Rioja rocks

28 June, 2016

Spain’s best known premium wine-producing region has been rocked by a small but influential boutique producer leaving the designation of origin. Christian Davis reports


RIOJA’S POSITION AS Spain’s flagship region is cemented. It represents 35% of Spanish volume and 45% of value. Exports of Rioja were up 38% in the 12 months to April, the same percentage the previous year.

Global Rioja exports were made up of: 46% sin crianza wines, 22.2% crianza, 27.3% reserva and 4.5% gran reserva (Rioja Exports to April 2016). All categories were in growth but crianza and gran reserva showed the highest volume growth in export markets with 2.4% and 5.2% respectively.

The UK is Rioja’s largest export market and 95% of sales are at more than £5, compared to fewer than 50% across the whole Spanish category in the UK (Nielsen MAT to 05.12.15).

So everything should be rosy in the vineyards of Rioja Baja, Alta and Alavesa within the DOCa (Rioja control board – Consejo Regulador Denominación de Origen Calificada Rioja). Sadly, this is not the case.

Earlier this year a highly regarded boutique winery, Bodegas y Viñedos Artadi in Laguardia, part of the Rioja Alavesa sub-region, announced it was leaving the DOCa. In a nutshell, it produces single vineyard wines and does not want to use the all-embracing Rioja designations of Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva. The result: it can no longer use the Rioja appellation on its labels.

Artadi managing director Juan Carlos López de Lacalle is quoted as saying: “This is a war about business models. My goal is to produce small amounts of wine that stand out from the competition.”

Apart from that there appear to be political and economic considerations. Wine Spectator’s report on the bust-up said: “Rioja’s three sub-regions belong to two different national jurisdictions, with Alavesa part of the independent-minded Basque province. In June 2015, 120 bodegas in the Alavesa region requested permission to add this indication to their labels and officials in the Basque government have indicated their support. Arguably, the major obstacle is economic. The largest bodegas have built worldwide brands based on the current system. These wines are generally blends of vineyards from all across Rioja, and the bodegas fear they might lose prestige and market share if the region broke itself into smaller appellations.”


In defence the control board of the DOCa Rioja came out with a strong statement: “First of all, it is regrettable that Artadi has made this decision to the extent that it is unilaterally renouncing to the added value and good will provided by the Designation of Origin, an undeniable value which the winery has participated in throughout its history. Obviously, from now on, its wines will not carry the Rioja name, nor will they be controlled and certified by the control board.

“Aside from what the firm may represent in itself, it is surprising that, after having built up a name thanks to both its own efforts and also undoubtedly to its belonging to Rioja, the same project should suddenly cease to serve its interests. All of this without having ascertained first hand the real motivations that have led to this decision, since the statements made by the firm’s management to both the press and at public forums have never resulted in specific statements identifying the factors that seem to bother them.

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