• DIARY OF A VITICULTURIST – 3

    The rain that doesn’t come

    As far as the climate goes, we are still suffering from a big shortage of rainfall, which means our water reserves in the soil are diminishing day by day. Add to this some lower than usual average temperatures in May. These factors mean the plant’s vegetative growth is slower than in other years, marking a total delay in the vine’s phenological development of just over ten days.

     

    The importance of roots

     As good, old Garnacha with a root system which stretches down more than a metre and a half below ground, our Montepedriza plot is bearing up easily in this dry year. But as we tend the vines in these tricky times, our job is to help them get through this dry patch as best they can, and part of that means eliminating any other external vegetation that could compete for scarce water resources.

    Clear the ground….and celebrate! 

    So this month it’s time to work the soil and reach for our grass strimmers again, to help make sure all the available water goes to our Garnacha vines. And we’re getting ourselves ready for the next task…the one planned for 1 June: the summer

  • Wine-growers´s diary

    After an unusually dry autumn and winter, now is the time for traditional preventive treatments in the vineyard.

    Finca Montepedriza valdelacierva viñedo único de rioja

    Parcel name: Montepedriza

    Vines: 86 years old

    Grape variety: Garnacha

    Soil type: Sandy loam with a generous covering of stones

    Training system: Bush vines

    Vine density: 3,000 plants/Ha

    Altitude: 625 metres above sea level

    Parcel size: 0.92 Ha

    April rainfall: Historic average: 44.03 litres/m2; 2021: 5.9 litres/m2

    April temperature: Historic average: 10.15ºC; 2021: 10.5ºC

    April relative humidity: 62%

    The rain that never arrives

    April showers as the saying goes. But so far 2021 has been a dry year, with very low rainfall in winter and spring. In autumn and winter (from the end of leaf fall in 2020), we scarcely had 100 litres of rain, while so far this spring we’ve only seen 18 litres. Despite the dry conditions budbreak has been normal, and here in Montepedriza we’re already seeing shoots of between 5-10cm.

    The battle against powdery mildew

     Alongside our grower José Luis, now is the best time to apply the first sulphur treatment for powdery mildew. It’s very important to time this to coincide with the first shoots appearing, because this is when the fungus, which has spent the winter in a vegetative state as mycelium inside the vine bud, begins to develop and produce conidias which, carried by the wind, can spread the disease to all of the plant.

    Tender loving care

    The Garnacha from the Montepedriza parcel is very special. That’s why we look after it so well at every stage and apply sulphur very carefully using a backpack sprayer. This helps keep the use of heavy machinery in the vineyard to a minimum and avoid compacting the soil. The only vehicle allowed in our Garnacha vineyard is the tractor which we use for tilling the soil, otherwise everything else is done manually. We’re so attached to this great vineyard of ours that wherever we can we like to get personally involved.

  • Wine-grower’s Diary

    In this new series, we’ll show you life in the vineyard month-by-month in one of the viticultural jewels of Rioja Oriental where Garnacha takes on a personality all of its own.

     Bodegas Valdelacierva is the Riojan project of the Hispanobodegas winery group. Although its base is in the heart of the Rioja Alta sub-zone (Navarrete), the passion and non-conformist approach which guides the winery’s technical team took them further a field, and led them to a parcel of very old Garnacha in the village of Tudelilla (photo 3): a jewel in the middle of Rioja Oriental, planted 86 years ago and tended with wisdom and care by the rough, hardened hands of José Luis Sáenz (photo 2), owner of the vineyard. The name itself, Montepedriza, gives us a good idea of the structure of its stony soil (photo 4). An organically poor soil which forces the well-trained roots to dig deep for nourishment and confers on the fruit its unique character.

    fernando ligero Emma Villajos y José Luis de bodegas valdelacierva rioja garnacha tudelilla

    We’ll discover more about the work in the vineyard over the next few months. The privilege of learning firsthand from Fernando Ligero (photo 1), head of viticulture at Hispanobodegas, how a vineyard of these characteristics is farmed, will help us appreciate the true value of the wine it produces. We’ll appreciate the effort needed to tend each vine individually, and transport the essence of its exquisite fruit to the winery. Once there, it’s for Emma Villajos (photo 2), the group’s head winemaker, to capture the spirit of this uniquely suggestive Riojan Garnacha in the final wine.

