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July 14th, 2015

Women Winemakers: Maria Elena & Marta from Parés Baltà under the spotlight

 

Prepared by Lucia and John Gilbert, June 2015

Maria Elena Jiménez and Marta Casas

The story of Parés Baltà is like a fairy tale. Two brothers grow up on the old family estate of their grandfather, who is very wise. He understands the importance of bioorganic farming, sustainability, and talented oenologists. With his blessing, each of the brothers marries a woman who comes to love wine and becomes an accomplished winemaker. The two women work together harmoniously to craft the impressive wines of Parés Baltà, while the brothers focus on management and marketing. The two couples, their children, and the children’s grandparents live happily ever after.

Maria Elena Jimenez, who holds the title of Enóloga at the winery, obtained her degree in Chemical Engineering at Institut Químic de Sarrià in Barcelona in the mid-1990s. Maria Elena was working as a chemical engineer when she met and fell in love with her future husband, Joan Cusiné, who introduced her to the magic of wine. She went on to get a second degree in Enology at Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona and expanded her wine knowledge by travelling extensively to wine areas abroad. Upon her return, Maria Elena became involved in the family business, working as oenologist at the Parés Baltà winery.

Born in 1976, Marta Casas is a few years younger than Maria Elena and also holds the title of Enóloga at the winery. Although she grew up around the grape growing of her grandparents, she chose Pharmacy as her major at the Universitat de Barcelona. During her studies, she met Josep Cusiné, who introduced her to wine, just like his brother Joan had done for Maria Elena. While still completing her degree in pharmacy, Marta began studying winemaking at Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona.

Soon after graduating with her winemaking degree and a trip to visit the wineries in Australia arranged by the wise grandfather, she and Josep were married.

The day we visited, Maria Elena and Marta took us on a tour of their vineyards as a way of helping us to understand the history and uniqueness of Parés Baltà and what they do as winemakers. All of their wines are certified as organic, and to quote them, “Wine quality depends on grape quality and the work of the winemaker who has to transfer the personality of the vine to the bottle.” Their vineyards are located over five estates that have different microclimates and soils. (The first photo in this article is of one of their vineyards.) Indigenous grapes like Garnacha are cultivated, as are other varietals such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Tempranillo.

Also made clear on our visit was the focus on innovation and experimentation, as Maria Elena and Marta are energetic scientists excited about trying new approaches. While touring the vineyards, we visited a recently discovered archaeological site where amphorae were produced over two thousand years ago. This finding led to their fermenting and aging wines in amphorae made with the clay coming from their property, an experiment that is currently underway.

Always keeping quality in mind, their aim is to produce some of the best and most interesting wines in the world. To quote Maria Elena, “What gives me the most pleasure is having people enjoy our wines and letting me know that they do.” We had the privilege of tasting several of their high quality wines and Cava that have received national and international acclaim. These included their Marta de Balta, Mas Irene, Mas Elena, and Cava Blanca Cusiné, and several wines that are the products of their experimental investigations. We brought back a bottle of 2009 Parés Baltà Marta de Balta and look forward to enjoying it.

Maria Elena and Marta are completely involved in Parés Baltà, with the entire family sharing in the multitude of winery and vineyard tasks. Their positive energy and enthusiasm are contagious.