In our previous instalment of VINEYARDS AND WINES we talked about how diversity is the winemaking tradition of the land of the Rioja. To explain this, we relied on the book by Pedro Balda and Fernando Martínez entitled “Minority Vine Varieties in La Rioja”. Now we are taking the next step and aim to explain how we express that diversity in our wines.

I. Inter-varietal diversity: LA NAVE

First of all, we are talking about inter-varietal diversity, which is present in LA NAVE insofar as it produces a mixture of typical vine varieties and those typical of the Rioja DOC.

A diversity of varieties with grapes from different areas of the DOC, given that in most cases the plantations are young, less than 35 years old, and each is exclusively of a different variety, as a result of the practice of the Control Board which today, for reasons of traceability, prevents grapes of different varieties from entering the winery on the same journey.

The percentage of vines mixed in LA NAVE, by “coupage”, is approximately one third Tempranillo, one third Red Garnacha, and one third Mazuelo, although the precise quantities always depend on the year. The former provides structure, body and colour. The second, red fruits. The third, acidity and colour.

It is a very traditional blend and is therefore a classic Rioja wine, which is made like all our wines in large oak barrels, to prevent the excess wood from altering, hiding or distorting the wine’s natural aroma and flavours.

II. Intra-varietal diversity: LAVENTURA

Secondly, we review the different varietal wines of LAVENTURA. These are Tempranillo, Garnacha, Viura and Malvasia. In this case the diversity is of another nature, it is intra-varietal because it is produced within the same variety. In these wines the grapes come from old vines – 35 years old and upwards – which guarantee, on the one hand, the best quality, as a result of their lower yield, and, on the other, a more varied biotype because, given the time of planting the selection of the plants was massale, that is in accordance with the choice of the winegrowers themselves depending on the plant material available – normally the most appreciated one among those at hand -, while more recently such choice is previously tempered by the selection of the nurseryman, who provides the winegrowers with the rootstocks to be planted. These will normally provide more yield, and even more resistance to possible diseases in particular, but at the cost of loss of biodiversity.

In the book already mentioned that we use as a pattern, the varieties of Tempranillo (as a reference variety despite being not a minority), Garnacha (today a minority, although in the seventies of the last century it even surpassed Tempranillo) and Malvasia are discussed. Viura should not be a minority and has not been chosen to be included as a reference for white wines, so we will have to resort to other elements of comparison.

Let us leave aside the origins, background and morphological characteristics of the vines, so as not to lengthen these notes too much, and focus on the respective oenological characteristics.


We are told that this variety prefers cool areas, as in situations of water stress it can lose its leaf. Quality wines usually result from low yields. It produces structured wines, with remarkable tannins, intense colour, high alcohol content, ph tending to increase and low acidity level that improves in fresh areas; in these areas the wines are very balanced, with structure and length. In warm areas, their tannins are exacerbated and the wines are shorter and unbalanced.

The above-mentioned characteristics may reveal the growing success of this variety in Rioja. It is very balanced in all respects and tolerates high yields well. It is like the average. It blends in very well and welcomes what the other varieties can bring to it.

In our opinion, its treatment as a varietal requires careful control of production. Better still, the higher clayey soils – preferably facing the sun to the east or north -, which guarantee freshness, and consequently acidity, the presence of red fruits, and more delicate and expressive tannins. It goes without saying that the yield cannot be forced. On the contrary, we measure the load of grapes very carefully, thus controlling water stress, depending on the power of the vine itself.

To do this we use old vines – old age is also a guarantee of a suitable biotype, as we explained earlier – which we look for in high areas throughout the designation of origin. In cold years, it is possible to blend with those from lower areas to provide balance. We pay special attention to the organic control of production and processing. Staying in large barrels guarantees that their natural properties are not disfigured.


