Let's Rioja 'n' Roll

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Rioja ‘n’ Roll is an exciting project created by ten enthusiastic young winemakers whose goal is to explore the extraordinary diversity of Riojan terroirs and to prove to the world that the Rioja region offers much more than big brands and cross-regional blends. As local journalist Alberto Gil described them, they are resisting the Rioja establishment much like Astérix, Obelix and the rest of their small Gallic village resisted the Romans centuries ago.

The Rioja ‘n’ Rollers share several characteristics:  in spite of their young age, they’re highly trained, with experience gained in their families' vineyards as well as in wineries around the world; they’re in love with small plots overlooked by big wineries, they don’t think that they’ll ever get rich making and selling wine and they want to do things differently with unusual blends.

One thing is certain:  they’re making a name for themselves with their wines and are pushing the staid Rioja Regulatory Council to take a hard look at their rules to bring the region into the 21st century in the face of an incredible competitive marketplace.

The Rioja ‘n’ Rollers are:

Bárbara Palacios (Barbarot):  Palacios comes from one of Rioja’s historic wine families (her uncle is Álvaro Palacios, her father Antonio Palacios and her cousin Rafael Palacios). After a few years interning in Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Tuscany, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, she returned to Rioja to take over one of her father’s vineyards high in the hills of Rioja Alta.  With approval from the Rioja Regulatory Council she began experimenting with merlot in Rioja and has been so encouraged by the results that she calls her brand ‘Barbarot’: (Barbara + merlot).

Olivier Rivière (Ganko,  Rayos Uva, Pozo Alto, Losares): Rivière comes from a family in Cognac.  After stints with Elian da Ros in the Côte du Marmandais, Domaine Leroy and Fréderic Cossard in Burgundy, he came to Rioja to work for Telmo Rodríguez and from there, he went off on his own.  His viticulture is based on not using chemical fertilizers or herbicides, only natural products and only when it is necessary.  Rivière’s Pozo Alto and Losares were given 96 and 95 points respectively by Luis Gutiérrez, Robert Parker’s correspondent in Spain.

Sandra Bravo (Sierra de Toloño):  Sandra was an apprentice winemaker in Italy, France, New Zealand, California and Priorat before coming to Rioja, where she cultivates 8,5 hectares of high altitude vineyards between Labastida and Ribas de Tereso near the Toloño mountain range, hence her brand name ‘Sierra de Toloño'.  Sandra believes in intervening as little as possible in the vineyards and she is a fan of fermentation in large clay pots.

Arturo and Kike (Enrique) de Miguel (Artuke):  The brothers de Miguel learned about viticulture and winemaking at their family’s property.  They first carried out a thorough analysis of the family’s 32 plots in Rioja Alta and Alavesa and then they went to work.  They make young wines in the traditional way using semi-carbonic maceration as well as wines that reflect the characteristics of the family plots. Their main brand is Artuke (Arturo + Kike).

Óscar Alegre and Eva Valgañón (Alegre y Valgañón): This duo set up business in the village of Fonzaleche, 750 meters above sea level, which is as far west as you can go in Rioja before entering the province of Burgos. Here they work 15 hectares and 17 plots planted more than 100 years ago, making both single vineyard wines and blends.

Tom Puyaubert (Exopto):  Tom, who is from Bordeaux, came to Rioja as the rep for a French cooperage.  He fell in love with Rioja, especially the Sonsierra area, directly under the Cantabria mountain range and from Monte Yerga in Eastern Rioja. His philosophy is to use garnacha for its fruity aroma, graciano for its high acidity and tempranillo for its structure (which is exactly what winemakers have been doing for centuries here).  He works old vineyards that have been more or less abandoned by their owners due to a lack of interest by bigger wineries, a practice he shares with several other Rock ‘n’ Rollers.

Bryan MacRobert (L’Aventura): Bryan was born in Cape Town and studied winemaking at the University of Stellenbosch. He has worked in the South African region of Swartland and in Priorat. Bryan’s philosophy is to intervene as little as possible in the vineyards and to blend different grapes from different vineyards.  He continues to work in South Africa as well as in Logroño.

Rock ‘n’ Roll has been instrumental in advocating recognition of Rioja’s 120,000+ individual vineyard plots, where, they assure, there are many more exciting discoveries to be made.