Fernando Remírez de Ganuza, a Rioja innovator

From the air, Rioja is an extremely complex checkerboard of small vineyards. The 64.000 hectares protected by the Denominación de Origen Calificada Rioja are divided into about 120,000 individual vineyards farmed by 19,000 growers.  A farmer’s holdings are often separated by hundreds of yards, making efficient vineyard management difficult.

The agricultural departments of La Rioja, Álava and Navarra are conscious of this problem and have promoted the idea of vineyard concentration.  This means throwing the current vineyard property division in villages out the window and making a new one so that all individual farmer’s lands in a specific village are contiguous.

You can imagine that concentration is an extremely complex process, because farmers are usually reticent about giving up a plot they know well to taking ownership of another plot, even if it’s next to one they already own. Farmers fight tooth and nail about this and I’ve heard that the process often takes ten years or more.

Fernando Remírez de Ganuza got his start in the wine business by buying, consolidating and selling vineyards. This intimate knowledge of Rioja vineyards was a great help to Ramírez when he began to make wine in Samaniego, in Rioja Alavesa in 1989.

Fernando Remírez has made a name for himself in Rioja not only for the excellent reputation his wines have earned in a short time but also  because of the innovative winemaking processes he has pioneered.  The first of these is recognizing that there is a difference in structure between the grapes in the ‘shoulders’ of each bunch and those in the ‘tips’.  To picture this, imagine a grape cluster as an upside-down isoceles triangle.  At Remírez de Ganuza, the ‘shoulders’, rich in pigmentation, are used to make reservas and are consequently destemmed before fermentation.  The ‘tips’, with less color, are used to make carbonic maceration reds and are not destemmed. The separation process takes place on the sorting table.

A second important process is using the skins of the white grapes to ‘fix’ the color of reserva wines during fermentation. In Rioja, it’s legal to blend red and white grapes (not red and white wine, however) and traditionally, winemakers have added some viura to tempranillo before fermentation to increase the acidity of the finished wine.  The idea of adding the skins of white grapes to a fermenting tank of red grapes was new to me, however.  It works, too, as all the Remírez de Ganuza wines show a lively, zingy acidity that is a hallmark of good Rioja.

For Trasnocho, the top of his range, Remírez uses a heavy plastic bag that is inserted into the fermentation tank.  This bag is then filled with water to displace the air in the tank, gently crushing the grapes underneath and preventing the oxidation of the tannins. 

We tasted the Remírez de Ganuza range at a recent winemaker’s dinner in Logroño. 

Fernando commented first that all the wines were made from grapes from the same vineyard in Samaniego.  This was surprising because we expected the different wines to come from different vineyards.

Erre Punto white 2009.  70% viura, 30% malvasía.

Pale yellow.  Floral and citrusy on the nose. Well balanced fruit with a medium mouthfeel and long aftertaste.  Fernando Remírez commented that the structure of the wine comes from macerating the skins in the juice for a short time before fermentation.

Erre Punto red 2010. Carbonic maceration.  90% tempranillo, 5% graciano, 5% viura and malvasía.

Intense ruby.  The nose reminded me of spicy chewing gum (Dentine).  Floral, firm structure on the palate, with good acidity considering that it was a carbonic maceration wine.

Remírez de Ganuza reserva 2005. 90% tempranillo, 10% graciano.

Black cherry.  Toasty, dark fruit and cocoa.  High acidity, ripe fruit and tannins.  A little closed. Ready to drink now but can be cellared. After five minutes the wine opened up, with an aroma reminiscent of cranberries.

Trasnocho 2006.  90% tempranillo, 5% graciano, 5% viura and malvasía (skin only).

Very intense black cherry.  Closed nose but after swirling the wine in the glass it opened up to reveal somewhat acidic fruit, reminding me again of cranberries.  On the palate, ripe tannins, and crisp acidity, typical of a good Rioja.

Ever the innovator, Fernando Remírez told us that he is going to experiment with the new white varieties recently approved by the Rioja Regulatory Council, although he is a firm believer in the renaissance of traditional white Rioja varieties.

 Bodegas Remírez de Ganuza, 01307 Samaniego (Álava), www.remirezdeganuza.com

Photo credit:  lomejordelvinoderioja.com