Young Blood

After almost forty years in the wine business I have to confess that the business side is getting more boring every day – regulation after regulation by the European Union, legal battles with Argentina to defend the name ‘Rioja’, the ongoing disputes between the farmers and the wineries in the Rioja Regulatory Council, the 67 year old president of the Council who doesn’t know when to quit…. I could go on forever.

Fortunately, wine as a beverage continues to fascinate me in spite of the fact that lately my wife and I rarely finish a bottle at a single sitting.  This week I ran into two young people that have renewed my faith in the capacity of the wine business to innovate.

Juan Bautista García (the winemaker) and Ana Fernández (international sales) are young adults who wondered why their friends didn’t drink wine.  Fortunately, Juan Bautista’s parents owned a small Rioja winery and 40 hectares of vineyards so they had something to sink their teeth into.

Things have started out well for Juan Bautista and Ana.  Their wines have won gold medals in international wine tastings and received top scores in the ABC (a Spanish newspaper) Wine Guide which has created tons of interest in the brand.

I tasted the Paco García ‘Seis’ (meaning with six months’ ageing in oak, something they’re not allowed to put on the back label by the Regulatory Council – boring, boring – so they express it as part of the brand) and loved its fresh, grapey aroma and flavor that invites one to keep sipping.  I bought a bottle of their ‘crianza’ and will try it soon, along with their top wine, Beautiful Things, that I wasn’t able to carry home from the wine shop.

The label is a handprint of Juan Bautista’s father Paco, representing his status as the ‘alma pater’ and inspiration for the project. The winery’s motto is ‘vinos que dejan huella’ (‘wines that make an impression’, an allusion to Paco García’s handprint).

On the back label you can read ‘Ad astra, carpe noctem, nessun dorma.’           (Reach for the stars, live the night, let no one sleep.), a philosophical statement that is sure to resonate with young wine drinkers.

I’m sure Juan Bautista and Ana will be very successful as well as have a lot of fun with this new project.  I hope more young winemakers follow their lead.

Rioja: Process or Place?

Telmo Rodríguez

I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but lately I haven’t been reading other wine blogs because I’ve been busy with a project inMoldova and teaching.  But with those projects behind me, I recently dove back into the blogosphere.

One of the most interesting articles I read was on the Dr. Vino blog where Rioja winemaker Telmo Rodríguez from Remelluri spoke out about how people are missing the point when they talk about Rioja ( ).

Telmo thinks that too much emphasis is placed on process and too little on place.  With the crianza/reserva/gran reserva classification, you know how long the wine has been aged in oak and in the bottle but very little or nothing about where the grapes come from.  He believes there ought to be more emphasis on expressing the character of individual vineyards by making site-specific wines.

Rodríguez is doing exactly that with a new project called ‘Las Lindes de Remelluri’ using grapes provided by growers who used to sell to Remelluri to make wines from the villages of San Vicente de la Sonsierra and Labastida.  Only grapes grown on the Remelluri estate will be used for the Remelluri brand.

While I agree that wines from individual vineyards are interesting (and I like the idea that there are more and more of them) Rioja is a lot more than small wineries making wines from small plots like inBurgundy.

Rioja as an appellation of origin needs volume and strong brands to be visible in the marketplace, something that 2000 micro-wineries could never achieve.  The idea that Riojas can be blends of grapes and wine from different corners of the region as well as single estate wines is one of the region’s strengths.

To understand why so much Rioja is blended you have to understand the climate here.  Rioja Baja (the eastern end of the region) is hotter and drier than Rioja Alta or Rioja Alavesa, often producing wines with 14% alcohol and even higher.  In Rioja Alavesa the harvest usually starts at the beginning of September and gradually moves west to the cooler, higher parts of Rioja, where the harvest ends at the end of October.

The problem is that the weather often turns cold and rainy towards the end of October so the grapes harvested there can be bloated and the juice watered down, producing wines with low alcohol.  To compensate for this, many Rioja wineries either own vineyards or buy grapes from Rioja Baja.

In spite of the historical trend that favors blending, some of Rioja’s most famous wineries produce wines from individual vineyards, among which are

  • Viña Tondonia, Viña Bosconia and Viña Gravonia from R. López de Heredia
  • Viña Pomal from Bodegas Bilbaínas
  • Finca Torrea from Marqués de Riscal
  • Contino (a single-estate wine belonging to the CVNE group)
  • Finca Valpiedra
  • Marqués de Murrieta

Getting back to the idea of process, I think that using color coded back labels to distinguish crianzas, reservas and gran reservas is not only consumer friendly, letting you know if the wine is young or aged, but is also a way to reinforce the image of the brand by offering more than one product under the same brand name.