Bodegas familiares de Rioja has spent more than three decades trying to escape the long shadow of Rioja wine success. And trying to show that the best known Spanish wine region is simultaneously the most unknown
They arrived in Madrid and put on the beret. And they brought hundreds of bottles literally through the Real Madrid Champions League celebration. Last Monday, Bodegas Familiares de Rioja gave us a wine tour through valleys and rivers. Through all the diversity and know-how of several generations of winegrowers.
This association was created to fight for the interests of the small wineries that belong to the DOP Rioja. Ana Jiménez, the director stated that: “We have 65 associated wineries, but to give you an idea, the family wineries represent 218 of the 410 wineries from Rioja. We are large in number, but we only represent an 8% of the Council table. Our goal needs to be to increase value and quality, not volume”.
I had the opportunity to chat directly with the producers, who always give you a very intense emotional connection with their wines. I was able to taste 90 references divided into 15 thematic tours too. “We have divided not following traditional or administrative boundaries. Wines don’t know about that, they know about soils and climates. A Grenache from the Sierra de Yerga is not the same as one from the Najerilla Valley. This diversity is what we have to protect,” adds Jiménez.
Wines don’t know about administrative borders. they know about rivers, soils and climates.Ana Jiménez
In addition to an authentic festival of Garnachas, for which small producers have had to fight for years, there was also room for minority varieties rescued from oblivion, such as Mazuelo and Maturana.
This combination of tradition and innovation comes from the vision of the new generations, who are highly educated and who have lived in other countries and worked in other wineries. They return home with a much broader and clearer vision of what they want to do. This is confirmed by Isabel, from Bodegas Abeica, the proud aunt of the youngest enologists in the room, Ricardo and David. “They decided that it was a shame not to make a 100% Mazuelo wine instead of blending it with other grapes, and they dived deep. Today this wine is one of the few of its kind in Rioja.”
The years of the pandemic have been a tough test. But they haven made an even a stronger comeback. Anyway, they continue to face challenges such as the Spanish custom of drinking by brand, without giving much thought to the personality and quality of the wine. They have to also compete with large and more powerful wineries in the restaurant industry. However, the most important market for Bodegas Familiares de Rioja continues to be the international one. “People from other countries are very clear about what they want to drink and about how much they are willing to pay for it.”
The battle to put in valuable quality, and unique wine in Spain is going slower than producers would love. But baby steps are being made. There is a lot of hope placed on younger people, who need to receive a less academic but still respectful messages, so they can discover the world of wine in a natural way and on their own.
But the key is to have a clear idea of what you want to share about your wines: tradition, diversity, emotion, creativity. And in Bodegas Familiares de Rioja they have it very clear.