What really embodies the spirit of Rioja? Spain’s most well known wine region, world famous for its full bodied reds, is full of expressive wine artist like Elena Adell, the head winemaker from Campo Viejo who refers to art as an important component of the Rioja spirit and compares the process of winemaking to the creative process of a piece of art: “Both these processes takes us on a journey of experimentation – be it flavours or colours – until we are satisfied with the final outcome.”
“…the two local winemakers Bernando Beristain and Jose Ortigüela put their heads together to create the first vintage of Campo Viejo”
At the end of the summer of 2016 I visited La Rioja to experience this creative process first hand. I was invited by Campo Viejo to celebrate the harvest of the the 2016 vintage and the 15th anniversary of their stunning winery located in the Ebro valley in the heart of Rioja. Campo Viejo is known as one of the leading Rioja wine brands and originally started out in 1959 when the two local winemakers Bernando Beristain and Jose Ortigüela put their heads together to create the first vintage of Campo Viejo. In 2001 the whole winery moved to today’s location just a couple of clicks away from Logroño, the capital of the Rioja region, which has a population of around 200,000 and a very charming old town.
We arrived in perfect timing for the 2016 harvest and as a preparatory celebration we embarked on an epic tapas tour in the old town of Logroño. If you’re ever feeling peckish in this town, make sure you head right to Calle Stella. It’s pretty much the smaller version of the old town of San Sebastian, with one exciting eatery after the other. Just like in San Sebastian each single eatery is famous for one specific item and for a successful tapas frenzy you should really know which item to order. Highlights include braised skewers of mushrooms with tons of garlic butter at the iconic Bar Soriano (this is the only thing they sell) or the “Caretas de Cerdo” fron La Tavina: fried pieces of pig’s face that have been reassembled into a rectangular chip. Absolutely fantastic, and nothing I’ve ever tried before.
On the second day we got a hands on experience of the winemaking process by picking the classic Tempranillo grapes, who together with a small amount of Graciano and Mazuelo make up the Campo Viejo red wines. Walking amongst the stunningly beautiful grapevines in the heart of Rioja Alta was an extraordinary experience and a fantastic way to see the beginning of the journey of this wine.
We then got the chance to see the winemaking process form start to beginning at the absolutely stunning Campo Viejo Bodega. At a first glance there is not much to the winery except a few, modern buildings, but once you look beneath the surface you will eventually find a 45,000 sq.m. minimalistic super winery buried in the ground. Architect Ignacio Quemada was so struck by the natural beauty of the landscape that he felt obliged to not ruin it by burying the whole architecture underground. And he did a pretty damn extraordinary job, this building is nothing but insane and a true masterpiece.
“Walking amongst the stunningly beautiful grapevines in the heart of Rioja Alta was an extraordinary experience and a fantastic way to see the beginning of the journey of this wine.”
The result is winery, which even 15 years after its creation not only strikes any beholder with its beauty, but also gives perfect conditions for winemaking due to the humidity conditions underground. In the massive tank hall millions of litres of wine ferment only to eventually be aged in American and French oak kegs and then to be bottled for the last ageing process. A Campo Viejo Gran Reserva, for example, is aged for two years on oak before its aged another three years in a bottle.
The most interesting part of the tour of the Bodega was the a quick session at the experimental winery Campo Viejo entertains where new grape varieties are fermented in small varieties to elaborate on new wines for the winery’s line up. For example, the Rioja board just allowed Sauvignon Blanc as an official Rioja grape a few years back and I got to sample several experimental wines with this grape. The big takeaway from the days at Campo Viejo was that, despite the massive volume this winery produces, the overall quality and elegance of their wines was impressive and looking at the retail price in Germany (Gran Reserva is around 15€), the value for money is pretty great.
“Absolutely brilliant and an insane example just how well these wines age.”
The absolute highlight of my days in Spain was when we uncorked a bottle of 1964 Campo Viejo Gran Reserva for the end of our harvest celebration, commonly known as the best Rioja vintage in history. This bottle was an absolute stunner, with an unexpected lightness (Riojas back then were made much lighter, often mixing in the white Viura grape), strong notes of dry fruits on the palate and an acidic finish that never seemed to end. Absolutely brilliant and an insane example just how well these wines age.
Thanks for having me, I will most definitely be back!