Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.


Published:  23 July, 2008

Vctor Redondo Sierra's vision is to create the first appellation to span two countries, from Spain's DO Ribera del Duero to the DOC Douro in Portugal. Here, the president of ARCO-Bodegas Unidas talks to Joanne Simon about his problems with the DO system and how he plans to turn the company into one of the world's top ten producers

They all said I was crazy,' laughs Vctor Redondo Sierra, president of ARCO-Bodegas Unidas. I was thirty years old, with a wife and three children to support, and I gave up a successful career in banking to go into wine.' Redondo's management team took over Bodegas Berberana in Rioja in 1993. A decade later, the company's reach extends from Andaluca to Argentina (see p.26) and Redondo's aim is to make it one of the top ten wine producing companies of the world'. It might seem a lofty ambition, but as photographer Charmaine Grieger observed, this is a man who packs 35 hours into each day and still has time to spare to jet-ski down the Duero, or hunt for furniture with his antique-dealer wife. Every time we have done anything [at Bodegas Unidas], there has been someone saying, "I don't believe you can do it", and so far we have done it all,' he says. Ten years ago all we were known for was producing the cheapest Rioja. Now look at us.' In print, unpunctuated by the smile of sheer delight on his face, that statement might sound like a boast. But Redondo is not a boastful man. On the contrary, he is clearly uncomfortable to learn that he will be the subject of this article. There's too much ego in this trade,' he mutters. This shouldn't be about me. Without the whole team - the viticulturists, the winemakers - there is no story to tell.' Admittedly, Redondo is hardly the first banker to have had the opportunity' to buy a winery. But, then again, this is a banker whose first love is art - he studied fine art for seven years, until his father, a magistrate, finally persuaded him to take up law and economics, to get a real job'. Going into the wine trade, needless to say, had never been an option. Winemaking was not taken seriously in Spain,' shrugs Redondo. Until recently, you joined the army or the civil service, and tradesmen like winemakers were considered second-class citizens. That's why our wine industry still has such a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the world.' After ten years in finance, Redondo admits that moving into the wine business was a culture shock. At first, I was still caught up in this tyranny of analysts who want growth at any cost,' he laughs. In most industries, making money is the goal. In the wine industry, making money is incidental - if you do things right, the money will come by itself.'

Globalisation in a bizarre climate So, is there a right' way to go about becoming a top ten wine company? Much has been written about the dangers of globalisation, and it's all true,' says Redondo. Like grapes, the bigger you become, the more diluted you become. You need procedures in place to control production, so there is a tendency for all your wine to start tasting the same, wherever it comes from. It is possible to achieve quality and volume, but it has to be done very slowly, over time - the way Mot & Chandon has done it, for example.' He adds: To realise our dream of becoming a global company, I believe we must do the best that we can within Spain. After all, we know Spain, we know its potential and we know the best way to exploit it. Once we've done this, we can concentrate on making the finest examples of Spanish wine available all over the world.' So, what makes Spain so special? For starters, nobody in the world can replicate our climate,' says Redondo. It is a country surrounded by the sea, yet 75% of the country is 750 metres above sea level. A continental climate with a maritime influence! And then, from the north (which is as wet as England) to the south (which is like the Sahara), Spain is a succession of mountains and valleys and rivers. It gives us microclimate after microclimate after microclimate' But Redondo believes Denominaciones de Origen (DO) regulations are at least partly to blame for the under-exploitation of Spain's richly diverse terroir. Conventional wisdom says that if you follow the rules, you get typicity. We say that's not true, because the rules mostly involve oak ageing. To express what is in the soil, the land, we say that the way you cultivate the grape and vinify the wine is much more important than how long you age your wine in oak.' Redondo's fascination with what he calls the personality of place' was the reason for the 2002 launch of Haciendas de Espaa, the company's estate wine concept, and in particular the Haciendas Durius project. Significantly, Durius is the Latin name of the Duero river in Spain and the Douro in Portugal. There is a symbolism in the name Durius that I love, because it ignores borders,' says Redondo. After all, there is no physical separation between Portugal and Spain. From Ribera del Duero to Vinho Verde, this is the only river in the world where there is wine from beginning to end. For me, there is no border.'

