big and in Priorat, it would see them to be in the top five of producers, but in Napa there are others considerably larger. They’re also relatively new, having started in 2002 when Cliff Lede (originally from Canada) bought 16ha of vineyards in the Stags Leap District AVA. So, like Mas Doix, they both have a similar profile in being family-owned, medium-sized, relatively-new producers for their respective regions.

Besides compatibility, there are of course countless other aspects to tie up such as distribution and portfolio management of the wines. But, as Remi stated, aside from the investment for the cellar, Lede Family is fully hands off. For Valentí and his brother Ramon, they’re fully wrapped up in getting the new cellar up and running in the next five months so one has to assume that many of these items are tabled until they become more pressing.

I wish both cellars the best in the new partnership and if it means that more people can get easier access to what bottled wonders come out of Priorat, I’m very much in favor of that.

WINES

Mas Doix - Mas Doix 2014
Dark cherry, earthy, plum compote, licorice, black pepper, cumin, star anise. Dark and brooding on the palate, light green almond astringency at the end, medium plus acidity and developing a long finish.
55% Carignan 45% Grenache · 14.5% · 85EUR
93+ 2 Stars

Mas Doix - 1902 2014
Brambly red fruit of raspberry mixed with flecks of dark cherry and blueberry, light touches of anise, slate, and sweet thyme. Delicate on the palate with crisp red fruit notes and boundless energy from brisk acidity and a very, very long finish.
100% Carignan · 14.5% · 250EUR
93+ 2 Stars

Mas Doix - Les Crestes 2016
Dark cherry, prune and raisined notes, very upfront, baking spice at the bottom as well as an underlying streak of red cherry fruit. Fresh and light on the palate, nice balance of red fruit, medium plus acidity, long finish. Quite expressive and will continue to evolve.
80% Grenache 10% Carignan 10% Syrah · 14.5% · 16EUR
92 2 Stars

Mas Doix - Salanques 2015
Dark cherry, wild forest fruit, hint of currant, red licorice, rosemary, black pepper. Full and balanced fruit on the palate, medium plus acidity, fine tannins, medium finish. Very packed, needs time to open.
65% Grenache 25% Carignan 10% Syrah · 15% · 32EUR
92+ 2 Stars

Mas Doix - Blanc 2017
Yellow peach, red apple peel, white pear, chamomile, mint, fresh stony notes, light touch of brioche from the lees. More sweet green apple on the palate, medium plus acidity, med plus finish. Nice and fleshy without blowing out.
60% Grenache Blanc 40% Macabeu · 14%
92 2 Stars