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Ganuza is an example of someone who has managed to assemble small contiguous parcels into sizeable vineyards, as exemplified by his eponymous vineyard. A few other wineries—e.g., Lan, Contino, Valpiedra—also have vineyards of significant size. But for most wineries assembling small properties or directly managing widely dispersed small properties is too difficult or costly. Hence, they continue the tradition of purchasing grapes from numerous small vineyards, often under informal, long-term contracts that give them a high degree of quality control over the vineyard. Either that or, as in the case of Baron de Ley, they have planted new vineyards in areas [mainly Rioja Baja] where larger plots of land are still available.

The age-old practice of purchasing and sourcing grapes from numerous vineyards may be managerially

difficult, but it

does

not

preclude

the

production

of

high

quality wine. Artadi, for example, uses twenty- one different vineyards for its grapes, which are vinified separately and blended prior to bottling.

Photo: Miguel Reinares

Old Vines and New Plantings. Producers of top quality wines seek out old, bush vines of Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Graciano. These old, low-yielding vineyards are small,

scarce, and widely produced at Finca produced from such

dispersed throughout Rioja. Wines Allende, Sierra Cantabria, Artadi are vineyards, and the top cuvees of other

wineries,

such

their fruit

from

as Aro at Muga and these old vineyards.

Culmen

at

Lan

source

New Plantings. Top quality producers tend to avoid the commercially available clones of Tempranillo, many of which prioritize productivity over quality, and instead plant new vineyards with selected cuttings from old vineyards, a practice labeled massal. Roda has taken this practice one step further and systematically identified the different types of Tempranillo [about 550 in number], selected the most healthy ones not subject to common viruses [about 225], and from planting of those types found fourteen biotypes, or clones, that yield the best quality grapes. Cuttings from these successful clones are now being sold commercially.

EU and DOCa Regulations

Since 1978, the European Union has attempted to regulate the price and production of wine by prohibiting additional plantings. This resulted in a system of planting rights for each country which has translated into a price for planting rights. This means that someone wishing to plant a new vineyard in Ribera del Duero, for example, can purchase that right from an existing vineyard in, say, Jumilla which then has to tear out its vineyard. Currently, the price of this right in Spain is about 6 thousand Euros per hectare. However,

7

in Rioja the price is about six times that amount because the Rioja DOCa does not allow planting rights to be transferred from another region to Rioja. In effect, Rioja has imposed its own region specific limit on vineyards. This serves to limit production, raise the price of grapes, and also raise the price of Rioja wine. The EU prohibition on plantings was scheduled to expire in 2013, to be replaced by financial incentives to vineyard owners to rip out vines. However, on April 29, 2008, a new EU regulation was issued extending

the prohibition

to 2018.

Also,

rights, the EU

and Rioja

have

interest

group—existing

vineyard

by establishing planting created a very powerful owners—who would lose

financially from elimination of likely the prohibition on new foreseeable future.

the prohibition. Hence, plantings will remain for

it is the

The DOCa regulates quality by specifying the grape varieties that can be grown and sold using the Rioja name and by controlling production. Production is controlled by mandating a maximum density of vines per hectare, prohibiting irrigation, and restricting total production per hectare to 6,500 kilos per hectare for reds and 9,000 kilos per hectare for whites. The first two regulations are controversial as high density planting is today often seen as a means of stressing the vine and reducing production, not increasing it, and irrigation can help establish young vines and reduce vine mortality and improve quality and yields in times of drought. The DOC applies these regulations with a degree of flexibility, but they remain controversial nonetheless. The restriction on total production is less controversial, as quality wineries already limit their production to significantly less—about 4,000 kilos per hectare—than the regulation specifies.

Vintage Variation

The variable climatic conditions in Rioja, such as the winds from the Atlantic, impact the quality of vintages from year to year, and the Consejo Regulador in the Rioja DOCa like its counterparts throughout Spain, rates vintages annually. While these official ratings are a good guide to the quality of t h e v i n t a g e s , t h e y a r e n o t n e c e s s a r i l y d e fi n i t i v e i n d e t e r m i n i n g the quality of particular wines from that vintage. Even in

off

years,

skilled

winemakers

are

generally

able

to

turn

out

good

wine

thanks

to

their

knowledge

and

experience

in

working

under

adverse

conditions.

Below

are

the

official

ratings for vintages that still have wines on the market. We are especially bullish on the wines from the 2001 vintage as

readers will discover in our tasting notes and ratings.

Rioja Vintage Guide

2006 Very Good 2005 Excellent 2004 Excellent 2003 Good 2002 Good

2001 Excellent 2000 Good 1999 Good 1998 Very Good

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