To better understand its peculiarities, we talked to Daniel Durán, a participant in the present (and future) of its viticulture. One of their coop’s significant challenges has been to work with a large number of plots belonging to different farmers and produce wines of consistent quality. In the case of Paco & Lola, plot atomization reaches the extreme of working with 250 hectares distributed in more than 2,000 plots, a typical configuration in Galician vineyards. And yet, what was a challenge, for them, has become an asset: “Although it has its complications, we do not consider it a handicap; this diversity of plots allows us infinite combinations when producing our wines.”
The term diversity comes up again and again when Duran evaluates the primary material of his work. “We are focused almost exclusively on the Albarino variety, but we have a great deal of intra-arietal diversity in the vineyards. That gives us great adaptability to challenges such as climate change.” And he adds: “Who knows if clones that might have been discarded twenty years ago due to excess acidity may now become crucial to face the increase in temperatures.” One of Paco & Lola’s projects is precisely the preservation of all this genetic heritage.
Innovation as a vocation
“Except for selling wine, I have done everything in wineries,” says Durán. This agricultural engineer began his career working in a viticulture research center in Rías Baixas. “There, I started working with wood diseases, which are now being talked about a lot,” he recounts. He then spent four years at a winery as head of viticulture —and whatever else would come his way— before moving on to manage European projects. But office work wasn’t his thing. Finally, he landed at Paco & Lola, where he has managed to combine both passions—Innovation and working in contact with the land. “Innovation is not about hiring a consultant and having him tell you what to do. It is something that runs across the board and should be part of the winery’s DNA. Innovation must be cultivated,” he says. And he adds that when all members of a winery or a coop share this philosophy, ideas to solve the challenges come up. “It is also necessary to look for allies outside to carry out projects.” An example of such projects is Viñas Atlánticas, which led them to work with other coops in the Rías Baixas DO to design a fungal disease prediction system adapted to the local reality. “We saw that many existing models did not respond to our particular needs.” And he proudly explains that they have managed to get the cooperative’s farmers, many of them elderly, to become familiar with the alerts app and use it in their day-to-day work. “Moreover, this digitalization process has been unexpectedly positive amid the pandemic we are experiencing, which naturally complicates personal contact.” Other areas they are working on is the identification of optimal fertility levels of the plots, so that fertilization plans can be efficiently managed in an application and visualized in a GIS. “In this project, we have carried out laborious fieldwork on 30 pilot plots over the last few seasons.”
Data standardization as future-proofing
Durán believes that artificial intelligence is destined to have an impact in the future. For this reason, one of his concerns is the proper treatment and management of data that will then have the necessary format and parameters when the time of transition arrives. He explains they perform hundreds of soil analyses every season to establish soil fertility. “You have to accumulate the data with a forward-looking perspective to make it useful. Right now, it’s difficult to leverage most of it.” Who knows if someday artificial intelligence will analyze the wide genetic variety of their vineyards, which constitute the heritage that he fiercely defends.
A coop with international outreach
One of the peculiarities of Paco & Lola is its firm commitment to internationalization. An example of this is the recent agreement that has taken its wines to Sainsbury’s and Tesco supermarkets shelves in the United Kingdom. As he says, they have not put all their eggs in one basket, and working in countries such as Canada, the USA, England, Germany, and the more than forty countries to which they export has mitigated the pandemic’s impact. “2020 has been a reasonably good year; we are happy with the result; it is the fruit of a lot of hard work,” he says by way of balance. Currently, almost half of the wine they produce is destined for export. In addition to diversifying export channels, in recent years, they have been working on the production of Albarino-based sparkling wines, for which they have high hopes. And why not, in the future, work with new grape varieties whose results we hope to see soon. In short, the coop’s roadmap for the coming years will be to protect the diversity that characterizes them and apply new technologies to help them in the process—growing but deepening the roots too.