Oller del Mas: Distinctive wines at a great price

Every wine has a story behind it, and some wine stories are better than others.

The story behind the Spanish winery Oller del Mas is not only very good, it’s also very old, and now it has a personal link to the Cayman Islands.

The winery is in Catalonia, in the outskirts of Manresa, a city about 40 miles northwest of Barcelona. The climate is heavily influenced by Montserrat, a long, jagged multi-peaked mountain just to the south.

The growing area received the “Denominación de Origen” – or Designation of Origin – status only in 1995 under the name Pla de Bages, but wine has been produced in the region for more than a millennium.

At the center of the Oller del Mas property is a medieval castle that dates back to the 10th century and has been owned by the same family for 36 generations. The current owner, Frank Margenat, said the history of wine on the estate is just as long.

“All my ancestors made wine on the property,” he said, noting that they also made pottery – “oller” is the Catalan word for the occupation of potter.

The 600-hectare property only has about 45 hectares planted with grape vines. In addition, wheat, olives and walnuts are grown on the property, portions of which are densely forested. While most of the vineyards are close to the winery, some are tucked in forest clearings, something not very common in the wine industry.

Although Margenat was always the heir to the property, it wasn’t until his father died 12 years ago that he seriously entered the wine business. Historically, the wines produced at the estate weren’t of high quality and most of the grapes were sold to other producers. When Margenat took over the winery operations, he decided to concentrate on making quality wines, and these days Oller del Mas is recognized as one of the top 10 producers of still wines in Catalonia.

After a decade of working tirelessly and hiring the right staff to fulfill his goal of producing quality wines at Oller del Mas, Margenat, his wife Berta and three sons decided to take an extended break. They wanted to go to a tropical destination, Margenat said, somewhere that was safe, a place with good schools where English was spoken so that his children could learn the language, and somewhere that was within a day’s trip of Spain so that he could return quickly if a situation at the winery arose.

He preferred a place with mountains, but his wife wanted a place where she could safely walk the beach. Berta got what she wanted and they came to Grand Cayman between April and August of this year.

Although it was technically a break that allowed him to spend quality time with his family, Margenat kept in constant contact with the winery, dealing with issues as they came up.

He also spent some time presenting his wines to various distributors on Grand Cayman to see if there was any interest in carrying them. Before he left, he found one – Cayman’s boutique wine merchant, Vino Veritas.

Grapes and winemaking 

Several of the grapes grown in the Oller del Mas vineyards are varieties most people recognize – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah – while some are indigenous regional varieties that only true wine geeks know – varieties like Macabeu and White Picapoll. Then there is a variety few people know exist – Black Picapoll. Margenat himself didn’t know it existed until he found some old vines of the grape in a forested part of the Oller de Mas property and had them analyzed. The egg-shaped grapes have thin skins, making it hard to extract color from them. When used to make a single varietal red wine, Black Picapoll produces an incredibly fragrant but light-bodied and light-colored wine with unique, candy-like berry flavors.

“It is something really special,” Margenat says of the wine.

Because of the limited quality of Black Picapoll grapes grown, Oller del Mas only produces about 1,200 bottles of the single varietal wine using the grape. The rest of the harvest yield is used for blending with the winery’s other wines red wines, giving them all unique characteristics.

The other wine production variable that makes the wines of Oller del Mas stand apart from other wines is the use of different strains of yeast found in the soils of the estate and then reproduced in sufficient quality for wine making.

“It’s a very complicated process of determining the best yeast for the particular grape,” Margenat said, noting that since Oller del Mas uses only certified organically grown grapes from its own estate property to produce its wines, using yeasts from same property as well adds to the sense of terroir in the wines.

The end result in the wines, however, is worth the trouble, he said, noting that one of the reasons a lot of wines made today end up all tasting very similar is that almost all wineries use one of the same small number of commercial wine yeasts available.

“There are a lot of yeasts that just aren’t interesting in taste,” he said.


Oller del Mas produces nine different wines and four of them are now available on Grand Cayman through Vino Veritas.

Petit Bernat Blanc 2014 ($16 per bottle) is a 50-50 blend of White Picapoll and Macabeu, It’s a fruity and fresh wine that shows notes of green apple and eucalyptus on the palate.

“It’s very feminine and easy to drink,” Margenat said of the wine. It’s also only 12 percent alcohol by volume, making it a great lunch wine.

Petit Bernat Rouge 2014 (also $16 per bottle) is Oller del Mas’s entry-level red wine that is a blend of five grapes: 35 percent Syrah, 25 percent Cabernet Franc, 20 percent Merlot, 15 percent Black Picapoll and 5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine is aged in a combination of new and used oak barrels, some with a high toast, for three months to help balance out the fruit. The Syrah gives the wine spicy notes, while the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon combine to give it earthy flavors like graphite.

“It’s a wine to share,” said Margenat. “It’s not expensive.”

At little higher priced at $25 a bottle is Bernat Oller, which is primarily made with Merlot, with some Black Picapoll added. This is a well-balanced wine that is spicy and fresh, with an appealing finish.

The other Oller del Mas wine carried by Vino Veritas is Arnau Oller “Family Selection”, a blend of Merlot and Black Picapoll. This is an elegant and structured wine with concentrated flavors that drinks very much like a good Right Bank Bordeaux wine, but with a price tag of only $35 per bottle. This wine, however, like all of Oller del Mas’s wines, is meant to be drunk now.

“I don’t think its logical to give people who spent money the responsibility to keep wine [in storage to age] when they don’t have the best conditions to keep them,” Margenat said.

Oller de Mas 1
The Oller del Mas wine estate in Manresa, Spain, with Montserrat in the background. – Photos: Alan Markoff