Ismael Gozalo — independent winemaker

Resilience and resistance are synonymous words that represent very well wine projects such as Microbio Wines, the wine project by Ismael Gozalo, in which heritage bases its strength on respect for its natural environment.

Originally from the Segovia region, in recent years Ismael has managed to place its wines in the international spotlight under a unique discourse and being faithful to his philosophy, through which many wine lovers have felt identified. This winemaker doesn’t just work; he also dreams, and part of this reverie returns to earth so that the cycle of life can continue.

His link with the wine and the vineyard is directly marked by the family heritage: “I belong to the fifth generation of winemakers in my family. My father was the first to start bottling wine; until then, wines were sold in bulk. People would come to our winery to take 16 litres for a week, a day or a month, depending on their consumption habit. I was born in the middle of the harvest, and I started making wine with my grandfather, and later with my father. In 2004 I set up the Ossian project together with Javier Zaccagnini, and at that time my wines appeared under my name, Ismael Gozalo, until 2016 when I created the Microbio Wines company. 2020 has been my 28th harvest, so I’ve been making wine for 28 years”.

Ismael’s work is characterized by a deep respect for nature. He doesn’t use additives or agrochemicals, a philosophy that runs in the family, and that served to define and reaffirm what he really wanted to elaborate. “All our lives there have been elaborations without additions of any kind. I take the transmission belt between my grandfather and the wines I currently make. In my father’s time, the Nieva vineyards did make wines with sulfur added, it was the trend and what the market demanded at those times, wines with amicrobic filtrations, totally clean and shiny. I knew from the beginning that wasn’t my world, that if my father didn’t want to let me get my hands on the project, I had to find my path and find my own style.

Then I met Javier Zaccagnini, Ossian became a reality, and there is where the first origins of my wines were forged. In 1998 my father let me choose the vineyards that I liked the most from the family farm, and that’s when I made my first natural wine ”.

Once the genesis and origin of the project were forged, Ismael began his journey, and his dedication to the earth gave its first fruits: “that year I made my first 300 bottles. The following year I made twice as much, a white barrel and a red barrel. I still have 3 or 4 bottles from that time. It is an alive treasure, I open them from time to time and they are surprising wines, each bottle is a world ”.

Working naturally has never been a conflict, beyond remembering what nature itself is, and what it means not to add any artificial preservatives. “By not adding any exogenous complement, a wine will evolve more quickly and it is something that must be very clear from the beginning, that’s all. When I started with my first wines I had no idea what it meant to put a good cork in it. When you are starting a project, all problems are financial, and no matter how much passion and desire you have, you always lack that capital to be able to put the best in. In this case, this lack of investment in good caps has meant that at the beginning some bottles have not evolved in the line that I considered ”.

Microbio Wines currently bases its market on exports, which accounts for 75–80% of the total production. Ismael exports to 22 countries, including Japan, Denmark, the US, France, or Russia, and in 2020 he opened new markets such as Mexico, Poland and Brazil.

With a production of around 55,000 bottles, the diversity of wines he produces continues to amaze, “between 25 and 30 different ones. It is the most shocking part since almost all my wines come from the same variety ”.

His wines have led him to travel the world, and to visit international fairs in which in general he has met with a receptive public that always want to try more. The interest for the natural wine world is at its peak and “people have realized that haute cuisine can pair perfectly with natural wines. In the United States for example, although the current market is centred in New York, Los Angeles will become much stronger in the next 2 or 3 years, since they have a vision of eating and drinking healthier than in others areas of the country ”.

The fight for a more respectful food industry is in the spotlight. Even the new wine law in Spain that has been recently approved, allows a series of additives in wine that are not subsequently reflected on the labels.

“Wine is a fermented grape drink. Everything that has something else added is a cocktail. And in most cases, harmful. There are less than 1% of producers who work as we do.

“The idea is to favour volume, especially the big ones: some wineries make 4/6 million bottles a year, and those cannot afford to fail. They make a protocol wine, and in the end, it has no soul. Whoever likes to drink a soil or a type of landscape, goes through our type of product ”.

The prejudices towards natural wines are also latent, and much has to do with the ignorance of what they really are, or bad experiences when tasting certain self-described natural wines. “There are disinformation campaigns, and it also hurts that there is some wine on the market that is not entirely correct under the title of natural.

That’s when people mix natural wine with defective wine, and that has nothing to do with it; when a wine has defects, you have to understand that it is about deviations, and no matter how natural it may be, if it is not good, it is not good ”.

Good and bad wines are broad concepts and must be understood and interpreted through the importance of evolution. “A wine has to tend to give you those nuances, those evolutions that occur in the physical and chemical processes that occur inside the bottle, simply because it is a product that it’s alive. The problem with bottling wine with a high amount of exogenous agent is that it loses its naturalness, and what you have is a mummy embalmed in a bottle that does not evolve and that will be the same in 20 years ”.

Understanding the natural means not only understanding the processes of wine, but also teaching the palate to meet these nuances and, above all, opening the mind. “I have received constructive criticism from sommeliers more or less close to me, and they once told me: damn, you make really good vinegar, referring to my wines. I told them, one day you will learn to drink wine because it is not about bad or defective wines, perhaps what happens is that you are used to an excess of sulfur ”.

Despite the detractors, Ismael has managed to take advantage of the less flattering comments with grace. “I like that part of acid humour in life, and a couple of years ago I made a vinegar that comes from a mother from 1893. I made it simple to shut mouths, and it is one of the most expensive products I have in my catalogue”.

And the thing is that his move turned out more than good, and his vinegar did not leave anyone indifferent: “my importer from Japan tasted the first 180 bottles of vinegar I made and he liked them so much that he took them all. The second 150 bottles have gone in their entirety to Noma Restaurant, and then I took out another 500 bottles that have spread rapidly to different places ”. Sometimes the worst reviews end up being your best compliments.

#funkystories 2021.

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Journalist, sommelier consultant and demand generation marketer. Writing stories on drinking culture at @keepitfunkybcn Ask away:

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Linda Silva

Linda Silva

Journalist, sommelier consultant and demand generation marketer. Writing stories on drinking culture at @keepitfunkybcn Ask away:

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