A river runs through it With Durius, Redondo plans to bring together the diversity' of the wine produced along the length of the river. Just imagine: the first Denominacin de Origen in the world covering two countries!' he beams. Where talk of microclimates is mostly pure marketing, here it is pure geology. From DO Ribero del Duero, where it's limestone and clay at 700 to 850 metres above sea level, to DOC Douro in Portugal, where it's schist at just 100 to 300 metres above sea level, it's fascinating to see how the same grape [Tempranillo] behaves. Different soils and different climates, but there are always two things in common: the river and the grape. That is the philosophy of the Durius project.' Redondo has broken across the Portuguese border in a deal with Quinta So Cibro, and he recently finalised the purchase of Hacienda Abascal, a 17.5 hectare (ha) vineyard next door to Vega Sicilia, along what he calls the Golden Mile' of Ribera del Duero. Buying any old land is easy, but it doesn't make sense to be in the top region of Spain and not buy something special,' he explains. The winery itself has yet to be built, but Redondo is adamant that it won't compete with Vega Sicilia. Why build an old-style building when there are so many real old buildings around? I'm going for something called "land art",' he says, something that allows the vineyard to be the main protagonist of the property; something that won't hurt the eye in a hundred years' time!' The real home' of Durius, however, is Hacienda Unamuno in Arribes del Duero, where 30ha of new vineyards have been planted with 6ha of Tempranillo; 3ha each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec; plus 15ha of Syrah. We did a study of varieties and Syrah was the one that adapted best to the region,' says Redondo. The problem with Arribes was that vines had grown here forever, but nobody knew what they were any more. If you asked the locals what was growing, they would reply "grapes" and look at you like you were crazy!' Until a further 40ha have been planted (and are producing), chief winemaker Carmelo Angulo and his team are dependent on those very locals to supply them with grapes. We have identified several good parcels of vineyard throughout the area, but they aren't always cultivated the way we want them to be,' says Redondo. We explain to the growers that if they do things in the right way, we will pay them the right price, and I must say that we are still able to come to good agreements here. It's not like Rioja, which is such an open market.' In the winery, too, Arribes del Duero is Freedom Land', compared to Rioja. Here, there aren't hundreds of years of tradition, so we can experiment with different varietals or blends, and American or French oak to see what works best,' says Redondo. Too much wood and all the wines become uniform, which is why our Durius wines are basic Crianza, with one year in barrels, and then an extra year of ageing in bottle. Our conclusion is that it results in a perfect balance between fruit and wood.'

Wine tourism Centrally located on the Tormes tributary of the Douro, in Castilla y Len, the last of the Haciendas Durius is Hacienda Zorita. Founded by an early order of Dominican monks in 1345, some of the buildings have been restored in order to age the company's Hacienda Zorita wines. (In fact, these are merely Durius wines that are aged for longer, for sale to the on-trade. It's a different name because people might not order our wine in a restaurant if they've seen it on the high street,' confides Redondo.) Meanwhile, a stunning Relais hotel is scheduled to open later this year at Zorita, as a base for people wanting to explore the historic city of Salamanca, which is 12 kilometres away, as well as the surrounding wine regions. This is something Spain hasn't had until now, because most producers still only think about making wine and a good deal with Tesco,' says Redondo. But I believe the only way to create brand loyalty is by getting people to experience the wine, by which I don't mean seeing it on promotion at the supermarket, but experiencing the history, the culture and the beauty of the region the wine comes from.' Hacienda Zorita may be luxurious, but Redondo reveals that the most expensive suite will cost just e150 per night. We've done all the calculations,' he insists. In the past, a place like this would have been a private place for the privileged few, but we want it to be accessible to everybody - exclusive but accessible. We have to fight against the idea that wine is elitist.' An old water mill on the property has been divided into two parts: a cellar for the top wines and a tasting room that is also a gallery for contemporary art - hardly surprising for a former art student who plans to do a Masters in Liberal Arts degree when he retires (at which time, by the way, he hopes to become a teacher). Redondo's belief that art is an obvious complement to wine is perhaps best encapsulated in Enartis', a Latin word combining oenology and art, and the name of a Rioja in the Concordia range produced at Dominio de Susar, in collaboration with Michel Rolland and Carlos Falc. While Concordia Crianza and Concordia Hacienda la Concordia Reserva are 100% Tempranillo, the 1999 vintage of Concordia Enartis is 55% Tempranillo, 20% Syrah, 15% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Ours is the only vineyard with Syrah entitled to DO Calificada classification,' explains Redondo. The philosophy of Enartis has been to give absolute freedom of creativity to the winemakers and we will produce the best Rioja, whatever it takes,' he vows. One of the company's most successful launches has been Masia L'Hereu Single Vineyard, a blend of 70% old vine Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% old vine Merlot, produced at the new still wine facility at Marqus de Monistrol in Peneds. But on learning that wine writer Anthony Rose has likened it to a Second Growth Claret, Redondo looks anything but flattered. Second Growth? Then we still have a long way to go.' From the subtle, cedary nuances of Masia L'Hereu to the powerful body and intense flavour of the Petit Verdot produced by Principe Alfonso de Hohenlohe at Cortijo Las Monjas in Andaluca, the wines themselves are proof of how far the company has come under Redondo's leadership. But the best is yet to come: We look like a building company at the moment,' he says, stepping over wet cement at Hacienda Zorita. This is just the beginning.'