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Exclusive: Rioja Alavesa revives breakaway move

Published:  11 December, 2018

Rioja Alavesa wine producers have officially agreed to revive the breakaway Viñedos de Álava DO (Denominación de Origen) which they say is aimed at providing a sustainable economic model for wine producers.

ABRA, the association of Rioja Alavesa producers, exclusively told Harpers that the new DO would be created outside of the existing Rioja DO.

It said recent reforms adopted by the Rioja wine board had not met its expectations on quality and differentiation, prompting it to relaunch the creation of the DO.

Speaking exclusively to Harpers, Itxaso Compañon Arrieta, winemaker at El Mozo wines and ABRA’s Vice-Chair said: “A majority of ABRA members have now decided to officially revive the Viñedos de Alava Denominacion de Origin.”

Rioja Alavesa is part of the Basque Country, but its wine rules are determined by the Rioja Wine Board, which ABRA says, supports the interests of large powerful industrial producers who favour large volumes and low wine and grape prices.

The relaunch of the breakaway DO has won support of the autonomous Basque government in Spain, ABRA said.

But Compañon Arrieta said: “This is not about Basque politics and Basque independence – this is about establishing an appellation to ensure a sustainable economic model for smaller Rioja Alavesa producers.”

“Reforms of the Rioja wine board mean the criterion of quality will still predominately be based on the length of time wines are aged in barrels,” she said.

“Single vineyard, village, municipality and sub-regional wines will be mentioned on labels, but they will still be classified under the categories of Joven, Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva wines rather than being classified in their own right.”

Having launched the Viñedos de Álava appellation in 2016, Rioja Alavesa wine producers and the Basque authorities decided to pause its implementation in order to assess reforms adopted by the Rioja Wine board but ABRA today confirmed that it would now push ahead with the appellation.

Under reforms adopted by the Rioja wine board, producers can now write Rioja Alavesa in the same size font as Rioja on labels, but only as long as the words Rioja Alavesa are printed below the word Rioja.

Rioja Alavesa has a reputation of producing some of the best Rioja wines, which often show freshness, energy and a sense of place.

It is known for its microclimate and the production of quality wines from relatively low yields. As well as producing barrel-aged wines, Rioja Alavesa winemakers employ carbonic-maceration and semi-carbonic maceration methods of production.

ABRA, which represents about 120 wine producers, said producers had opted for the creation of a breakaway appellation rather than the establishing of one under the umbrella of the Rioja DO.

It said a sub-regional appellation within the Rioja DO would require legislative changes under Spain’s wine law, Ley de Vino in Madrid - something which ABRA said Spanish authorities and large producers were unlikely to agree to.

ABRA said the process to revive Viñedos de Alava would be officially launched in Spain next week. Once approved by the EU, Rioja Alava producers would be able to choose whether they produce wine in the new DO or in the Rioja DO, said ABRA.