I have met a kindred spirit. We have similar interests in art, food and wine. She loves London. I love London. Yet, in her nine years in St. John's our paths only just intersected. A mutual acquaintance introduced us, and that's when I learned of her professional interest in wine.
Through her St. John's trading company, Pesantez and Segovia, Jennifer Murray Segovia imports low-yield "boutique" wines from Spain, Italy and Portugal. In fact, I was already familiar with one of the wines she represents. I have tasted and enjoyed Encomienda Templaria, a Spanish red with enough strength and character to match the grilled striploin I often enjoy. I must also add that it fits nicely within my budget at $21 per bottle.
It was early morning. We were meeting in the beautiful Pesantez and Segovia suite of offices located in Caledonia Place (the former St. Joseph's Church) on Quidi Vidi Road. At first I thought I was entering the offices of a Bay Street brokerage firm. It had a comparable look of wealth and success. The spacious outer office featured a modern glass wraparound reception desk. On the wall behind the desk was a large sign of smoked glass with the words Pesantez and Segovia emblazoned in metallic lettering. Suspended from the ceiling on cables were four small halogen lamps, hanging exactly over the spot where the St. Joseph's alter had been. Murray Segovia told me she felt it was important to mark the spot in some way.
Extraordinary art could be seen in every room, from a colourful triptych by Elena Popova to exquisitely carved wood sculptures, as well as a maquette of the famous sculpture by Luben Boykov called Embrace, memorialising 9/11. As I was touring her offices and soaking up the art, Murray Segovia said something that made me think.
"I only buy art if I know the artists personally. I need to know what motivates them, and, I need to hear it directly from them."
Those words made me wonder aloud if she had the same policy toward Pesantez and Segovia's selection of wines.
"Exactly! I have visited the vineyards and wine makers of every single wine that we represent. It's important that I see the soil, take in the landscape, appreciate the weather and get to know and feel respect for the winemakers."
We settled into our seats at the long boardroom table in the Pesantez and Segovia tasting room. The space, with light hardwood flooring, was large enough to accommodate about 20 people comfortably. Sideboards and shelving proffered bottles of wine, wine glasses, decanters and stainless steel spittoons. Before long, we were discussing the various twists and turns Murray Segovia's life had taken to bring her to Newfoundland almost a decade ago.
Murray Segovia was born in Ecuador with strong family ties to Spain. She remembers developing an appreciation for wine at a very young age. Her Spanish grandmother would allow her to drink small amounts of Spain's classic wine, Rioja. Consuming the old style wine with meals of chicken, pork and beef became as natural as breathing to Murray Segovia.
She married at a young age. The newlyweds travelled and lived around the world for several years. Her husband worked in the oil industry. That led to time in South America, Africa, the Far East and Europe. A favourite stop was London where they lived before coming to Newfoundland. Murray Segovia has fond memories of dining regularly at the cafes of Covent Garden.
Eventually, her husband's career brought them to Newfoundland where he worked on the White Rose oil project. It was their first time living in North America. Unfortunately, divorce followed, and when her husband left the province, Murray Segovia stayed. After a period of adjustment, she began to explore the idea of starting her own business. Initially she considered opening an art gallery featuring the work of international artists she'd met. Ultimately, she used her European contacts to help launch the trading company.
Pesantez and Segovia's main business these days is the importation of specific wines (through the NLC) and the promotion of those wines through wine tastings, food and wine shows, wine tours and wine education. Understandably, Murray Segovia is partial to Spanish wines. She describes them as having more range than most people think. Generally, however, she agrees with the stereotype that Spanish wine is bold, earthy and robust.
Murray Segovia's enthusiasm for wine is infectious. Her eyes lit when she told me about albarino, a white wine produced in the denominacion de origen known as Rias Baixas. According to Murray Segovia, albarino's light, fresh taste makes it the perfect accompaniment for seafood. She went on to describe a simple dish of shrimp, olive oil and garlic that pairs well with the Spanish white.
Despite the morning hour I accepted a taste of another superb white wine. Murray Segovia was eager to talk about her prosecco products. Prosecco is the name of the grape and often the wine. It comes from a place in northeastern Italy called Valdobbiadene Veneto. They have prosecco festivals there each year. True to her policy, Murray Segovia travelled to the area and met with wine maker Roberto Covre of Canevel Spumanti, one of the finest prosecco wineries. His 2006 Canevel extra dry prosecco is one of the most enjoyable sparkling wines I've tasted.
Ribera del Duero
When time came to discuss red wines, it was back to Spain and the denominacion de origen called Ribera del Duero. Murray Segovia described the region as having weather (influenced by the Duero river) that you can taste in the wine. The robust, sunshine fruity wine can be drunk now or in a few years time. Ribera del Duero is a relatively new area for wine but is rapidly gaining a reputation for excellent products. One of them is a crianza or moderately mature wine from Vina Vilano made from 100 per cent tempranillo grapes. It has the gorgeous aroma of cherries, fragrant flowers and vanilla.
This August, Murray Segovia will be travelling back to Europe to continue her search for wines that meet Pesantez and Segovia's standards of quality. Portugal is next on her list. Knowing there's more to Portuguese wines than what we see here, she has already made inroads with a few talented Portuguese winemakers. She expects to show a couple of very impressive wines from Portugal at this year's Winefest. I for one will be eager to see what this fascinating lover of art, food and wine brings back from her summer expedition to the vineyards of the Old World.