2. GARNACHA (tinta)

Laventura Garnacha

The pattern of this variety given in the reference book seems to make it complementary to the previous one: it is resistant, although sensitive to Botrytis or rot, it bears water stress better, and it is less plastic than Tempranillo, so that the higher yield is followed by the proportional decrease of its attributes and the increase of its oxidative character. Its acidity is also higher than that of Tempranillo, while its pH is lower (it seems that the Rioja Alta or upper and the Rioja Oriental, when it was a Rioja Baja or lower, gave each other a complementary hand).

The wine stands out for the vivacity of its tones and aromatic intensity with very characteristic notes of red fruits. In the mouth it is a soft variety, with little tannin and very pleasant. Globally, the best expression of Garnacha is usually found in cool areas and poor soils, where more structured wines with a lot of personality are produced.

Our Garnacha respects these parameters on principle. It comes from high areas and old vines from all over the designation, they are generally bush-trained vines, which fits in very well with the variety, as it grows very vertically, so that production control is guaranteed and the wine responds to what is expected: red fruits, grassy nuances of scrubland, light, without excess alcohol, good acidity, subtle complexity and elegance. Extremely pleasant because it is transparent as it reflects very well the climate, terroir and work with which it has been developed, and extremely pleasant also for the one who drinks it.

The barrels in which it is kept are also large, 600 litres, so as not to interfere with its natural properties.



Laventura Malvasía

Although it is known as “Malvasia de Rioja”, in reality it has little to do with the Malvasia that can be found in many other regions (up to 9 different varieties), as our reference book tells us. The capital name of our variety is Alarije.

Our book goes on to tell us that it is a very productive variety, with very compact bunches, and therefore prone to rot. This is why it tended to be planted in the “headlands” of the plots, where the slope is steeper, the depth of the soil is shallower and the vigour of the vines is very limited. As for its characteristics, he adds that it produces wines with low pH, good acidity and alcohol content suitable for making white wines. When it comes from poor soils, these are fatty, sweet, and balanced by a good acidity, not too aromatic; when it comes from fertile soils, it becomes a very light variety, acid and with herbaceous and citrus aromas, suitable only for the production of young wines for quick consumption.

Our Malvasia comes from vineyards with limestone soils in the higher areas of the designation of origin. It is macerated for 24 hours in its own skins, which allows the must to be impregnated with aromas and tannins and protects the wine from oxidation. It sounds paradoxical, but rapid and controlled oxidation in must protects the wine from oxidation in wine, or, as it is commonly said, better to oxidise the must on the lees in contact with the skins than to oxidise the wine. This is helped by the fact that it is kept in an oval-shaped concrete tank – literally a “concrete egg” – which contributes to better lees circulation and thus combats oxidation. The result is a complex, powerful and extraordinarily gastronomic wine.



As we have already said, our book does not give us a pattern for Viura, as it does not consider it to be a minority grape. José Peñín, in his book published in 1989, “The Great Book of Rioja Wines”, tells us that for a long time wines of this variety used to be subjected to prolonged ageing in oak, given the slowness of their oxidative evolution. However, in line with new trends that call for the presence of fruit, this method of winemaking has been modified and has shown enormous possibilities that translate into considerable aromatic and fruity potential. The wines are pale in colour and have perfect acidity (which allows them to be sometimes added to Tempranillo and even to rosé wines). Incidentally, we mention this book because at some point we will have to dedicate a special instalment to it and observe how much things have changed in thirty or so years.

We can highlight that our varietal avoids the cloying of Verdejo or Sauvignon Blanc. It is born very timidly and its ageing capacity is surprising. Its initial citrus aromas gradually transform in the bottle into aromas of fruit such as pear, apple and peach, gradually gaining in complexity and personality. Extraordinarily pleasant to drink.

Fermented in large barrels in which it is aged on its lees for a year, gaining in body and length, without an excess of wood drowning out the fruit and delicacy of the wine.

