The SOMM Journal

December 2014/January 2015

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{ }  1 15 starting the trend, its graceful undulating roofline mirrors the Cantabria mountains against which it's set and makes a state- ment of being about both Rioja and something otherworldly (indeed, the soaring in terior offers projections into the sky). A graduate of the University of Montpellier, Winemaker Luis Zudaire worked in France and South America before returning to Rioja with renewed vision. His wine now spends less time in the barrel, "adapting to the new integrity" that is Rioja. Where Ysios dazzles above the ground, its sister winery, Campo Viejo, is equally impressive underground. Founded in 1959, it has been modified in three phases over the years; the most recent update in 2001 created a gravity-fed cellar, designed under the direction of Chief Winemaker Elena Adell. She says its re-imagined three pillars also represent Rioja: winemaking, architecture and sustainability. A mezzanine overlooks the spotless tank room, a landscape of shining stainless steel as far as the eye can see (the massive winery contributes ten percent of Rioja's production, with Tempranillo as its flagship grape). But Adell, who has also changed over the years—tossing over a halo of soft blonde curls for a four-colored bob—has built a mini-lab within where she's been experimenting with nine new estate-grown grapes. Last year she installed 43 custom-made tanks looking like a small army of R2-D2s, in which she's fermenting Chardonnay, Verdejo, Tempranillo Blanco and Torrontés and Montaria Tinto, the latter a Portuguese red variety. "Rioja has always been known for red, but is it now gaining ground in whites," she says. Though Tempranillo is still the most important grape here, Adell sees a day where it will share the stage with others as winemakers redefine the region. "I think Rioja will stay diverse because it can keep tradition and innovate, but the beauty of Rioja is you can have a variety of wines and you can always tell it is a Rioja." Adell uses her barrel program as a means of moving the needle. "Where we have the most leeway for experimenting and defining is in the fermentation—it's about how you manage the aging process," she says. Now, at least half her stock of 70,000 barrels is personally sourced from France and includes some Slovenian and Russian oak. "You can't make modern wines with old-fashioned barrels," she says. About 21 miles northwest, also in Rioja Alavesa, Bodegas Baigorri, a dramatic zinc and glass cube, sits on top of a plateau and offers a spectacular 360-degree view across the very fea - tures that define Rioja: mountains and vineyards. But it also offers insight into winemaking of the future. Below the shimmering pavilion, designed by Basque architect Iñaki Aspiazu, the winery plunges seven stories into the earth, enabling 100-percent gravity-fed winemaking, and creating a microclimate within a mesoclimate. Winemaker Simon Arina Robles calls it "architecture in the service of the wine," adding, "We are the only winery where [it] plays a 100-percent role in the wine." Founded in 1996, the winery had its first vintage in 2002, and pri - marily makes reds from Tempranillo, Garnacha and Mazuelo (other indigenous grapes are used in blends). Robles also makes a Viura- based white blend and a Rosado from Tempranillo and Garnacha. "Nobody is speaking of the whites of Spain, but in the future, they will speak of them like the French do," he said. But for now, he says, "We want to make personal wines." To that end, Robles cultivates his own yeasts in an on-site lab. "Rioja has beautiful varieties, so why would we select yeast from another country?" he says. He explored some 300 yeasts before coming up with his current selection. Robles has nearly 50 acres in reserve plots for special old- vine wines, and plans to expand that to 173 acres (70 hectares). "The best quality vines are when they reach retirement," he says. His current experiment is the 2009 Baigorri de Garage—100% Tempranillo from a plot of 50-year-old vines, given 22 months in French oak. The wine won a bronze this year in the Decanter World Wine Awards. Like Viejo, Baigorri wines are aged in French oak (90% of the stock is French, the most of any winery in Rioja), with some Eastern European barrels. "We chose French because there was more variety of wood and I wanted to move towards a more modern style using fine-grain barrels," Robles explained. He sees a bright future for Rioja, with more attention to experi - ments and a "shift in the way of thinking about the strict Rioja rules." "Why should anyone tell me X number of months in a 225-liter barrel is better than X number of months in a 500-liter barrel or a foudre?" he asked. "Some people say we are crazy," he said, adding, "But we will change the mentality of the law." PHOTO COURTESY OF RIOJA, ALWAYS VIBRANT HOTO COURTESY OF RIOJA, ALWAYS VIBRANT PHOTO: LANA BORTOLOT Bodegas Baigorri is a shimmering glass pavilion by Basque architect Iñaki Aspiazu. Jeffrey Bothwell (left) Export Manager at Baigorri's parent company, Araex, with winemaker Simon Arina Robles.

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