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Green light for Vineyards of Alava appellation in Rioja Alavesa

Published:  19 October, 2022

The Basque government has authorised the Vineyards of Alava appellation (PDO) for wine producers in Rioja Alavesa, the Rioja sub-region which forms part of the Basque Country in Northern Spain.

ABRA, the Rioja Alavesa Producers Association, welcomed the authorisation which temporarily grants Rioja Alavesa producers the ability to sell wines under the new PDO.

Ines Baigorri, general secretary of ABRA said she expected producers to opt for the new appellation in 2023, as the authorisation comes after the end of this year’s harvest.

Baigorri said the new appellation would not include Rioja’s Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva categories in which wines are classified according to their age, rather than according to quality parameters.

“We want to create an economic and environmental appellation,” said Baigorri, adding that ABRA was looking to introduce rules concerning organic wine production.

ABRA has sought to establish a new appellation for Basque producers since 2016 in a bid to create wines of greater value for smaller wine producers in Rioja Alavesa.

Baigorri said Vineyards of Alava would provide an alternative business model to the production volumes of large industrial estates which often sell Rioja wines including Reserva wines which are sold as low as under €4 in Spain. A total of 295 Rioja Alavesa wine producers make about 68 million litres of wine a year.

The Basque government said the appellation complied with EU PDO laws. The authorisation is, however, temporary, and subject to final approval by the EU. Exports may not start until 2023. Brussels is expected to authorise the appellation as long it meets EU requirements which include climatic, geographical and human factors.

However, Rioja’s wine board, which strongly opposes ABRA’s initiative, is expected to announce further new legal challenges against the approval of the appellation this Friday.

Last November, the Rioja board launched an unprecedented legal case against the Basque government in a bid to stop the new appellation in its tracks. In September this year, Rioja’s wine board approved new ‘exclusivity’ rules concerning vineyards which have been widely interpreted as a restrictive move to dissuade Rioja Alavesa producers from opting to use the Vineyards of Alava appellation. 

Baigorri said that growers who supply to grapes to existing appellations within Rioja could be economically penalised as result of the new rules.

The new rules prevent producers from using vineyards for wine production in both appellations unless they are separately registered in each appellation.

Rioja Alavesa producers, including Faustino, for instance, which is also registered in the Cava DO, uses its winery facilities to make both Rioja and about 300,000 bottles of Cava a year. However, the new Rioja wine board’s ‘exclusivity’ rules would prevent Rioja Alavesa producers from using the same winery to produce both Rioja DOCa and Vineyards of Alava wines.

“The exclusivity rules are clearly discriminatory and they contravene EU freedom of enterprise rules,” Baigorri said.

The new ‘exclusivity’ rules mean that producers who opt to use the Vineyards of Alava appellation, but wish to return to the Rioja appellation at any point in the future, would be prohibited from rejoining the Rioja appellation for a year and would be unable to sell their wines as Rioja wines during that period. The Rioja wine board however, said the new rules would provide “guarantees over the exclusivity of production from vineyards registered in the Rioja DOCa”. Grapes from Rioja DOCa vineyards will be exclusively used for wines authorised by the Rioja DOCa. “In this way, the sector shows that it wants to protect its market and reinforce guarantees [of quality control] provided by the Rioja DOCa,” it said.

The Basque government said it was obliged to authorise Vineyards of Alava appellation as it was submitted by a private company [ABRA]. But several of its politicians have said, in recent months, that they would prefer to establish a regulatory council in Rioja Alavesa, within the existing Rioja DOCa appellation rather than establishing a wine appellation for the Basque Country.