III. Inter-varietal and intra-varietal diversity: EL BARRANCO DEL SAN GINÉS

Finally, for now, we will refer to EL BARRANCO DEL SAN GINÉS, where both intra-varietal and inter-varietal biodiversity is materialised, because given the age of the plantation, more than eighty years old, we find in it intermingled vines of different varieties -specifically: tempranillo, garnacha, graciano, mazuelo and viura-, in the way that later, as we have said, was restricted by the Regulatory Council of the DOCa.

The “terroirists” would find in this vineyard all the strength of their arguments.

Barranco del San Ginés

Because all this biodiversity is gathered in a unique vineyardviñedo singularin the upper part of Laguardia, relatively close to the mountains, which guarantees a cool and protected climate, sloping down towards the ravine, facing east, which reduces the heat of the west in summer. The soil is clayey, with a shallow sandstone surface layer. Some five thousand vines planted in a 1.40 metre wide square -suitable for animal-drawn ploughing and hoeing-, so that the yield is obtained by the accumulation of vines -rainfall being the other variable to be taken into consideration-, without the possibility of forcing the production of each one of these vines.

And thus, the wine responds to that sum of soil, plant mass, climate and work. It is difficult to categorise, with a marked personality, elegant structure, overflowing with finesse, and many layers of fruit, many flavours, much terroir.


When we tried to define our project with a perfect phrase, the following one appeared to be most inspirational: “Rioja, tradition is diversity”.

Perhaps the inspiration was not so much so, but rather a reflex action of self-protection: can there be anything more diverse than a South African winemaker making Rioja wine? However, we do not believe that this was the spark that led us to connect tradition and diversity, but rather a more substantial one; not exactly an impulse to rebel, but certainly an affirmation. Affirmation of a project which is based on a denial: Rioja wine should not be identified, parameterized, with a certain type, in which the greatest weight of identification, perhaps even improvement, comes from an element which is not natural to the wine itself – it is not the climate, it is not the soil, it is not the plant – such as the wood of the barrels in which it must rest. It cannot be, and must not be, that the richness of the land of the Rioja is so constrained and consequently impoverished. Quality parameters are one thing and standardization is another. We cannot assume that it is tradition that has led to this standardization.

Our project, as you already know, is a young one. We have barely had time to attend seven harvests, to produce seven vintages. However, from the very beginning our course of action was established: to try to reflect in our wines all the richness and diversity of the variety of soils, vineyards and climates in this land -if they are naturally within our reach, which is no small matter.  Of course, we are obliged to use artificial elements -concrete, stainless steel, wood- but under no circumstances must these define the wine, nor alter its natural properties; at most they must contribute to enhancing them, to making them more perceptible.

Fortunately, a book published in 2017 by the local government entitled “Minority Vine Varieties in La Rioja”, by Pedro Balda and Fernando Martínez de Toda, has recently fallen into our hands. In this book we have hopefully seen our aspirations scientifically confirmed.


variedades minoritarias de vid en la rioja


It contains what is surely the nicest part of the doctoral thesis that the former (with a PhD) wrote in 2014, under the direction of the latter, a University professor, and which we are told can be downloaded at the following link from the University of La Rioja:

In the foreword signed by the professor you can read:

“In general, in any wine-growing area, there are two types of winemaking culture. One, which we could call ‘traditional’, tries to obtain an increasingly better product, based on the region’s own culture, that is to say, using traditional and typical vine varieties of the area and seeking as an end product a classic wine, although better produced than before. The other type of winemaking culture, which we could call ‘modern’, seeks a different product, more in line with current international tastes and uses foreign varieties, widely grown throughout the world and not traditional in the area concerned.

