Making their Mark: Women Leading the Way in Ribera & Rueda’s Wine Industry

Women are shaping and influencing Ribera del Duero and Rueda’s wine industry in greater numbers than ever before. From oenologists making world-class wines to CEOs and leaders running the show, women today play a pivotal role in creating Ribera and Rueda wines loved the world over.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re sharing a snapshot of these industry trailblazers. Read on to learn more about oenologists Alicia Vidal Soblechero at Bodegas Soblechero and Victoria Pariente at Bodegas José Pariente. We also feature executives Carmen San Martin, president of Consejo Regulador, D.O. Rueda, Almudena Alberca Martin MW at Grupo Bodegas Palacio, Noelia Mena at Vinos de La Luz, Ángela Lorenzo Heras at Bodegas Félix Lorenzo Cachazo S.L. and Amaya Taller at Restaurant Taller.

Carmen San Martin, President, Consejo Regulador, D.O. Rueda

San Martin is a member of the Gutiérrez family, proprietors of Bodegas Hijos de Alberto Gutiérrez for four generations, carrying on a rich history that dates back to the 17th century. Currently she serves as the first president of CRDO Rueda.

What accomplishments are you most proud of in your role as President of D.O. Rueda?

San Martin: “The most important thing since the start of my presidency is to create a stronger community and consensus. The Regulatory Council is the home of 1,700 partners with many different interests. We have to work with them all.

Also, we are excited to announce a fresh new look for Rueda wines! As we roll out new vintages, you will see an updated Rueda logo and back/neck labels for each style and classification of wine. The new logo features our stand-out yellow and is clear and easy to recognize, helping you to spot us on the shelves right away.”

What do you see as opportunities (or challenges) for women working in the wine business in Spain?

San Martin: “There is a strong presence of women in Rueda, especially when we speak about winemakers, oenologists, or in the tasting panel of the regulatory council. I have not seen any kind of limitation because I am a woman. In my opinion it is the same for everyone, regardless of gender. If you are well prepared and work hard, anything is possible – and if you add a little bit of luck, then success is guaranteed.”

Alicia Vidal Soblechero, Owner/Oenologist, Bodegas Soblechero

The Soblechero family has been cultivating grapes in Rueda for centuries in the La Seca area, characterized by its uniquely rocky soil and wines with a rich, fruity expression. They produce Viña Clavidor. Alicia Vidal Soblechero is one of Rueda’s first female vineyard managers.

What is your family’s philosophy for making wine?

Soblechero: “Our philosophy is to cultivate our grapes and make our own wines organically from the 22 different plots that we have within the municipality of La Seca.”

Your family embraces traditional methods in the vineyards, yet you also have some notable innovations. Give us an example of something traditional and also something innovative.

Soblechero: “For the last 30 years we’ve used falcons to protect the vines from predatory animals. We are also the first producer to make ice wine in Spain at in Viña Clavidor.”

Victoria Pariente, Proprietor/Oenologist, Bodegas José Pariente

José Pariente grew grapes for decades in Rueda. In 1998, Victoria, his daughter, established Bodegas José Pariente to make the family’s first commercial wines, opening a state-of-the-art facility between Rueda and La Seca.

Tell us about your wines.

Pariente: “We make five wines: José Pariente Verdejo, José Pariente Sauvignon Blanc, José Pariente Fermentado en Barrica, José Pariente Cuvée Especial and our sweet wine, Passionate by José Pariente. We are about to launch a new wine from a plot we have called Finca Las Comas, named for the old vineyard from which it comes. All our wines are single varietal, made with Verdejo or Sauvignon Blanc grapes.”

Would you share one of your favorite combinations of wine and food using your wine as an example?

Pariente: “It would combine our José Pariente Verdejo with a dish of Iberian acorn-fed ham.”

Do you feel the wine industry in Spain has opened its doors to more career opportunities for women?

Pariente: “Clearly, in all sectors, women are making progress, but in the wine world, this evolution has been exponential. When I started 25 years ago, we had very few women winemakers and even fewer proprietors. It is a joy to see how the situation has been balanced in recent years. Today, our sector is full of women winemakers making magnificent wines. In Bodegas José Pariente, for example, without seeking it expressly, the workforce has the same number of men and women – and the technical department is exclusively made up of women.”

Almudena Alberca Martin MW, Technical Director, Grupo Bodegas Palacio

Almudena Alberca Martin is the first woman to achieve the Master of Wine title in Spain. Technical Director at Bodegas Viña Mayor since 2015, she has been responsible for repositioning the winery and creating and/or relaunching new wines.

What does it mean to be the first female Master of Wine in Spain?

