If you saw María José López de Heredia walking across the square in Haro wearing a backpack, you would think she was on her way home from high school. But this bubbly, dynamic woman, a member of the fourth generation of her family’s winery, is a law graduate from the University of Deusto with experience at an international auditing firm and has been the managing director of the familycompany since 1993. She has very clear ideas about the impact of 132 years of history on the company’s philosophy.
María José is proud to say that the script written by her great grandfather in 1877 has been followed by her grandfather, father and her own generation but flatly rejects the idea that R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia is old fashioned. “Each generation has been modern in its own time”. María José proudly cites her great grandfather’s passion for “modernismo”, the cultural movement popular at the end of the 19th century that inspired the original design of the winery. Two of his unfinished projects are a crypt inspired by the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris, and an Arabic castle in the middle of the Tondonia vineyard where bottling was supposed to be done following the ‘château’ concept in Bordeaux. “As a matter of fact, our Tondonia, Bosconia, Gravonia and Cubillo brands are single vineyard wines, but we’d rather promote them as brands than as single vineyards.”
She argues that there have always been fashionable and unfashionable wine styles in Rioja, and the longer a region has existed, the more styles it has produced. In López de Heredia’s case, over 130 years’ experience has proven that consumers want elegant wines that go well with food and don’t tire the palate. When asked about the current trend toward overripe grapes, high alcohol, concentration and new oak, she is adamant. “Wines that are not easy to drink, even though they’re trendy, will never have a strong presence in the marketplace.” She does admit, however that new wineries have to find a niche in the market and the current trend seems to put power over elegance.
How does she account for the incredible longevity of her family’s wines (the current vintages of Viña Tondonia white and red are 1990 and 2000 respectively, and the ‘baby’, Viña Cubillo, is a 2003)? “A very important lesson is to pick the grapes when they’re ripe (not overripe), use mazuelo and graciano for their high acidity and to use oak to stabilize our wines rather than oxidize them.”
What food pairings does María José recommend? Once again she refers to the original script. “My great grandfather made wines to accompany the food enjoyed by consumers in northern Spain. Tondonia white was made to go with turkey, chicken, pork and white meat in general as well as seasoned seafood, while Tondonia red, because of its elegance, was meant to be enjoyed with fish.”
We spoke for over an hour, so more to follow in a future post!