Both types of winemaking culture can produce high quality wines, and their main difference is that, in the first case, we are maintaining the genetic and cultural diversity typical of our Mediterranean culture and we are making our own wine, particular and different from the rest. However…”

End of quote, because we are not interested in addressing the ills that plague a standardized wine industry for sale, but rather to affirm our principle: “Rioja, tradition is diversity”. And so much so that pages ahead in the PhD thesis, we see Bryan’s presence portrayed in the “communication” of experiences that has shaped the tradition of Rioja wine: “In the case of La Rioja, an important communication route is the Ebro Valley and, at certain periods in its history, the Way of St. James. This has allowed not only the arrival of many varieties from faraway places but also an important circulation of ideas and viticulture and winemaking innovations”.

Of course, participating in this affirmation requires participating in the idea that biodiversity is a great wealth, and that uniformity is monotony and poverty. It is therefore reasonable to get hooked onto the genetic heritage that we have inherited in this land, thanks precisely to the “traditionalism of the winegrower”, as it is the one that has empirically adapted best to the circumstances of the soil and climate in which it develops, trying to understand it and improve it according to the times and circumstances that affect us; as there is no doubt that these supports change, are in fact changing, and perhaps, as the English would say, dramatically. In this respect, we should be grateful for the moves of something as naturally ultraconservative as the DOC Control Board in incorporating minority varieties into the land of Rioja (Maturana Tinta, Maturana Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco and Turruntés, 2008), or in recognising the particular characteristics of some vineyards, (not so much in admitting foreign varieties simply because they have proved successful in other designations of origin).

Thus, the varieties authorised in the Designation today are Tempranillo, Garnacha tinta, Graciano, Mazuelo and Maturana tinta (for red wines) and Viura, Malvasía, Garnacha blanca, Tempranillo blanco, Maturana blanca, Turruntés, Chardonay, Sauvignon blanc and Verdejo (for whites).

Before providing the ampelographic characteristics of 36 minority varieties under study, to which they add the ubiquitous Tempranillo as an appendix due to its reference value, the aforementioned authors express their concern about the serious loss of this diversity which humanity is witnessing, and which in the field of wine can be defined as the standardization of plantations – sometimes atypical or foreign – which in turn are standardized due to the exclusivity of the type of clone or rootstock. We could say that, in the artificial environment of the human being, the Darwinian natural selection is not produced by the quality or improvement of the species, but by its immediate and short-term economic yield.

“The preservation of viticultural biodiversity has three fundamental levels: biodiversity on rootstocks, inter-varietal biodiversity and intra-varietal biodiversity (between biotypes of the same variety)”.

The configuration of the rootstock is a question that affects the planting of the vineyard; as a result of the phylloxera invasion, the winegrowers had to resort to grafting clones or biotypes of the desired variety onto a disease-resistant American rootstock.  This rootstock is the “trunk” that is planted in the ground, and therefore forms the vine on which the shoots will grow. The loss of biodiversity may occur here due to the standardization of rootstocks and the standardization of clones, but this is not an issue that we should address now since what we are going to explain here are our wines, and these today come from old or very old plantations, all of them post-phylloxera.




The intra-varietal biodiversity is present in our Laventura varieties. The inter-varietal biodiversity is present in La Nave (diversity of monovarietal plots, planted less than 35 years ago, thus complying with the new rules that do not allow inter-varietal mixing in the vineyard). And the inter and intra-varietal biodiversity is present in our unique vineyards or so-called Viñedos Singulares (Barranco del San Ginés). We will continue to explain all this in successive installments.

When we talk about Rioja wine, we have a problem with location, because we think at first that it is wine produced in La Rioja, as a region or community, which is not exact. Specifically, we must refer to wine produced in the area defined as the Rioja Qualified Designation of Origin (DOC Rioja), produced in accordance with the rules established by its Control Board, and duly qualified as such by the latter. And this area of the DOC Rioja does not coincide geographically with that of the political Community of the name La Rioja, but rather occupies a part of it, the same as it does in other parts, certainly smaller ones, of other provinces, which are Alava, Navarre and Burgos (of the latter only one estate that is truly an enclave within the first), in turn integrated into other differentiated Autonomous Communities.

