Visiting Toni Carbo of La Salada
Notes from a trip to La Salada, Catalunya, April 2022
Toni Carbo’s family has been making wine in Penedès for a long time. Before he was born, his grandfather was working for the local co-op and selling to merchants coming from Barcelona. The vineyard we are standing in whilst he recounts all this is called Ermot which is a plot of Macabeo vines that was planted in 1942. There is a small building just visible through the vines which is was known as La Salada (the hidden house).
Toni was born in 1972 and his earliest memories of this region paint a picturesque image of biodiversity and harmonious nature. However, things began to change before he was a teenager when industrial wine production arrived in Penedès. The land was flattened by big companies in order to allow for machine harvesting. Other crops were ripped up to make way for more vines. International varieties replaced indigenous grapes (particularly red) and the land had changed forever. Toni was 15 at this time and had started studying at agricultural school. He was taught that industrial wine production was the only way forward and it was best to use international varieties. The first wine he ever made was from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. It was at this school where he met fellow winemaker Ramon Jané who was just 13 at the time. Toni’s family stopped making wine on and off in the 80s and in 1991, when Toni was 19, although they kept persevering until they sadly made their final vintage (the last family in the region to do so). At this time, Toni was really enjoying viticulture but was getting more depressed over the power that the big Cava houses held. They would have a price that they would buy grapes at from the local growers but then at the very last minute, they would drop the price, knowing there was no other option for these humble farmers. It’s very sad to hear him talk of the negative impact all of this had on the collective spirit of the local community.
By the time he was 21, he had had enough and wanted to start to make his own wine but it wasn’t until 2005 he teamed up with Ramon and his partner Mercè Cuscó to make bottles under the name Mas Candí. In 2009 he tried his first natural wine, a bottle from the Catalan winemaking legend Laureano Serres (Mendall) and he was blown away. Immediately he saw the way forward but Ramon wasn’t exactly convinced. Toni realised that this is how his Grandfather’s wines would have been made; through organic farming, unfiltered and free of additives such as sulphur. Ramon could see how inspired his friend was so encouraged him to set up his own cellar but insisted they would still work closely together. Toni agreed and started his La Salada project where he could focus on making Pet Nats (sparkling wine by ancestral method), field blends and skin contact (orange) wines just like farmers had done in this region for generations before the Cava houses arrived. Eventually Ramon would see what all the fuss was about and move in this direction himself.
Now Toni makes some of the most honest and expressive wines we have ever had the pleasure of tasting. He is maybe best known for his juicy and thirst quenching Roig Boig (crazy red in Catalan) which is made up of 5 red and 5 white varieties (some just table grapes) but also produces incredible skin contact wines from local grapes Xarel Lo (Buffarella) and Malvasia de Sitges (Sota Els Ametllers). The latter’s name means ‘under the almond trees’ and a throwback to the times that Toni remembers when these vineyards were surrounded by other crops but a single almond tree still overlooks this plot today.
El Pagès Content is Toni’s entry level range of natural wines, all fermented in simple concrete tanks under his cellar. The name means ‘The Happy Farmer’ in Catalan and this probably sums him up best. He has managed to rescue some of the history and traditions of his family and this region that could have been lost forever. To taste his wines is to experience the old world of Penedès. He seems to be a quiet and contemplative man but as he guides us around his precious vines he definitely seems to be a happy farmer.