Photo: Marimar Torres
A member of Spain’s
best-known wine family, Marimar Torres moved to San
Francisco in 1975 to promote Torres wines in the United States.
In 1986, backed by the family, she planted
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines in the Sonoma Valley.
Marimar Estate Vineyards and Winery released its first wines in 1991 and has
gone on to become one of Sonoma’s
leading boutique producers.
Last week, she was in British Columbia to get more of her wines into
this market. She already has a peripheral connection to British
Columbia: her winemaker is Napa
consultant Bill Dyer, who made the first seven vintages at Burrowing Owl Estate
Winery and subsequently consulted on several vintages for Church & State
The Torres family’s history in wine began
in 1870 when Jaime Torres returned to Spain with a Cuban fortune and
teamed up with a brother to launch the business. Jaime is remembered today for
building the world’s largest wine vat (600,000 litres). It was destroyed when
the winery was bombed during the Spanish Civil War.
The winery was rebuilt in 1940 by the
leader of the family’s next generation, Miguel Torres, to whom the honorific
“Don” was applied through much of his life, perhaps because he was hard-driving
and somewhat imperious. He was still influencing the business when he died in
1991 at age 81, having been succeeded by his son, Miguel A. Torres, Marimar’s
Miguel A., who was born in 1941, studied
enology in France.
When he joined the family business in 1962, he persuaded his father to plant
Cabernet Sauvignon, along with other French vinifera. The winery’s reputation
moved to a higher level in 1979 when a Cabernet Sauvignon from Torres won top
honours in the so-called wine Olympics in Paris.
According to a recent article in the Irish
Times, Miguel A. was “frustrated by the length of time it took his own father …
to hand over the reins.” So he laid down a policy that managing directors
should retire at 70. He has not retired
yet himself. But when he does, there are two family members being groomed. His
daughter, Meriea, is the winery’s technical director, and his son, Miguel
Torres Jr., is running the major winery that the family established in Chile in 1979.
By basing herself in California, Marimar (who was once married to
wine critic Robert Finnegan) has carved out a respected and independent place
in wine while acknowledging the family heritage and its Catalan roots.
The first vineyard planted in Sonoma,
60 acres in size, is called the Don Miguel Vineyard. A more recently planted 12-acre
vineyard is called Doña Margarita, for her
late mother. Both have adopted organic viticulture in 2003 and are moving
toward biodynamic methods.
The winery, which opened to the public in 1993 and has a capacity of
15,000 cases, is designed like a Catalan farm house.
And in the family tradition, Marimar, who was born in 1945, is being
joined in the California winery by daughter
Cristina, an economics major at Princeton
This is also a literate family. Marimar has written two cookbooks: The Catalan Country Kitchen and The Spanish Table: The Cuisines and Wines of
brother, Miguel A., has written a number of highly-regarded books on Spanish
While the Torres wineries in Spain
and in Chile
have developed large portfolios of varietals and blends, Marimar Estate is
tightly focussed just on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. That reflects the varieties
best suited to the two cool vineyards, which are six and 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
The cool growing conditions show through in the vivid and fresh
fruit flavours of the wines.
Here are notes on the wines that can be found in various private
wine stores in Vancouver
(such as Legacy, Kitsilano Wine Cellars and Dundarave Wine Cellars). The prices
shown here are suggested retail prices in California. Expect the Canadian prices to be
Marimar Estate “Acero”
2009 Chardonnay (US$29). This is an exceptional
unoaked Chardonnay, vibrant with aromas of lime and tangerine and with flavours
of tropical fruits, including tangerines. Acero is Spanish for steel, the wine
having been fermented and aged in stainless steel. 90.
Marimar Estate “La Masía” 2009 Chardonnay (US$35).
La Masía is Catalan for farm house. This is a barrel-fermented Chardonnay, with
notes of honey and tropical fruit on the nose and with flavours grapefruit,
stone fruit, apples, hazelnut and spice – a very complex and satisfying wine.
Marimar Estate “Dobles Lías” 2008 Chardonnay (US$45).
The name means double lees – the wine had extended lees contact in the barrel,
resulting in a toasty and rich texture. The flavours recall honey and marmalade
with subtle oak notes. 90.
Marimar Estate “La Masia”
2007 Pinot Noir (US$39). This is a bright, charming
Pinot Noir, loaded, as the winery’s own notes say, “with black cherry
flavours.” I also found raspberry and mocha. 90.
Marimar Estate “Mas
Cavalls” 2007 Pinot Noir (US$44). Mas Cavalls is
Catalan for horse farm because the winery also has an equestrian centre near
the vineyard. This is a stunning Pinot Noir, with rich layers of flavour –
black cherry, wild strawberry, spice, even earth notes. It is what the critics
would call “barnyard” and that is positive. 92.
Marimar Estate “Cristina”
2007 Pinot Noir (US$49). This wine is a special
selection of 20 barrels that the winery believes shows the best of the terroir
of the Don Miguel Vineyard. It is rich on the palate, with black cherry, plums
and blackberry flavours. The texture is classically seductive. 93.