We have chosen the expression “LA TIERRA DEL RIOJA” (the land of the Rioja) to bring them together. We would like to give you some information, usually taken from our own life experience here, that may interest you about wine and the territory where it is produced. Whenever we talk about “el Rioja”, we will be thinking indistinctly about the qualified wine and the area of the denomination.


mapa denominacion rioja

PANORAMIC VIEW / The three sub-zones of the Rioja Denomination of Origin

There are three areas in the territory of the Designation that have been commonly distinguished: Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja (the difference is due to the average altitude of the territory, but today the latter has preferred to be known as Oriental or Eastern Rioja) and Rioja Alavesa.

The first comprises the whole of the western part up to the area of Logroño where the eastern part begins; the Alavesa includes, from the northern part of the Ebro river, that area which belongs to Alava (and further proof of the artificiality of the boundaries; we will generally describe it as Sonsierra and treat it as a single area). The truth is that such a generic distinction, or any other surely the same as the one we are going to apply here, is due to the ambiguity of its vague and inaccurate boundaries. Sometimes this is why a Rioja Media (Middle Rioja) is introduced into the distinction. Not even the possibility of its real application as a sub-zone would be truly representative of the variety and richness of the Rioja. Timidly, although already with official recognition, the need and coherence to delimit with more precision and traceability the areas of the land from which the wine comes, and which provide it with its personality, is beginning to emerge: subzone, municipality, estate, unique vineyard (viñedo singular)…

The land of the Rioja is located in an extensive valley marked by the winding course of the Ebro river, which made its way through the mountains in the west, at the point known as Las Conchas de Haro, and retreated placidly and without any obstacles to be overcome in the east, there by the area of Alfaro.



The northern and southern limits of the valley are mountain ranges, of not exaggerated altitude, but of marked personality, personality that they transmit to the climate and the soil. These are, to the north, Obarenes, Montes de Toloño and Sierra de Cantabria (or, by extension, Toloño) and then the Sierra de Aras, and to the south the Sierra de la Demanda, the Cameros and the Sierra de Yerga and de la Hez. The advantage of this parallel chain of heights is that you can enjoy fantastic views of the valley from them. Looking from north to south, we could stop at Cellórigo, at the foot of the Obarenes that our little ones know how to identify with the back of a stegosaurus – in some guides we read that it is known as the “Pulpit of La Rioja”, and the plates on the dinosaur’s back as Peña Lengua, and are identified with stone needles that resemble the Gothic needles of a cathedral; no doubt, ways of seeing that everyone can improve-, in the Peñacerrada pass -in the ascent of which there is precisely a “Balcony of La Rioja”-, or in Lapoblación, climbing the Bernedo pass where is located El León dormido (the Sleeping Lion) -known by the inhabitants there as La Picota, perhaps because to see the lion it is necessary to have as much distance as imagination. Looking from the south to the north, we could perhaps visit the Monte de San Lorenzo (perhaps too high to enjoy the valley), the Castillo de Clavijo, or the Cabi Monteros.

Of course, as we go up to these viewpoints we leave the land of the Rioja behind, but since there is a continuum between plain and mountain, it is not superfluous to include some information about them here; and with the search now for higher, cooler and more humid areas for planting vines, as a result of the changes in the climate, they will become part of the DOC when least expected.

Our intention is to follow the course of the river in the same west-east direction with an eye on the horizon of mountains, as reflected in our imagotype, and to provide data that we think may be of interest to you from any point of view, especially, of course, that related to winemaking.


sierras de la rioja

First of all, let us inspect the southern slope of the Ebro river, distinguishing here, more for taking a breath than with a differentiating value, the valleys or basins through which its tributaries flow, namely: Oja (or rather Oja-Tirón) -it seems so easy to say that the river Oja has given its name to La Rioja, that etymologists do not naturally agree-, Najerilla, Iregua, Leza and Jubera, Cidacos and Alhama. Then, at the end, we will cross the river to pass into Navarre and return westwards, first along its banks, and then through the area that we emotionally encompass within the so-called Sonsierra riojana and which, from Logroño onwards, occupies as a continuum spaces in La Rioja and Alava. Furthermore, since we do not find any outstanding tributary rivers to stop us for the respite, we will address these spaces in one go until the exit via Briñas, which they call the portal.