    We’d encourage you to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to follow the evolution of such a prestigious vineyard. As well as the day-to-day tasks, you’ll see how more unexpected challenges are dealt with through the calm patience of an experienced and confident winegrower.

    _________

    Parcel name: Montepedriza

    Vines: 86 years old

    Grape variety: Garnacha

    Soil type: Sandy loam with a generous covering of stones

    Training system: Bush vines

    Vine density: 3,000 plants/Ha

    Altitude: 625 metres above sea level

    Parcel size: 0.92 Ha

    March rainfall: Historic average: 44.03 litres/m2; 2021: 14 litres/m2

    March temperature: Historic average: 10.15 ºC; 2021: 8.8 ºC

    descripción de la finca montepedriaza rioja tudelilla garnacha valdelacierva

    _________

    February 2021

    On 18 February – accompanied as ever by our dog Luka (photo 5), who loves the countryside at Montepedriza and enjoys running up and down the rows – we pruned the vines. The weather was perfect, with an average temperature around 15ºC and relative humidity of 48%, which helps stave off the much-feared wood diseases caused by various types of fungi. Our approach is to leave one spur per arm and two visible buds. In this way we are able to control the amount of fruit the plant produces and achieve an optimum distribution of clusters, all of which helps the grapes to ripen uniformly.

    _________

    March 2021

    At the end of March, taking advantage of the 10 litres of rain that fell the previous week, we decided to till the soil and add a little organic fertilizer to compensate for the nutrients the plant extracted from the soil in the previous growing season. In this way, we leave the vine prepared and the row grass-free ready for budbreak. Of course, our vines are farmed 100% organically, so when we work the soil we alternate between using the in-row cultivator and cutting back the natural ground cover, depending on the time of year and rainfall. As always happens when we are in Montepedriza, we had to wait for Luka who had gone off on a jaunt into some neighbouring vineyards! Fortunately for us, we had a bottle of our Garnacha to hand…

  • When choosing small means choosing better

    victor de la serna valdelacierva vino rioja el mundo

    More is better. In the world of Spanish gastronomy, this belief has helped generate large quantities – of wine, of olive oil, of ham….- but it’s also to blame for a lot of mediocrity. We’ve discussed the tendency on these pages on several occasions, alongside the countermove away from mass production and towards making less but of higher quality; discarding more industrial processes to focus on the artisanal.

     

    Scarcely a month ago, we reported on the complaint from the small producers’ association, Family Wineries of Rioja (Bodegas Familiares de Rioja), highlighting the fact that that over the last ten years, 53 wineries and almost 3,000 winegrowers (DOCa Rioja) have disappeared, ¨thanks to policies which prioritise quantity over quality, an excessive bureaucracy, and a lack of institutional support for the family business model.¨

     

    It’s true: small businesses don’t get much support, but all over Spain the ones that are surviving – and not just through this year of pandemic, when wine sales in Spain have fallen more than in any other country thanks to such a high reliance on sales to the hospitality sector, which has been closed pretty much everywhere – are doing so precisely because they are focused on quality and authenticity.

     

    Another, perhaps even more challenging path, is that of large winery groups which decide to shrink, or downsize, in order to focus on developing more premium wines – with higher value added – from a single vineyard, or smaller wine-growing area (paraje), or from very old vines and using more natural winemaking methods. A couple of years ago in EL MUNDO we took a closer look at one of these (rare) groups which deliberately sets out to narrow its focus, and we have just tasted their wines again. Theirs is an original and encouraging story which other wineries should take note of.

