Vintae: the Spanish wine industry is too boring

The Spanish wine industry is too boring and must work harder to promote the diverse potential of its wines, one of the region’s pioneering producers has said.

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Ricardo and José Miguel Arambarri

Spanish wine company Vintae is looking to shake up the country’s industry by showcasing the diversity they believe will confirm its reputation as a leading premium producer over the next two decades.

Beginning as a modest family winery in Rioja, Vintae has over the past decade evolved into one of the most dynamic multi-region producers in Spain under the guidance of brothers Ricardo and José Miguel Arambarri.

The company now produces 12 wine ranges from across Spain and owns three wineries, working with 40-plus growers across the country as it seeks to showcase the diversity of Spanish terroirs and wine styles.

Vintae is becoming increasingly well known for its innovative presentation, with striking label designs, high social media engagement, dynamic marketing and modern design-focused company branding.

Vintae general manager Ricardo Arambarri told db that this was in contrast to much of the Spanish wine industry’.

“Sometimes the wine business is too boring,” he said, “so we try to be able to tell the stories, to communicate through our labels, through social media… And we have always been very fair in terms of price.”

“We didn’t want to be just one more Rioja winery, we wanted to be different. That is when Vintae was born,” he said.

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“[When we started], I was terrified of just having to deal with the classic wine consumers from Spain, that love the Rioja Reservas and the traditional brands so we really wanted to attract other people.

“We wanted to make exciting wines for a broader audience. Our philosophy is that Vintae is a new way of seeing the wine industry. Our aim is to do exciting projects, in some unknown regions, with unknown grape varieties, making authentic wines from all over Spain.

“We’ve always been very focused on the more open-minded consumers. Our aim is to try to attract new consumers to the wine world, to offer exciting things for these people who are open-minded to this, and for that reason we have already been very dynamic with our label, our marketing our approach to the consumer.”

Beyond bulk

While Spain has the biggest area of land under vine of any country in the world and is the world’s third-biggest producer, according to OIV data, much of the grapes grown go into the production of bulk wine. This, however, is changing, Arambarri said.

“I think in the next 20 years the Spanish wine industry is going to arrive to where it should be.

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Vintae’s Olvidada de Aragon Garnacha

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Vintae’s Matsu range of Toro wines has become known for its striking labels

“It’s the country with the biggest number of hectares [under vine] in the world but a lot of wine is being sold in bulk. But there are great vineyards which are going to make this mass of wine that is just going to bulk that could be bottled and making great wines.

“Now a new generation is coming to the wine business in Spain and I think that in 20 years’ time that everyone is going to have a clear idea that Spain is really diverse – there are many, many regions, there are lots of autochthonous grapes and a lot of diversity, and I think that a lot of exciting producers are going to be all over. We wanted to be a reference in that world – that was our thinking when we started.”

The family business

The Arambarri family has kept vineyards, and made wine, in Rioja Alta for generations. Ricardo Arambarri’s great grand-father was a full-time grower and winemaker, his grandfather was a part-time winemaker and carpenter. His father, José Miguel, kept the vineyard but initially didn’t make wine.

Then, in 1999, his father decided to move into the wine business. The family made wines exclusively from Rioja, and only reds. In 2006-7, Ricardo and José Miguel junior joined the business – Ricardo as general manager and José Miguel as marketing/creative director.

That, it seems, was when the business began to transform into the dynamic, multifaceted entity it is today. Today Vintae owns three wineries and works with six different winemakers, making a dizzying array of wines from all over Spain.

The aim common to all of them, said Arambarri, is always to produce fresh, low intervention wines that are accessible to the average wine drinker and the enthusiast alike.

In 2003 Vintae launched the Hacienda Lopez de Haro range (Wines from Spain’s best value Spanish wine of 2016). Two years later they began looking beyond the Rioja region for stimulus, moving into Ribera del Duero, Navarra and Ribera del Queiles.

The team has an adventurous, even picaresque, streak about them – they are passionate about old vines and working with varieties that were at one time on the point of vanishing, such as the Moscatel de Grano Menudo (aka Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains), which in the 1980s almost disappeared from Rioja.

In addition to their Lopez de Haro Riojas, they produce wines from, among other regions, Toro, Rueda, Cava, Bierzo, Valdeorras; they make the Garnacha-dominant Camino Real range in Rioja, cool-climate whites from indigenous varieties, old vine reds from Ribera del Duero, natural wines from Navarra – they even make a Riojan Garnacha icewine.

“Right now it’s been almost 10 years since we joined the company, my brother and me. Now we are maturing a little bit, and we are starting to do also some iconic wines, with small production and top, top quality.”

Common to all these wines, wherever they are made, says Ricardo, is the goal of elegance – lower alcohol levels, refreshing acidity, favouring wild ferments, not too much oak, more of a terroir focus. All Vintae-owned vineyards are organic and all growers the company uses are moving towards organic growing.

‘We are Garnachistas’

Another distinctive element of the Vintae profile is the team’s passion for Garnacha – “We are Garnachistas,” Arambarri explained.

Vintae chief winemaker and Garnachista Raul Acha

Vintae chief winemaker and Garnachista Raul Acha

In 2011, through its imaginative Proyecto Garnachas de Espana, the company set itself the task of creating a collection of Garnachas expressing the different terroirs of the Ebro valley. It is into this range that the icewine, from Cardenas Valley, falls.

Three principal Garnacha wines in the current range come from Aragon, Priorat and Salvaje del Moncajo, respectively. In addition, there is a top-end Garnacha from grapes grown in winemaker Raul Acha’s 100-year-old family vineyard in Cardenas. This wine is aged for 30 months in oak before release.

Vintae’s first natural Garnacha, from its Aroa winery in Navarra (the northernmost winery in the DO in which red grapes can grow), was also released in 2014.

Both Ricardo and chief winemaker Raul (also a shareholder in the company) come from villages in which Garnacha is the most commonly planted grape. These villages also have an unusually high percentage of vines over 80 years old – around 15%, compared with the Rioja average of around 2%, Acha said, explaining that Vintae has set itself the task of revealing to the world the potential of these sites, which exist across Spain.

‘Inferiority complex’

“Spain has an inferiority complex,” Arambarri added. “When I was raised, on the TV, we were always seeing Italian design, German technology, English technology or engineering –many things like this. In the 80s and 90s arrived Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah, so all the wineries were turning to these what they called variedades mejorantes (‘improvements grapes varieties’), so it seemed that the future was Merlot, Cabernet…

He explained that during this era most Garnacha vines planted were high-yielding clones producing pale reds, or thought good enough only for rosada wines. Garnacha also carried a reputation for being oxidative, with low acidity and an uninteresting organoleptic profile. This led to many Garnacha vineyards being grubbed up.

“We needed someone from outside to tell us what was good from us,” Arambarri said. “International critics started to say very good words about Garnacha, so then we saw the opportunity to say, okay we want to be proud of Garnacha.

“Our aim was to make a collection to show how versatile and how diverse is the Garnacha from different terroirs. We don’t get bored.”

One Response to “Vintae: the Spanish wine industry is too boring”

  1. Congrats to DB for these great article. These group of people is doing a true revolution in the Spanish wine industry being the piooners with innovative packings and new label concepts in a bottle of wine never seen before in Spain. They are a model to follow not only as a wine company, also as they are doing the things caring terroirs, growers, clients and suppliers.

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