UNDERSTANDING LA RIOJA
The Control Board monitors, audits, and controls the entire Rioja production process—from the vineyard to the market. For example, plantation density is restricted to a minimum of 2,850 vines and a maximum of 10,000 vines per hectare; that is a maximum production per hectare of 6,500 kg for red grapes, and a maximum production of 9,000 kg for white grapes. The Control Board also carries out frequent inspections to check stock volumes by wine type and vintage, the number of barrels and bottles, back labels, etc., to verify the information given by wineries. The origin, vintage and type of production of wines are guaranteed through secure back labels and seals, and quality control also extends to the marketing stage.
HISTORY OF THE CONTROL BOARD
La Rioja wines are protected by the oldest Designation of Origin in Spain. The modern Rioja was born in the late nineteenth century, establishing a clear link between the name of a product and the place where it was made. This sparked growing concerns among Rioja’s grape growers and winemakers, who needed to protect its identity against “usurpers and counterfeiters.” These concerns led to the official recognition of the Rioja Designation of Origin on June 6, 1925.
Since 1991, Rioja wines are protected by the first Calificada DO in Spain. Its Scope Statement establishes the borders of the production area, the grape varieties that may be grown, the maximum allowable yields, production and ageing techniques, etc. The Control Board is a public institution in charge of fostering and controlling wine quality, promoting the region and defending the interests of the region’s wine trade, whose representatives constitute the Control Board Management body.
Today, Rioja is one of the world’s Designations of Origin that offers the best guarantees regarding the quality and authenticity of its wines, and one of the few that require all of its wines to be bottled at source. Without a doubt, the Rioja Control Board’s effective enforcement of some of the strictest regulations among wine regions in the world offers the greatest assurance regarding the quality and authenticity of its wines, giving consumers security and trust—and which have been decisive in reaching Rioja’s leadership position in the market.
AREAS OF LA RIOJA
LA RIOJA ALTA
This area is on the right bank of the Ebro River. It has a continental climate with Atlantic influence, although the Sierra de Cantabria acts as a natural frontier to stop the passage of rain-bearing winds from the North. In this area, there are various types of soils, fundamentally calcareous clay, ferrous clay and alluvial soil.
Calcareous clay soils are rich in chalk, permeable and difficult to water and mechanize. It is a poor soil—precisely the type that is best for vines; therefore, they offer the best quality for the production of wine and are ideal for cultivating Tempranillo grapes. As a result, they make very stable wines, elegant and aromatic, perfect for ageing.
Ferrous clay soils, on the other hand, contain less chalk, although they are not easy to water or mechanize either. These soils produce fresher wines, with less body and more acidity.
Alluvial soils are permeable and rich in nutrients. They are permeable and easy to mechanize. It is said that they produce wines with good color.
LA RIOJA ALAVESA
The smallest region in terms of size and the most northerly. Therefore, the Atlantic has a greater influence on its climate: it is wetter and with lower temperatures than in the other two Riojan areas, both in summer and winter. The soils in which vines are cultivated here are calcareous and located on terraces or in small parcels.
LA RIOJA BAJA OR LA RIOJA ORIENTAL
The most easterly area, which makes the climate here drier and warmer, with more Mediterranean influence. The soils are predominantly alluvial and calcareous clay, and the plantations are greater in size and located at a lower altitude. This all ends up giving the wines greater structure and higher alcohol content than those in La Rioja Alavesa or La Rioja Alta.
The image shows the number of varieties and their percentages in the 65,326 vineyard hectares in La Rioja.
This is the kingdom of the red Tempranillo and the white Viura grapes. However, the rest of varieties, specially the white ones, are clearing a path in the production of great wines.
CLASSIFICATION ACCORDING TO AGEING
VINOS DE ZONA
Designation Regulations recognize the existence of three sub-areas or sub-zones since 1970: La Rioja Alavesa, La Rioja Alta and La Rioja Baja (now called La Rioja Oriental). Under the new ‘zone’’ designation, the Control Board has updated regulations and visibility of this indication on wine labels, which were implemented in 1998.
1. Grapes must come exclusively from the zone.
2. Vinification, ageing and bottling within the zone.
EXCEPTION: Up to 15% from bordering municipalities in a different zone, and as long as long-standing ties with the vineyard dating back at least ten years can be proven.
VINOS DE MUNICIPIO
As in the case of Vino de Zona, the right to use the name of the town on the label has been recognized for almost 20 years. Specifically, since 1999. The new regulation will provide more visibility to this geographical indication.
1. Grapes must come exclusively from the municipality.
2. Vinification, ageing and bottling within the municipality.
EXCEPTION: Up to 15% from bordering municipalities, and as long as long-standing ties with the vineyard dating back at least ten years can be proven.
The new Viñedo Singular geographical indication designates wines from particular vineyards or estates. It is directly linked to the terroir, which it aims to identify and valorize on the label, in addition to the quality requirements that characterize excellent wines.
1. Grapes must come exclusively from plots within the Viñedo Singular.
2. Vinification, ageing, storage and bottling within the same winery.
3. Minor geographical unit that can comprise a single or several cadastral plots.
4. Minimum age of the vineyard: 35 years.
5. To prove—by means of any legally valid title—that it has exclusive use of the production of the Viñedo Singular for a minimum period of 10 uninterrupted years.
6. Maximum production: 5,000 kg/ha for red varieties and 6,922 kg/ha for white varieties.
7. Maximum grape-to-wine ratio: 65%.
8. Specific Grape Grower’s Card.