Bodegas Criadores de Rioja, the art of balance
By Isabelle Escande - Photographs: courtesy of the estates, posted on 10 July 2023
Founded just over 25 years ago in response to increased demand for Rioja wines internationally, family-run bodega Criadores de Rioja has always kept a watchful eye on overseas markets. Its wines encapsulate a fusion of tradition and modernity and the winery has successfully kept abreast of changing demand and consumer patterns. With its appeal continuing to extend way beyond national borders, it offers a fine illustration of the vitality of this famous Spanish appellation and its ability to reinvent itself.
In 1997, the Vivanco family decided to invest in building a winery to produce, mature and bottle DOCa Rioja wines. The focus is on large international grocery outlets, hence the emphasis placed on quality right from the outset. With its impeccable, cutting-edge facilities, most of them underground, and its unwavering attention to the various stages of production, Criadores de Rioja was the first Spanish winery to secure the German IFS certification (International Featured Standard) which ensures food safety – a prerequisite for accessing European super and hypermarkets.
In the heart of Rioja, the bodega offers a good illustration of the diversity of the famous spanish appellation.
The overriding ambition is to export quintessential Rioja wines across the globe, to introduce consumers to their elegant, balanced style, and also to reveal the variety on offer in this unique region. Located in the very heart of the appellation area, just six kilometres from Rioja’s capital of Logroño, the bodega is strategically situated at the crossroads of the appellation’s three sub-regions: Rioja Alta, sheltered by the Cantabrian Mountains; Rioja Alavesa with its yellow-hued limestone soils; and Rioja Oriental, home to reddish silica soils. The region is also at the intersection of three weather patterns – continental, Mediterranean and Atlantic.
The underground ageing cellar.
Very strong local roots
This unique setting punctuated by plains, forests and steep footpaths provide the backdrop for the winery’s vines to thrive. In addition to its estate vineyards, the company also works hand in hand with over 500 families of grape growers who have devoted their lives to growing vines, from one generation to the next. This experience has enabled them to pinpoint the vineyard sites best suited to each variety, explains the winery’s marketing manager, Hugo Urquiza. “The vineyards embrace 20 small villages located in the central part of the Rioja appellation area, offering an extensive range of aspects, vineyard management techniques, grape varieties, soil types and elevations, for example. It is a melting pot of Rioja and its diversity”.
Criadores de Rioja combines modern facilities with traditional techniques.
All the region’s native varieties are grown here: Tempranillo, Grenache Noir, Graciano, Mazuelo and Maturana Tinta for the reds, and Viura, Grenache Blanc, Tempranillo Blanco and Malvoisie for the whites. Inevitably, Tempranillo dominates the 1,000 hectares under vine but since its inception, the winery has made no bones about its determination to promote traditional, minority varieties. “We believe they provide us with a unique, quality point of difference”, claims Urquiza. “Also, they help us address climate change due to their suitability to local conditions, and also to market demand. At the start of the 2000s, we opted for the seductive fruit characters of Grenache, the freshness and aromatic complexity of Mazuelo, and the structure and silkiness of Graciano. Over the past decade, we have focused in particular on the two latest native grape varieties permitted – white Tempranillo for its aromatic intensity and complexity, and Maturana Tinta, for its freshness and international style”.
The bodega grows all of traditional native grape varieties in Rioja.
The bodega has its sights set on overseas markets, but at the same time continues to honour its inherent identity. This juggling act also involves the winemaking process. In recent years, the winery has introduced more modern techniques which it combines with traditional Rioja expertise, including the use of cold soaking to produce more deeply coloured, structured and complex wines. It has also increased the number of French oak barrels, used more new barrels and reduced its maturation times to align better with international demand, without compromising on quality or the region’s hallmark style.
Honouring its vineyard sites of course implies making a commitment to the environment. Criadores de Rioja is a practitioner of sustainable or organic farming techniques. The group it belongs to is one of Rioja’s largest in terms of organic acreage. “All of our Graciano and Maturana Tinta vines are farmed organically”, stresses Urquiza. “Both varieties lend themselves well to a more modern style”.
Criadores de Rioja makes modern, fruity wines yet also offers faithful renditions of the Rioja style.
Traditionally, the bodega has always shipped the majority of its wines to overseas markets (approximately 60%), even though it has never turned its back on the domestic market. In fact, “during periods of instability, the latter of the two often acts as a safe haven”, admits Urquiza. Currently, the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine, as well as Brexit have led to a slight decrease in exports. The United Kingdom, along with Germany and North America, have long been the largest importer countries for Criadores de Rioja.
But this marginal decline has not prevented the winery from continuing to grow. Other markets are currently being surveyed and the winery has expanded significantly, rising from 10,000 m2 to 22,000 m2 in just a few years. And the desire to improve continues to drive the company. The bodega has taken on board the Lean Manufacturing approach, a management method designed to improve a company’s performance, and has been awarded LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, a benchmark for sustainable buildings. All of these small triumphs underscore the winery’s determination to secure visibility and exposure over and over again.
Criadores de Rioja is located in Alberite, a small village near Logroño.
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