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Ramón Bilbao marks 100 Years with a vision for the future

Published:  25 April, 2024

In the heart of Spain’s renowned Rioja wine region, Ramón Bilbao stands as a testament to a century of winemaking excellence and innovation. Founded in 1924, the winery has remained steadfast in its commitment to crafting exceptional wines that reflect the unique terroir of Rioja while embracing modern techniques and sustainable practices.

As the company celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2024, it does so with a firm focus on the future. With its wines already gracing shelves in over 60 countries worldwide, Ramón Bilbao has firmly established itself as a global brand. Exporting 25% of its wines, the winery has set its sights on further growth in key markets such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Latin America.

Guiding the business into its second century is Rodolfo Bastida (pictured), a native of Haro who this year celebrates 25 years with the business. His tenure has been characterised by a purity of fruit, high altitudes and maximum vineyard expression. This focus has resulted not only in traditional Rioja offerings like Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva, but also in groundbreaking projects like the Mirto ‘superblend’ Rioja, pale rosé wines for ageing and boutique Lalomba single vineyard wines.

“For us, making wines with great purity and a sense of place is key,” Rodolfo Bastida, chief winemaker at Ramón Bilbao told Harpers during an event at Lord’s in London yesterday evening (24 April). 

Reflecting on his journey, Bastida recalled the significance of his first vintage in 1999 and the launch of Mirto, a Tempranillo from a single, high-altitude vineyard planted with 85-year-old vines. 

“For me, my first vintage in 1999 was very important because it was a difficult vintage due to April frost and low yields. The year also saw the launch of a new wine Mirto, which was a completely different style of wine from what we had produced up until that point,” Bastida said.

The success of Mirto led to further ventures, including Lalomba Winery, dedicated to exploring a single vineyard estate in Rioja Oriental.

“We have expanded to different regions of Spain,” explained Bastida, “with wineries in Rias Baixas for Albarinho, Rueda where we produce the local variety Verdejo and Ribera del Duero.”

Under Bastida’s guidance, Ramón Bilbao has reinterpreted the Rioja tradition, introducing fresher, fruitier wines and implementing sustainable viticulture practices. The focus has shifted from oak-heavy wines to those emphasising vineyard quality and terroir expression.

“Twenty years ago, people associated Rioja with big body wines and high quantities of oak, but now the evolution is more focussed on the vineyards and less focussed on the systems of ageing. The consumers now demand fruity wines with very clear flavours that are ready for the market,” Bastida said.

Today, Ramón Bilbao boasts 180ha of self-owned vineyards and sources grapes from an additional 900ha via grower contracts. Bastida has championed the revival of native varieties like Garnacha and Graciano, emphasising high-altitude vineyards for superior quality.

Yet, as Ramón Bilbao enters its second century, climate change poses new challenges. 

“In Rioja especially, every vintage is different from the previous one, you need to continually adapt to the situation. For example, we have had frost in some vineyards in the last three days so we are considering our options and whether we are going to prune again. So you need to be adaptable in this changing climate,” said Bastida.

“As a result, advancing sustainability is a top priority. We’ve joined programmes promoting environmental protection and biodiversity, aligning with consumer trends and driving innovation,” he added.

The winery has implemented a range of initiatives aimed at reducing its environmental impact, from using 100% renewable energy to reducing carbon emissions from transportation. Through programmes like Wineries for Climate Protection and International Wineries for Climate Action, Ramón Bilbao is leading the way in promoting sustainability and environmental stewardship in the wine industry. 

The hope will be that Ramón Bilbao can control its destiny in the face of climate change as it embarks on a second century of production.