Forjas del Salnes
VISIT IMPORTER'S WEBSITE
Country of Origin: Spain
Location: Rías Baixas, Galicia
People: Rodrigo Méndez, Owner & Winemaker
Viticulture: Practicing Organic
Rodrigo (Rodri) Méndez is considered one of the greatest and most prolific Albariño producers in the world. He produces two projects—Forjas del Salnés and his eponymous label Rodrigo Méndez—at his small winery in the Val do Salnés. This historic area is the most coastal subzone in the Rías Baixas wine region. The Forjas del Salnés project is dedicated to exploring the broader Salnés region and incorporates both family-owned and long-contracted vineyards belonging to friends, while the Rodrigo Méndez label is comprised exclusively of wines made from vineyards in his home village of Meaño. The total production across both labels is just 10,000 cases, with about half of that dedicated to Forjas del Salnés Leirana Albariño and Rodrigo Méndez Cíes Albariño, both of which are blends of multiple parcels.
Val do Salnés is home to over 60% of all Rías Baixas wine production, and the vast majority of that is Albariño. Salnés is full of small, fragmented vineyards and has the highest concentration of historical parcels in Rías Baixas, including ungrafted vines aged 100-200+ years old. As a small, independent vigneron, Rodrigo Méndez focuses on individual vineyard sites in order to truly understand the soils of Salnés and make terroir-driven wines. He isolates vineyards by soil type and then ferments them separately. If he likes the wine from a certain site after several years of aging in bottle, it will remain in his portfolio as a single vineyard bottling; otherwise, the site will contribute to either Leirana or Cíes, both of which are blends of multiple small parcels and which serve as calling cards for his two winemaking projects.
The soils of Val do Salnés differ depending on proximity to the ocean. Close to the Atlantic Ocean, the white clay and sandy soils tend to have a low pH, contributing volume and minerality to the wines. Further inland, which is where the most ancient vines are located, the granite soils are decomposed into a soil called sábrego, which “passes through your hands as if it were clay,” says Rodri. Granite soils give a concentrated, “vertical” sensation on the palate, and these valley vineyards are a little colder and lack southern exposure, giving the wines from this area higher acidity and lift. Finally, the poor, rocky soils in the mountainous zone of Salnés make for stressed vines that are wiry and muscular. Once only accessible by donkey, and Rodri believes the mountains will soon be famous for its excellent fruit.
Regardless of the site, Rodri’s philosophy in the vineyard reflect his commitment to simplicity: he takes an organic and low-intervention farming approach that is informed by common sense, with no treatments (except copper and sulfur) used in the vineyards unless there is a serious risk of a vine dying without an intervention. Rodri’s signature winemaking style is direct and unfussy, inviting the Salnés terroir to shine like a beacon in the Galician fog. All his wines ferment exclusively with indigenous yeast. Nearly all the wines (except Leirana) ferment in wooden vats without temperature control, then aged in large wooden vessels of varying sizes and shapes. All the white wines see significant lees contact with no malolactic fermentation and minimal additions of sulfites at bottling. His approach to oak and this hands-off regimen for both whites and reds was inspired by the winemaking approach of Dona Lola, owner of the Finca Genoveva vineyard and winery, where 200+ year-old Albariño and Caino vines—and the shocking “still-perfect-after-decades” wines they produced—changed his entire philosophy around 2008. Since then, Rodri’s singular winemaking goal is to produce wines that can age.
Rodri is the 5th generation of a legendary Galician family known for crafting quality wines for over three centuries. Although he spent some formative years playing professional indoor soccer, his family background set him on the path to becoming one of the world’s experts on not only Albariño but also the unsung red grapes of his region. He has accomplished this not through formal training, but rather through hands-on experience and family ties. At age 12, he would join his grandfather in the vineyards; his relationship with his grandfather would have a profound impact on his life. Francisco Méndez, a blacksmith and vigneron, helped establish the Rías Baixas DO in 1988. Forjas del Salnés is a nod to his grandfather’s profession (forjas means “forges”). When Francisco passed away in 2001, Rodri found himself with an inherited collection of ancient vineyards. Through a series of collaborations with other winemakers, Rodri learned how to make red wines with the local varieties his grandfather sought to establish. To this day, Rodri has continued to grow the red wine program at Forjas del Salnés, helping to promote and revitalize several varieties (Caiño, Espadeiro, Loureiro, Brancellao) that were nearly lost forever. Through this work he continues his impressive family legacy, which he will pass on to his own family: Rodri has two young sons, Rodrigo and Raúl, with his wife, Ari. Just like Rodri at that age, they adore soccer, and can be found in the vineyards with him in their free time.
Arvid Rosengren: Traveling Man: Galicia Part 1
Featured in Decanter 2/2023: "Eight Rías Baixas Names to Know"
Wine Advocate 6/11/2020
"Most of the names that come to mind when we think of great Rías Baixas and great Albariño (but increasingly also red wines) originate in the Val do Salnés: Albamar, Do Ferreiro, Eulogio Pomares, Fulcro, Forjas del Salnés, Nanclares y Prieto, Narupa, Zárate… This is the zone with a true Atlantic/marine character and also the place with the most extreme fragmentation of the properties, with very small vineyards. 'Old-timers from Salnés never accepted the name Rías Baixas and didn’t agree about the other zones,' I was told more than once. 'They wanted to create an appellation for the Salnés rather than putting together different zones that don’t have that much in common. But Rías Baixas was created and that was that.' In 1988, when the appellation was created, there were three subzones; they added Soutomaior in October 1996, and then it was expanded again in May 2000 with the Ribeira do Ulla."
Wine Advocate 4/27/2016
"I tasted a gobsmacking collection from Forjas del Salnés, without a doubt one of the leading producers in the Rías Baixas region of Galicia. Last year I didn't taste the red wines, but I had a fascinating flight this year, including two different Caíños. The one from Finca Genoveva was stunning."