     

    The group in question is Hispanobodegas, created a few years ago by bringing together the Valdelacierva winery in Rioja, Gormaz from the eastern end of Ribera del Duero around Soria, and Garcigrande from DO Rueda, and the original plan was for fairly large production of a range of mid-priced wines. Not any more, at least not in the first two wineries, although the refining process doesn’t seem to have got underway yet in Rueda.

     

    To give you an idea of scale, between Valdelacierva and Gormaz – the former wine cooperative in the village of San Esteban de Gormaz, privatized in 2004 – the group has more than 400 hectares under vine. Bigger is best, as they like to say around these parts: with that amount of vines planted, at a conservative estimate, if it wanted to the group could produce over 3 million bottles every year across the two regions.

     

    Another important factor in the company’s makeover has been the conscious decision to avoid 1990s, or Parker-style wines which have had so many supporters and practitioners, especially in Ribera del Duero. The reader will know what I am talking about: wines like luxurious soups of oak. Instead, the team have carried out a detailed study of their excellent viticultural heritage to help identify the vines with the best potential for making refined wines packed with personality: through close study of soils and orientation, careful blending of grapes in modestly-sized cuvees or, in some cases, wines made from grapes from a single parcel.

     

    A couple of years ago when we first tasted the wines, there were fewer single plot bottlings but now, with the new Rioja rules in place, the winery has registered ten Single Vineyard wines (Viñedos Singulares, although Hispanobodegas prefers the term únicos, or unique), which they are beginning to sell in unusually limited batches of 1,000, 2,000, or 3,000 bottles.

     

    The Valdelacierva winery, based in Navarrete, has its prize sites in the Sonsierra and Rioja Alavesa but has also added some parcels of old Garnacha vines in Tudelilla. Gormaz, in the highest, coldest, most easterly portion of Ribera, has its key vineyards in and around villages like Atauta, Alcubilla de Avellanada which are beginning to acquire a reputation in wine circles.

     

    Women, who thanks to their recognized sharper sense of taste and smell are playing an increasingly important role in the development of Spain’s vineyards and wineries, play an important role in this company. Two of them, Raquel Ruiz and the enologist Emma Villajos, hosted a tasting in Madrid the other day which showcased a broader range of the group’s wines whilst demonstrating that they have managed to preserve those welcome virtues which we discovered back in 2019: a delicate handling of the grapes (using large wooden vats and barrels), limited extraction, and used French oak to leave a more delicate imprint on the wine.

     

    In the midst of so much negative news in the world of wine – we’ve seen reports of more than one serious situation (France) – this reencounter served as a welcome reminder of what is possible, an example of a Spanish winery consciously tacking back towards quality and terroir in the midst of a pretty rocky domestic wine scene.

     

    From the group’s Riojan winery, I was particularly impressed by the Valdelacierva Grano a Grano, a Tempranillo from the La Botija estate in Baños de Ebro, where the grapes are destemmed individually by hand (hence the grano a grano name) to keep them whole and ensure a perfect intracellular maceration, and the refreshing Valdelacierva Montepedriza, one of the winery’s unique vineyard wines made from 85 year old Garnacha vines planted in Tudelilla. Under its 12 Linajes brand, the Gormaz winery also makes a noteworthy Grano a Grano wine with grapes from the now legendary Valdegatiles paraje in Atauta. We’ll soon also be able to buy the 12 Linajes Senda de la Estación 2019, a new wine with the finesse of a top Burgundy.

     

    For the moment these wines are that well known, but they are well worth seeking out…

     

     

  • The importance of choosing when to prune

    we´re sharpening our shears for one of our most important pruning operations: the old vines in Soria which we use for our top wine, 12 Linajes.

    With the plant in a dormant state, now is when we start our winter pruning which will shape production for the next harvest. This year we´ve enjoyed a fantastic winter from a viticultural perspective, with low temperatures keeping pests and fungi in the vines to a minimum.

