“L’altre Vi started as a crazy idea, hatched over drinks in the summer of 2015,” Rachel Everett Guasch tells me.
“Much to everyone’s surprise ‘mum’s wine business’ then became a reality.”
Rachel’s eldest son Rubén then jumped on board too and by the end of 2016 they’d made their first import and had started trading.
“Our Oxford connection goes back to the 1930s when my grandfather arrived looking for work and settled in Cowley, where he ran a fishmonger’s.
“A Catalan twist was added when my mother arrived in Oxford to learn English. Out one night with a friend, she ventured into The Roebuck (as it then was) in Market Street, where she bumped into my father. Not speaking each others’ languages was apparently no obstacle to a successful relationship and she stayed,” Rachel tells me.
“This is why we only sell Catalan wine, from north-eastern Spain, which is admittedly a bit niche, but Vilafranca del Penedès, where my mother was born is the capital of the Penedès wine region.
“It is where my grandparents farmed and where Rubén partly grew up and went to school,” Rachel, who now lives in Abingdon, explained.
So where did Rachel begin? “From the start we wanted to work with organic production and as the Penedès is a hotspot for sustainable viticulture (48% and growing) we had plenty of scope,” she explains.
So L’altre Vi started out as wholesalers to restaurants, supper clubs and pop-ups, making appearances at wine festivals (always at The Oxford Wine Festival) and foodie events and selling across the UK.
“Over the Christmas break (little did we know what was coming) we decided that we wanted the business to be more Oxford focused, so I started taking the wines to markets, particularly at Wolvercote and East Oxford and we’d started planning for more Oxford-based events, ” Rachel explains.
With lockdown, everything changed. Instead of concentrating on wholesale we now have an online shop and enthusiastic customers across the city.
“We also have a stall at the marvellous East Oxford Farmers’ Market which has continued operating at East Oxford Primary School, much to the amusement of my father, who was a pupil there in the early 1950s.
“We’ve recently also had the happy experience of making our first post-lockdown delivery to No1 Ship Street, who’ve been serving our biodynamic cava since they first opened. (Hooray!)”
So where does the wine come from specifically? “Currently we have ten wineries in the L’altre Vi family. Some are old friends (I’ve known Jordi Raventós of Clos dels Guarans since he was a teenager), some are friends of friends and some are wineries we approached at the start and who were generous enough to give us the benefit of the doubt when we began.
“They’re all small to tiny by normal standards. Much like the organic farms surrounding Oxford, they support sustainable farming, low food miles and the Slow Food movement.
“Like TOAD they’re also actively researching and bringing back traditional varieties (grapes rather than grains) back into cultivation and experimenting with forgotten local techniques.
“They work together in planting and giving advice.”
Clos Mogador from Priorat is a bit different in that they approached us to distribute a new wine for them in the UK. Despite my protestations that our business was too small we do indeed have “Com Tú” under our mantel and are looking forward to spreading the word about this very special grenache.
Belonging to Good Food Oxford, Rachel is never happier than talking to people about how the wines L’altre Vi sell are made, adding that “people should ask more questions about everything they consume, wine included.
“In Catalan wine is simply part of a healthy and well-balanced diet.”
So tell us about the wines L’altre Vi sells? “Beyond being organic and sustainable the wines are very eclectic. On the one hand the larger wineries like Mas Comtal or Eudald Massana Noya (he of the cava) make classic fine wines, whilst at the other end of the spectrum Vinyes Singulars and Toni Osorio make gnarly naturals, all wild flavours and swirling sediment. In the middle are the likes of Mas Perdut with their experimental ageing to try and recreate Catalan flavours of the past. Just to confuse matters Mas Comtal and L’Apical make natural wines which are not gnarly but are simply fine wines in the tradition of the best wineries in the world, like Clos Mogador who make biodynamic Com Tú.
“So, although we are very specialist, we hope we offer something for everyone: unique wines for the adventurous, classics to please the most demanding of palates and for everyone, lovingly hand-made, sustainable wines which bring a little bit of Catalan joy to the UK.”
Go to http:// www.laltrevi.com for more details or to order.