Single vineyard wines, old vines, low yields, organic farming, ripe harvests, severe grape selection and non-interventionist winemaking. Today, we associate a lot of these practices with our best quality wines, but when Juan Carlos López de Lacalle, the legendary winemaker at Rioja’s Artadi, first began pioneering the practices in the mid 1980s, he was considered a revolutionary. Now he is regarded as the man who has changed the face of Rioja wines!

Artadi is not a boutique winemaker. Today the winery makes over a million bottles a year, but López de Lacalle’s philosopy is more inline with the artisanal winemarker. As he explained to the Wine Spectator’s Bruce Schoenfeld “The Riojas of the ’80s were smooth, but their skeletons were angular..There was no flesh on them, no possibility of a caress. We wanted a viable alternative. Much about us is the same as the other Riojas–we have the same terrain, the same tempranillo. But the expression of the grape is different, as is our philosophy for the wine.” (Four Trailblazing Bodegas by Bruce Schoenfeld, Wine Spectator, 28 January 2003).

The Vina El Pison, a single vineyard tempranillo made from vines planted in 1945 on sandy soils over pure limestone, regularly achieves skyrocketing Robert Parker scores. The Grand Anadas and the Pagos Viejos, two other old vine tempranillos, are equally well regarded. The more affordable Vinas de Gain, is also 100% tempranillo. Sourced from 40- to 60-year-old vines, it is aged in 40% new French oak for 12-14 months.

In many respects, López de Lacalle’s story sounds familiar to Australian wine lovers. In the mid 1980s, Rockford winemaker Robert O’Callaghan paid his growers more than twice the going rate for their old vine fruit at a time when the South Australian government was encouraging growers to pull out their old vines and ‘modernise’ their vineyards. Similarly Lopez de Lacalle encouraged the growers of Cosecheros Alvases co-op, the genesis of the modern day Artardi, to respect and nurture their old vines in a period when Rioja was slumping… [Read More]