    At the pruning stage, we also take into account other factors to ensure an optimum result. Weather, for example – it´s important to avoid pruning when it´s foggy, raining, or on days with high relative humidity. A lot of vine diseases are transmitted via wounds caused during pruning, and days with high relative humidity make it easier for fungi to enter the vine´s woody tissue via these wounds. The position of the vineyard and its orography is also important. The colder areas of the vineyard are normally pruned at the end of the winter in order to delay budbreak and avoid frosts which, as we know well, can have a disproportionate impact on young vines as opposed to old, and can have a greater impact on more early-ripening varieties.

    All this knowledge and vineyard know-how really comes to the fore when you know your vineyard inside out and you look after it with care and dedication. The results are the best grapes which give the best wines, in our case 12 Linajes.

    Cheers!

  • Snow in the vineyard

    This week, Rioja was covered in a blanket of snow, including many vineyards. How does snow help the vines?

    The vegetative state of the plant means the vine´s bark can offer shelter to insects and fungi. The combination of cold and snow helps to eliminate them so that when the plant begins to bud again it´s in a perfect state of health.

    What are the main benefits of these snowfalls?

    Hydrological: snow falls gradually and melts gradually, which means the ground slowly absorbs all the moisture and can use it more effectively;

    Cleansing: snow and ice kills insects and fungi and the plant is cleansed;

    Healing: during the pruning stage, the scarring left on the plant can be an entry point for disease, but low temperatures and snow help to create a layer of scar tissue on the plant which prevents disease getting in.

    So, fingers crossed the old saying comes true: ¨Year of snows, year of plenty.¨

  • Valdelacierva Rosé 2020, the free-run rosé wine from Riojan garnacha

    The youngest, most light-hearted wine from the Valdelacierva winery is now on the market and is one of the best rosé wines from Rioja made exclusively from the garnacha grape. The “El Recuenco” estate in Tudelilla, at 600 metres above sea level, is the home of the garnacha grapes that go to make this rosé from Valdelacierva; a wonderful example of the variety, not just because of the characteristics of the estate, but also the winemaking process itself.

    Valdelacierva Rosé is a free-run rosé wine, with no mechanical pressing in the winery, and made with great attention to detail. From careful selection of the fruit in the vineyard, to smaller details such as the decision to bring forward the harvest in the Tudelilla in order to have greater control over alcoholic strength and ensure a more expressive wine with a firmer floral and fruit profile. For added volume and unctuosity, the wine has also undergone bâtonnage on its lees in the winery twice a week for four months. This process helps to naturally free up the polysaccharides present in the membrane of the yeasts which drive the fermentation process and give the wine an added roundness.

     

    Winery oenologist, Emma Villajos: “The sum of all the various individual actions during the winemaking process is perhaps what makes this rosé so special and successful. The care taken at every stage, and the striving to improve quality with every vintage drives us all forward in a search for excellence in our wines. For us, it´s about winemaking as an art form.¨

    We´ve now enjoyed three vintages of Valdelacierva Rosé, and as well as recognition and prizes, the winery is very proud that it has been chosen by Naomi Campbell´s “Fashion for Relief” NGO as one of the wines to accompany their annual solidarity dinner.

    The Riojan winery´s rosé has a simple but elegant label which highlights, through small detailing, the winery´s characteristic ¨V¨ brand, which represents: Valour, Vineyard and Valdelacierva (in honour of the winery). It is presented in a 75cl burgundy bottle.