In this way we try to convey to you that what defines such a small space is its diversity. That, in terms of winemaking, it is born from the diversity of soils: ferrous-clay (reddish, with more or less alkalinity, low organic matter…), clay-limestone (whitish), more or less stony, alluvial on the banks of the great river;

tipos de tierra en la rioja

from the diversity of climate: which goes from the western Atlantic due to its proximity to the Cantabrian sea, to the eastern Mediterranean because it is already influenced by this sea successively nuanced or aggravated by the altitude in its slope towards the mountains; and today by the irrationality that feeds the climate change and that seems to translate into long periods of drought with violent and excessive inrush of water, exaggerated heat and abrupt peaks of extreme cold and off-season frost; from the diversity of authorised vine varieties and the shape and age of their planting; and also from the landscapes, villages, people…. All this makes the land of la Rioja a unique, singular and diverse “terroir”.

Now, it turns out that our intention is already embodied, since November 2019, in a magnificent book published by Los Aciertos y Pepitas publishers, written by Antonio Remesal and Alberto Gil, with the title: Rioja. Silent Wines, and with the subtitle: “A guide to getting to know the other Rioja: the regions, the villages, the vineyards, the wineries, the wines and the people of this surprising wine-growing region”; and what they tell us in 311 pages, we cannot pretend to summarise in this booklet. So what we want to do is to inform you about its existence and to assure you that it is of paramount interest for the knowledge of Rioja -the authors, excluding the definite article “La”, solve the problem of location-, and essential if you are one of the “good people” of whom Antonio Machado said: “where there is wine, they drink wine” -if there is no wine, they will have to make do with “fresh water”-, and thus you get on the move to satisfy that primordial need.

Here, therefore, we intend to be intrinsically subjective because we will only talk about what we have experienced. We will not be partial, nor impartial, because we will not make comparisons, but in no case shall we be arbitrary. I do not think we will be referring to any place that you cannot already find in the standard guides. Naturally, we tend to go to restaurants where we can drink MacRobert & Canals wines, but this is not always possible. There is no more complicated place to sell Rioja than the land of the Rioja. Here there are ‘special obligations’: there is no restaurateur who does not have a father, son, brother, brother-in-law, nephew, friend, or parishioner who in one way or another has no interest in a certain wine, if not the restaurateur himself.


The D.O.Ca Rioja is one of the most important wine regions in the world. As a D.O. it was established in Spain in 1925, and was awarded the category of “Calificada” (qualified) – the only one to date – in 1991.


The D.O.Ca Rioja is a great valley that occupies about 150 square kilometres from east to west and 60 from north to south, distant another 100, in the north, from the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by mountains to the north and south, crossed by a majestic river, the Ebro, of which another seven smaller rivers are tributaries, forming an equal number of valleys.

What characterises the Rioja, then, is its diversity of soils – clayey, limestone, ferruginous clay, alluvial… -; of crop heights – from 400 to 800 metres approximately, and rising -; of climates – Atlantic in the west, Mediterranean in the east; and of grape varieties – up to 40 different varieties have been counted, and although today there are far fewer of them recognised by the D.O.Ca., some of them are still present in the oldest vineyards. An expression of this diversity was the traditional way of making wines, with blends of varieties not only from within the vineyard itself, but also from different areas and sub-areas. In modern times, as new plantations have been planted, it has been possible to pay more attention to varietal wines.

Diversity of people too. Four autonomous communities participate in the designation. A hospitable land that today welcomes Bryan as it has welcomed so many in the past. All this encourages our spirit: tradition is diversity.