Rioja’s winemakers positive about DOCa’s recognition of terroir

12th June, 2017 by Arabella Mileham

Terroir-focused producers in Rioja have welcomed the new ‘vinedos singulares’ classification that was given the go-ahead by the Consejo Regulador DOCa of Rioja last Wednesday, as a step towards a broader hierarchy.

The creation of regulations for a new ‘vinedos singulares’ (single vineyard) classification by the Consejo Regulador DOCa of Rioja has been designed to allow winemakers to highlight the terroir and origin of their wines, according to the DOCa and came in response to greater market interest for more information on specific plots where the grapes come from.

“This reconciles the interests of winemakers to showcase these wines, which were already available on the market, as well as those of opinion leaders and end consumers who demanded more information on the label itself,” a statement from the DOCa said on Friday.

“The added information, referring directly to the terroir and origins of the wine, will reflect the great diversity offered by Rioja wine today,” it added.

Remelluri’s Telmo Rodriguez previously accused Rioja’ governing body of hindering the region’s winemaking potential

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Outspoken Spanish winemaker Telmo Rodriguez of Remelluri, who has been a leading light of the pro-terroir movement, said it was a positive that the Consejo was recognising both the way that producers wanted to work and the things that consumers were looking for, and it would be interesting to see how the market reacted.

“I think it’s the first time we have an effort to try to classify the quality,” he told the drinks business.

Having told db last year it was “dangerous” to think it helped an appellation to create a brand without creating a hierarchy of vineyards and terroir behind it, Rodriguez this week recognised it was a good step towards creating a hierarchy (including villages and sub-zones) which would be “good for everybody”, even though the DOCa had not committed to the club’s full manifesto.

“It’s a movement that absolutely effects everybody all over the world, there are people doing something different, trying to show their village, if they have an amazing vineyard, they try to put it on the bottle. And this is the most important thing,” he said.

CVNE, which was at the forefront of the single vineyard movement as one of the founding partners of the pioneering Viñedos del Contino in 1973, said it was a necessary step and one that it would help Rioja “for sure”.

“Everything that adds value to the product and Rioja is a positive thing,” export area manager Carlos Delage told dbThere are several wineries in Rioja focusing on quality and forgetting about quantity – focusing on parcel wines with old vines, low yields and they are producing some extraordinary wines, but could not differentiate themselves from the rest. Now the customer is going to be able to understand more about these wines and their price positioning.”

However Conrado Herrero, key accounts manager at Bodegas Ontañón said the move didn’t constitute a major change as there was already some provision for the sub-region in which the vineyard is located to be identified on the label (albeit not on the front label as per wines from Burgundy). “It doesn’t constitute a major change,” he told db.  He admitted however that it was “a good excuse” to improve Rioja’s identity and optimise its vineyard sources and varieties and was an “added value into the quality differentiation”.

“In this way it should be work done together with the identity of Rioja, which is the strongest role that already worked for centuries,” he said, adding that although initiatives like the ‘Manifesto’ created by pro-terroir producers were a positive for improving quality, there are “many more issues to work on apart from the precedent of the grapes”.

Douglas Wregg of specialist merchant Les Caves de Pyrene said the move appeared to be a reactive measure on behalf of the Rioja DOCa, prompted by one of Rioja’s most notable producers, Alava-based Artadi, quitting the organisation last year due to its lack of focus on terroir.

“I am normally a bit suspicious about the motives of regulatory authorities,” he told db. “I would imagine that the proposed requirements for qualification aren’t particularly stringent, so that larger companies can participate.”

Wregg, who was one of the hosts of the first London ‘Viñateros’ terroir-focussed tasting last year, had previously pointed out how far Spain had come in recent years in terms of the quality and diversity of its terroir-focused wines, with more youthful, exuberant, exciting, energetic natural wines coming to the fore.

Today he highlighted that those in the trade were pretty aware of which producers were making and marketing single vineyard wines.

“Often the most innovative, quality-driven producers making the most authentic wines opt out of DO/appellation rather than conform to a “common denominator” approach,” he added.

Battle over Terroir

The debate has raged since the single vineyard Rioja movement started to gain momentum around eight years ago, and has seen a long-running battle over Spanish terroir between The Regulatory Council of the Designated Origin Denomination of Origin (DOCa) and a group of terroir-focused producers.

The winemakers, spearheaded by Rodriguez held a roundtable in November 2015 to debate on the matter, and later formed the ‘Club de Matador Manifesto’, signed by 150 producers, which argued that the appellation system, designed in the 19th century and using barrel ageing as the primary mark of quality, did not take into account soil differentiation and levels of quality.

It called on the DOCa to make “deep changes” to boost Spain’s heritage and prevent it valuing quantity of its wines over quality. It demanded a new “pyramid structure’ with classified wines made anywhere in the region at the base, village or ‘de municipio’ wines a step above, and single-vineyard wines at the top.

However, the DOCa’s vote fell short of addressing the question of a classification for ‘de municipo’ wines – wines from specific villages, which are currently not allowed to appear on the label  – and although the Spanish press reported that this would be addressed “imminently”, the DOCa has not yet responded to db’s enquiry as to when this will go ahead.

Producers had long been hopeful that the DOCa would also soften its stance on ‘de municipio’ wines and in October the Consejo confirmed to Wine-Searcher that it was looking at the proposal in detail amid rumours that the proposed breakaway DO Vineyards of Alava could discard the traditional ageing categories altogether.

3 Responses to “Rioja’s winemakers positive about DOCa’s recognition of terroir”

  1. Alejandro Oliveros says:

    We should welcome the DOCa iniciative and start praying for the absurdities of Burgundy regulations no to be emulated.

  2. Do we really think that adding another classification will help the consumer when choosing its wine? Do we really believe that this additional classification will guarantee the quality of the wine on the eyes of the consumer and help Rioja to repair the damages made to its brand? I dont..

  3. Well done, Andrea for highlighting the need for a system the consumer can understand. Alejandro comments on the absurdities of the Burgundy regulations [would welcome more on that] but what of the modern system of labelling for German wines? I see my customers’ eyes glaze over [and not because of how much they have sampled] at the mere mention of Hochgewaechs and other technical terms. Please, Rioja, keep it clear and make use of maps on the rear label.

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