The traits that characterize Rioja Alavesa wine stem from the significant differences between this region and other wine-growing areas in terms of climate, soil, varieties, etc., even in the sophisticated care given to the vineyards and the unique vinification methods. Here are some of the special features of Rioja Alavesa viticulture.
Characteristics of Rioja Alavesa viticulture and oenology
This region is in an area of Atlantic-Mediterranean transition, which guarantees that most of the vineyards have enough amounts of sun and water. The southern orientation of that vineyard, settled down on the slopes of the Sierra de Cantabria, means that maximum use is made of the summer sun. These latitudes have a very high heliothermal index, together with the fact that 90% of the vineyard grows a grape as early as the Tempranillo—two key factors for an excellent ripening of grapes.
The region that has been known for centuries as «Rioja Alavesa» is a narrow piece of land about forty kilometers long and eight kilometers wide, located in the south of Álava, between the Sierra de Cantabria and the Ebro River.
It is about 40 kilometers south from Vitoria-Gasteiz, capital of the Historical Territory of Álava and the Basque Country, to which it belongs since the end of the Middle Ages.
The Rioja Alavesa covers around 316 square kilometers, barely ten per cent of the area of Álava, and it is inhabited approximately by 11,000 people, just over three per cent of Álava’s population.
There are 23 population centers in the region: Assa, Barriobusto, Baños de Ebro, Cripán, El Campillar, Elciego, Elvillar, Labastida, Labraza, Laguardia, Lanciego, Lapuebla de Labarca, Laserna, Leza, Moreda, Navaridas, Oyón, Páganos, Salinillas de Buradón, Samaniego, Villabuena de Álava, Viñaspre and Yécora.
It offers poor soils with great viticultural potential, such as the «calcium Cambisol» majorly present in the region. This means moderate average yields—between five thousand and six thousand kilos of grapes per hectare, another figure that points towards fruit quality.
Here we find very professional farmers, who have devoted themselves for centuries to this crop they know so well, and for which they annually invest large amounts of money in phytosanitary treatments and in the most careful cultivation techniques in terms of the quality of the bunches; with the latter resulting from the prevailing philosophy among our winegrowers of «caring for the vineyard as if it were a garden».
By analyzing some of these aspects, we can understand why the Rioja Alavesa is one of the world regions with the greatest viticulture vocation:
Dry and sunny climate. Climate is a key factor that explains most of the differences between wines from different localities.
Poor calcareous soil. The roots of the vine sink deep into the soil, exploring large volumes of soil to obtain the necessary nutrients. A powerful radicular system allows the vine stock to grow even in apparently very poor and dry soils.
An exclusive vine. There is an environment-plant relationship that makes up the wine-growing ecosystem—and the latter factor is very significant. Each variety of Vitis vinifera has different light and heat requirements to complete its cycle and achieve the complete ripening of its grapes. Thus, in a specific habitat, less demanding vines will develop and mature earlier.
Quality vinification: Tradition and technology. Wine continues to be like in the past—the son of the Earth and Sun. However, nobody doubts today that a good wine needs the help of man who, with his abilities and techniques, raises this product to the category of a masterpiece.