Alberca Martin: “I feel very proud after putting so much work put into the education program, as well as relief and lots of happiness. It is an honor to hear from female wine professionals that my achievement helps inspire them.”

What is a non-traditional pairing with food that you recommend and why?

Alberca Martin: “Something very unusual – but a surprising and tasty pairing – would be one of our wines from Rueda, Caserío de Dueñas Verdejo Superior, with cocido (chickpea stew). This wine creates a pleasant sensation in the mouth due to the aging on its lees, which provides a perfect volume and unctuousness for this dish. The high acidity of the wine also balances the weight and fat of the stew.”

Noelia Mena, Technical Director, Vinos de La Luz

Noelia Mena is Technical Director for Vinos de La Luz, a family company that carries on a generational legacy of global wine-making. It comprises a group of wineries in Spain, Italy and Argentina, including Pagos de Valcerracín and Valpinica in Ribera del Duero.

Tell us about your Spanish wines.

Mena: “A wine of ours – to carry the common logo that identifies it with Vinos de La Luz – must be of a very good level. La Luz del Duero is in Peñafiel, the heart of the D.O. Ribera del Duero. We focus on making 100 percent Tempranillo wines sourced from different types of soil and aged only in French oak. They have a great predominance of fruit and balance with soft tannins.

Give us an example of a food pairing.

Mena: “For the Peñafiel Edition, some well-cured cheeses for dessert, as it is a very expressive wine to enjoy with time and without haste.”

Ángela Lorenzo Heras, Technical Director, Bodegas Félix Lorenzo Cachazo S.L.

Lorenzo Heras’s father Félix Cachazo was one of eight winemakers who help co-found the D.O. Rueda and champion the Verdejo varietal. Today, Rueda wines are among the most widely consumed in Spain. 

Why is Verdejo, the dominant grape in Rueda, so adaptable to this region?

Lorenzo Heras: “Verdejo adapts very well to the stony ground and the climate of our community, unlike other communities that have tried to implant this variety without great results. One of the main factors that impact the quality and differentiation of our wines is the fluctuations in temperature that range up to 20 ºC between day and night.”

You work with very old pre-phylloxera vines. What is the average age?

Lorenzo Heras: “We are fortunate to have nine hectares of pre-phylloxera vineyards in the municipal district of Alcanzarén. They are approximately 150-year-old vineyards, and they provide a complexity and elegance to the wines that differentiate them from other vineyards. Logically they are in very sandy ground.”

What do you think are the opportunities and the challenges for women in the wine industry in Spain?

Lorenzo Heras: “The opportunities and challenges I think are currently the same as for men, unlike a few decades ago in which the presence of women would be almost unthinkable in a warehouse or especially making their own wines. I do believe that in life women usually are much more constant and intuitive, which also differentiates us when it comes to making our wines. On the other hand, what I do not agree with is that women be pigeonholed with the consumption of a certain wine.”

Could you share your favorite wine and food to pair with it?

Lorenzo Heras: “One of our most special wines and a favorite for me is Carrasviñas Dorado [a blend of Verdejo and Palomino Fino]. It is the wine that my grandparents made in the past and that we have now revived as a tribute to them. The wine is kept in 16-liter glass demi-johns for 18 months during which time the wine achieves a golden color and slight oxidative character. Subsequently, it is transferred to oak barrels to age another two years. My favorite food for this wine is for an aperitif with some nuts and a good Iberian ham.”

Amaya Taller, Director, Restaurant Taller

Bodegas Arzuaga’s Restaurant Taller, in Ribera del Duero, offers an avant-garde Castilian cuisine by celebrated Chef Victor Gutiérrez (with a Michelin star). Amaya Taller oversees the restaurant, the property’s five-star spa and wine tourism.

Tell us about Restaurant Taller’s wine program.

Taller: “We are a winery, so the menu is paired with our own wines. The restaurant’s wine list features 50 wines from Ribera del Duero as well as 300 international listings. We also do wine and oil tastings with food tapas pairings.”

What are some of the restaurant’s signature dishes that would pair well with Rueda and Ribera wines?

Taller: “Rice with soft shell crab and corvina ceviche, pigeon with breadcrumbs, pork ear with caviar and lamb chops with saffron potatoes.”

How easy or difficult has it been for you to succeed as a female restaurateur in Spain?

Taller: “I have not had any greater difficulty than any man, although I understand it may be more complicated for chefs.”

The global wine industry is making strides in achieving greater gender balance, and these successful women all have a “glass half full” positive attitude about the future. More importantly, they are seizing that glass – along with opportunities to make their mark.

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