  • The unique vineyards of Valdelacierva

    The unique vineyards of Valdelacierva

    Enrique  Calduch, Madrid

    In a few days, the wines from the Unique Vineyards of the Riojan winery Valdelacierva go on the market. They are the result of the zoning process launched by the Regulatory Council of DOCa Rioja a few years ago . This allowed that, in addition to the three historical areas of Rioja Alta, Alavesa and Oriental, wines from individual areas and villages with recognisable and definable characteristics might also be specifically highlighted. At the top of the quality pyramid, the highest level of recognition is enjoyed by the Viñedos Singulares, or Single Vineyard category, usually small plots that, due to their soil conditions, orientation, limited production, old vines, or manual harvesting… are in some way special.

    Many Rioja producers set out to identify these vineyards so that they could certify them with the Regulatory Council and start bottling specific wines from them. In many cases, in a large vineyard it was possible to identify some smaller individual plots that met the required conditions.

    This is the case of Valdelacierva. For many years the winery has been committed to producing premium wines with greater added value, and it was logical that it should figure in the Viñedos Singulares category at the top of the pyramid. In this case through its Viñedos Únicos wines, which include Valdelacierva Monte Pedriza 2019, 100% Garnacha, and Canto Gordo 2018, made with Tempranillo, both of which will reach the market in March. The winery also has two high-end vineyards, although they are not formally included in the Viñedos Singulares category, which produce the Valdelacierva Garnacha 2018, and the Special Edition 2017 which is an equal blend of Maturana, Garnacha and Tempranillo varieties. This wine will be released a little later in the year as the house winemaker, Emma Villajos, wants the wine to spend a couple more months in bottle for a more rounded finish.

    This young woman, an experienced winemaker with a long pedigree, is one of the winery’s strongest assets. Normally the best Rioja vineyards are in the hands of lifelong winegrowers, who earn their living from their vines and are very reluctant to sell them, hence the only solution is to form partnerships. Long-term contracts and paying dearly for the best grapes. Villajos selects the vineyards and special plots she wants to work with, negotiates an agreement, and then makes the wines. A sound and effective approach that has led to her current role as winemaking supervisor for the entire Hispanobodegas group, of which Valdelacierva forms a part, and which includes two other wineries: one, Viñedos y Bodegas Gormaz, at the Sorian end of Ribera del Duero and another,  Garcigrande, in Rueda.

    But Valdelacierva is the group’s flagship project, and it is able to source fruit from several plots in Rioja Alavesa, specifically from San Vicente de la Sonsierra, and also from Tudelilla in Rioja Oriental, where the best Garnachas are to be found. A great example is Valdelacierva Garnacha 2018, a very expressive and intense wine, full of very rich, ripe fruit and accompanied by great minerality on the nose. In the mouth it is rounded and robust, smooth tannins (27 euros). And from a small plot within the estate comes Montepedriza 2019, from vineyards planted 103 years ago. The beautiful violet hues catch the eye when it’s poured, followed by an elegant and subtle nose, but with underlying nerve and punch. On the palate it is powerful, wide and long with an elegant force (65 euros). The Canto Gordo 2018 Tempranillo from Rioja Alavesa impresses on the nose with its extraordinary complexity. Mature fruit, spices like cinnamon, and wonderful cigar box notes; superb in the mouth, balanced, centered and with a lingering long finish. An incredible wine (65 euros). Finally we have the Valdelacierva Limited Edition with the blend  of the three varieties (tempranillo, garnacha y maturana). Heaps of ripe fruit, Mediterranean undergrowth peppered with rockrose and eucalyptus. The mouth is structured and strong, with a very long, chewy finish. (38 euros).

     

     

     

  • The care of the vines

    We want to share a master class by our colleague Fernando on the work he does in our vineyards in order to obtain the maximum quality in them.

