Meet Your Makers: Protos

There’s a constant crossroads at the Protos winery in Ribera del Duero. Both on philosophy and architecture, the legendary bodega proudly straddles the border of old and new – utilizing and respecting the past while also embracing all things modern and new. It’s a bit of a choose your own adventure in the form of a winery: Go down this hallway, and you’ve got kilometers worth of ancient cellars. Go down another hallway, and you’re basking in modern architecture and state-of-the-art technology. It’s old-school winemaking pedigree with a modern day sensibility and a whole lot of pride.

“Many of our visitors have an image of Protos as classic and very traditional,” says Fernando Villalba, Director of Communications for Protos, during a recent trip to the winery. “We accept and assume that we are a winery with a long history in the Ribera del Duero, but also work very hard in order to evolve and to invest for people to see that we are not an anchored in the past. We are a winery with much history and work hard to have a future as big as our history. So for us it is essential that visitors can come and can see first-hand the winemaking process … and all the history of the winery, and at the same time, all the vanguard involved in this beautiful building.”

It’s old-school winemaking pedigree with a modern day sensibility and a whole lot of pride.

Even for those who might only be minimally aware of Ribera del Duero wines, there’s a good chance you have come across Protos at some point while staring at a wine store shelf or pondering the Spanish section of a restaurant’s wine list. Their history and pedigree has made Protos somewhat synonymous with Ribera del Duero, largely in part because they assigned the Ribera del Duero name to the regulatory council in order to establish the denomination. And if location is your thing, their winery is basically tucked into the base of the iconic Peñafiel castle that overlooks the region. How’s that for legacy?

“We used to be two brands, one was Bodegas Peñafiel, and the other was Ribera del Duero,” Villalba says. “In 1982, we gave our brand – Ribera del Duero – to the regulatory council to use as the name of the appellation.” In what would be the gift that keeps on giving, Protos literally and figuratively put Ribera del Duero on the map.

“I think it’s a detail that makes our legacy clear: Make great wines of Ribera del Duero and try to be a great ambassador for the area — not only in Spain, not only within our borders, but beyond them.”

Just about two hours or so north of Madrid, Madrileños seeking a little wine-fueled relaxation often wind up at Protos, making it the most-visited winery in the region. Visitors will see first-hand the duality that Protos has created: Yes, there’s a labyrinth of more than 2 kilometers of old caves, some of which date back to the 1500s, in which they store and age more than 14,000 barrels of wine.

In what would be the gift that keeps on giving, Protos literally and figuratively put Ribera del Duero on the map.

The old cellars are fascinating to see and tour (which can be easily arranged), but equally fascinating is the newer, modern portion of the winery designed by famed architect Richard Rogers. If you happen to arrive in Spain via the Madrid Barajas airport, you’ll see his architectural work in person as a primer, minus the wine, unfortunately. The wavy roof-lines in particular are one distinct similarity that Protos shares with the airport.

And on top of a vast history in Ribera, Protos is now also a major player in Rueda, seeking opportunity in the region and in what the verdejo grape has to offer.

“In general, people may think that white wine is of lower quality, or is a more easy-drinking wine than red wine,” Villalba says, “but I think that basically that’s for lack, and on the other hand it is an opportunity. Because in the end the white wine usually tends to have a more affordable price, so you can spend more on a great red wine.”

And lucky for you, Protos offers both – and should you buy either their Ribera del Duero or their Rueda, you can pop the cork and know deep down that you’re getting equal parts tradition and innovation all in one glass.

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