Txakoli: Wine of the Basques

May 6, 2013

With a coastal breeze from the sea and humid air year- round, the climate surrounding the small fishing village of Getaria allows for a different kind of wine to ferment. Sitting on the slopes, the region’s wineries are shielded from the harsh Atlantic weather. Joseba Laxkauo, a fourth generation winemaker, said 24 wineries utilize rows of white Hondarribi Zuria grapes, sunshine and calgary soil to produce txakoli, a slightly sparkling, dry white wine.

“The soil is different than in other parts of Spain,” Laxkauo said. “We are on the coast with a breeze from the sea and that really makes the wine different—it’s salty.”

Each year, Laxkauo sells 300,000 bottles of his two txakoli wines – Gaintza and Aitako – to clients from Basque Country and exports a small percentage to Germany, Poland and New York City. But despite its 400-year history, Laxkauo said txakoli wine hasn’t always been desirable.

“In the old times, it was a really bad quality wine; nobody wanted to drink it,” Laxkauo said. “People used to get really strong headaches.”

Several factors such as land quality and the vines’ orientation to the sun affect the quality of wine. Laxkauo said txakoli produced today is similar in comparison with wines sold by his ancestors, but the taste is different from the wine made 25 years ago.

“We want to keep the authenticity of the wine,” Laxkauo said. “Old customers want the same taste.”

Rather than let the wine ferment in large oak barrels like his ancestors, Laxkauo stores his wine in stainless steel vats. With increased demand and a higher quality product, Laxkauo feels the taste is improving.

“It’s cleaner,” Laxkauo said. “It [stainless steel] doesn’t bring anything to the wine. It’s fruity now. If we still used wood (oak), it would be completely different.”

However, while he is making small adaptations to continue to improve taste and increase sales, Laxkauo said he is not forgetting the txakoli his grandfather made. After all, “Aitako” means “father” in the Basque language and an image of his great grandfather, Joxe Laxkauo, is printed on every bottle. After four generations, he said it’s important to keep the tradition.