Wines From Spain recently spoke with Rick Fisher, Spanish Wine Scholar Education Director. In this interview, Rick discusses an exciting new Spanish wine education program being offered by the Wine Scholar Guild. He also talks about the joys of Garnacha Tinta, the ever-increasing popularity of Rías Baixas wines in the American marketplace, and a few of his favorite regions to visit in Spain.
How did you get your start in the wine industry?
In some ways, it was a stroke of luck. Over the past few years I had taken a number of wine certification programs to grow my understanding of the world of wine. Then, a couple of years ago, a good friend of mine alerted me about the Wine Scholar Guild’s (WSG) plans to develop a program for the wines of Spain as a complement to their French and Italian offerings. She thought my passion for wine and my love for Spain were a great match–and she was right! In March 2018, I left a 20-year career in banking to follow my passion for Spanish wine, and I’ve never looked back!
Tell us about the Spanish Wine Scholar program. What can those who decide to take the program expect?
The Spanish Wine Scholar (SWS) program is really the first program of its kind to dig deep into the world of Spanish wine. Students of SWS will study the wine regions of all 17 autonomous communities in Spain and learn about the factors affecting the regions (e.g. climate, soils, and topography), major grape varieties, and wine styles. Every Protected Denomination of Origin (PDO) is covered in this manual and, although this first edition is hot off the press, it is company policy to update the study manuals each and every year so that they stay current.
For the Spanish wine educators and experts out there you’re also looking for instructors to teach the course through local wine schools correct?
WSG currently has a network of 60 program providers in 30 countries, and we are growing. We sign up new program providers and/or instructors almost every month! If there is an area where we do not have a presence, the SWS online program will launch in Fall 2019. Everyone can participate, even those in remote locations. If you have an internet connection and a computer, you have a classroom.
During the almost two years you spent developing the course work you visited many different Spanish regions. Any that really standout or that you’d recommend here?
Over the past couple of years, I have been fortunate to visit a number of regions and Denominations of Origin (DO). One of my favorites is the Canary Islands. I was amazed and impressed at the ingenuity displayed here, from growing grapes in volcanic ash or braiding vines so they can be moved to allow for other crops to grow. Crazy!
Galicia was also one of my favorite stops last year (I visited DO Rías Baixas and DO Ribeiro). Up until recently, the region has been underrepresented in the US, but I see a shift occurring. From Albariño’s splash into the market to a new wave of the tremendous red wines from the area, people are really starting to take notice.
What should members of the wine trade expect to get out of the Spanish Wine Scholar program? What about just savvy, interested wine drinkers?
This program is really designed for both. As with our French and Italian programs, we have MW and MS candidates who find this information invaluable in their studies, but this program is also for those who want to learn more about one of the world’s greatest wine powerhouses. We present information in a way that makes deep learning possible – classroom format, fully narrated online modules with creative quiz design, e-flashcards, live and recorded webinars, and more. We cover the gamut for just about every learning style.
What specifically will the Spanish Wine Scholar program cover?
The manual is broken up into ten chapters. The first chapter helps to build the foundation of Spanish wine and covers the history of Spain, general topography, climate, and soil types, grape varieties, and viticulture and viniculture throughout the country. The remaining nine chapters take an in-depth look at all of the PDOs located within the 17 autonomous regions of Spain. Each region is covered in great detail. This is an advanced course of study. Each chapter is like taking a picturesque and exciting wine journey through every part of Spain.
Talking about Spanish wine in general, do you have a favorite region or indigenous grape variety?
This is a really hard question to answer because, for me, each region provides a unique opportunity to experience the tremendous diversity of Spain, with none being a mirror image of the other.
As for a grape, I absolutely love wines made from Garnacha Tinta. It has played second fiddle to Tempranillo but makes amazing wines! It is an extremely versatile grape and you can find tremendous examples of great Garnacha at multiple price points. It crafts complex bottlings with depth and character, as well as toothsome yet medium-bodied offerings that pair nicely with an afternoon picnic. It really is hard to find a bad one. The same can’t be said about other grape varieties. Trust me, I’ve had plenty of abysmal Chardonnay.
As far as travel goes, do you have a favorite Spanish region to visit?
Another hard one! The maternal side of my family hails from Cataluña, so I always feel at home when I visit, and I’m enamored by the wines produced there. I also absolutely adore the islands of Spain (Balearics and Canary). Both sets of islands are incredibly beautiful and produce tremendous (and underrated) wines. I am, however, starting to see the public’s openness to expand their wine knowledge and explore uncharted wine territory and this is great news for the wines of the islands!
What is your all-time favorite Spanish wine?
Over the years, I have had numerous special moments which were accompanied by memorable wines from Spain, many of which left an indelible impression on me. One wine that pulls at my heartstrings is the Viña Tondonia Rosé Gran Reserva from R. Lopez de Heredia in Haro, La Rioja (DOCa Rioja). I visited the bodega back in 2013, and every time I open a bottle of wine from here I am whisked back to the old warehouses where more than a hundred years’ worth of wines (many covered in cobwebs) are still aging. This is one of the few places in Spain where the current release (it is not even produced every year) is a 10-year-old vino rosado–not to mention it’s a Gran Reserva! And it is absolutely spectacular!
Visit the Spanish Wine Scholar Program for program details and the roll-out schedule.