    • Balanced winter pruning, leaving 5-6 spurs per vine with two frank canes per spur, which guarantees a balanced production in each vine as well as an optimal distribution of the fruit that favors the separation between the bunches ensuring optimal ripening of the grapes. We carry out this operation late in March to avoid spring frosts as much as possible.
    • Pruning or green pruning allows us to correct winter pruning errors and eliminate “suckers” (buds that do not come out of the spur, come out of the trunk or arms) that compete with our grape producing buds. This way we guarantee a homogeneous maturation of the vines. This operation is carried out in the months of June and July.
    • Basal leaf removal of the vine to present well ventilated bunches with optimal solar lighting. This guarantees more optimal conditions to avoid pests and diseases. Operation that we carry out at the beginning of August.
    • Grape thinning only carried out the necessary years to guarantee a good balance between fruit and vegetation and thus obtain a complete ripening of the grape. This operation would be carried out the second half of August, when the grapes are finishing ripening.

    Mechanical and manual harvest after an exhaustive monitoring of maturation to determine the optimal harvest time.

  • James Suckling has given 93 points to Valdelacierva wine.

    93 puntos valdelacierva reserva por james suckling

    Valdelacierva Reserva, one of the last wines incorporated into the range of wines, has managed to obtain a place on the podium of the best Spanish wines rated by the American wine critic, James Suckling.

    Valdelacierva Reserva has been chosen by one of the most influential critics in the American wine market in his annual tasting of Spanish wines.

    James suckling has given 93 points to Valdelacierva Reserva 2016. This wine adds another award and another example of good wine from Rioja, and it keeps getting awards and good reviews among the experts in the world of wine.

    Another wine from Riojana’s winery that has obtained an excellent score of 91 points is Valdelacierva crianza.

    The excellent work of the enologist Emma Villajos in Valdelacierva winery has only one formula: quality, excellence and teamwork.

  • We are Singular Vineyard

    Valdelacierva Finca Montepedriza (produced with Grenache) and Valdelacierva Finca Cantogordo (produced with Tempranillo)  are going to be the Valdelacierva wines in this category.
    What does it mean to be Singular Vineyard?
    Requirements:
    1. Grapes coming exclusively from a plot or plots that constitute the (Singular vineyard) Viñedo Singular.
    2. Vinification, ageing, storage and bottling within the same winery.
    3. Minor geographical unit that can comprise a single or several cadastral plots.
    4. Minimum age of the vineyard: 35 years.
    5. Evidence, by means of any legally valid title, of having had the exclusive use of the production of the viñedo singular for a minimum period of 10 years without interruption.
    6. Maximum production: 5,000 kg/ha for red varieties and 6,922 kg/ha for white varieties.
    7. Maximum grape-to-wine ratio: 65%.
    8. Specific Grape Grower’s Card.
    Growing practices
    1. The viñedo singular must be balanced and have limited vigour. During the grape ripening stage, canopy growth should cease completely.
      2. Only a single tipping is permitted.
      3. Harvested manually.
    Documentary control
    1. Before the 30th. of June a statement of intention to make a Singular vineyard (Viñedo Singular) wine.
    2. Statement of amount of wine made.
    3. Specific classification
    4. Differentiated wine movement.
    5. Differentiated back label.
    Physical control
    1. Traceability.
    2. Specific production controls in all vineyards from 1 July to harvest, production changes not being allowed later.
    3. Canopy development controls.
    4. Specific wine stocks.
    5. Specific classification on the verification.
    6. Control of wine movements.
    7. Control of labelling and use of back labels.
    8. Control of batches of approved wine. Excellent rating.
    9. Submission of report.
    10. Recognition of the ministry.
    11. Exclusivity.
  • Harvest 2019

    A few weeks ago, Emma Villajos, our Bodegas Valdelacierva winemaker, started at the vineyards, the control of the ripening of the grapes, in view of the coming 2019 harvest. After the recent pictures of the Grenache singular vineyard de Garnacha at Finca Montepedriza state, today we have travelled to Baños de Ebro in order to do an evaluation of the Valdelacierva crianza vineyards.
    The begining of the harvest goes according to plan and it seems quite promising. Extremely balanced with good phenolic maturity due to the balanced load of the bunches. If the weather holds on and there isn’t any last minute scare, it could be a menorable harvest in Rioja.

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