Galicia is not the Spain of popular conception, and it is a far cry from the image of sun-soaked beaches and paella many have. Cool, rainy, and green; Galicia’s climate influences derive from the Atlantic, not the Mediterranean. In its language, its culture, its geography, and even in the grapes grown here, this is a different side of Spain. Here the language spoken is Gallego, closer to Portuguese than Spanish.
The known history of the region begins with Finis Terrae, which was a pilgrimage route through Galicia following the Milky Way all the way to Fisterra (Finis Terrae), which in Roman times was believed to be the end of the known world; a magical place where the living could get closest to the land of the dead. The Artabri is the first known ancient Gallaecian Celtic tribe that once inhabited the area. They were followed by Phoenicians, Romans, and finally the Christian settlers from France who established the monasteries and religious orders which came to dominate the agricultural and economic landscape of Galicia.
Before the eighteenth century, everything belonged to the monasteries until an extended economic and social process of selling the lands and property of the religious orders to private individuals resulted in the distribution of tiny parcels of land to many owners. This process is significant, as it explains the current landscape where the average vineyard in the region is 0.4 hectare. After the Phylloxera epidemic, hybrid and high yielding grapes such as palomino were planted for weight. It wasn’t until the late 1970s and 1980s that the first generation of quality growers began replanting with indigenous grapes like albariño, loureiro, godello, treixadura, caiño tinto, espadeiro, loureiro tinto, and sousón, reclaiming the identity of the region.
In the seventeenth century, the practice of distilling wine pomace into spirits was carried to Galicia by monks along the pilgrimage route of the Camino de Santiago. The people of Galicia took to the practice of making pomace brandy, called orujo in Spain, and integrated it into their culture. Flavored orujos are also common in Galicia: Hierbas de Galicia feature a maceration of traditional herbs and are produced in dry or sweetened variants. The common regional practice of adding a splash of orujo to coffee inspired the creation of Licor de Café de Galicia, a coffee-infused orujo. The production and classification of all of these styles are overseen by the Orujo de Galicia Indicación Xeográfica denomination. The denomination requires the base alcohol to come from wine or pomace of the Galician denomination of origins of Rías Baixas, Ribeira Sacra, Ribeiro, Valdeorras, or Monterrei. Only small-scale, traditional distillation processes are allowed, and all orujos must undergo qualitative testing by the denomination.