2000 Years of Winemaking Tradition Meet Modern Day in Ribera y Rueda

It is not an overstatement that Ribera del Duero and Rueda are Spain’s most prestigious regions for red and white wines. The fact that more wineries than ever are led by women; that vineyard managers look after their vineyards with painstaking care; that many wineries sustainably and organically farm their vines; that both regions produce exceptional wines that are often accessible outside the regions, not just in; and that they create wines for every season, occasion, and budget; it’s no wonder these two regions have earned their reputation for prestige. Because of that, it’s not a matter whether to buy these wines. Instead, it’s a matter of how much.

Women in the lead 

More than 400 bodegas (wineries) in Ribera del Duero and Rueda are at the forefront of grape growing and winemaking, each in their own way honoring a thousand years of winemaking traditions in the area. New traditions are being established, including an ever-growing number of wineries now being led by women. These women are simultaneously honoring tradition while harnessing the natural resources in the regions to produce noteworthy wines. 

In Rueda, at least one-third of the wineries are now led by women, whether as winemakers, running the winery, or both.  Rueda is one of the wine regions with the world’s highest percentage of women winemakers. Here, women play a pivotal role in creating excellent wines and cementing the reputation of Rueda and its primary grape, Verdejo. As the number-one selling white wine and the second biggest seller among all wines in Spain, Verdejo is a grape that can be made fresh and bright or oak-fermented and ageable. Women in Rueda are creating their own styles, representing a bridge between the past and the future, fusing tradition with innovative winemaking practices, and demonstrating consistent respect for the environment while they’re at it. 

The story is similar in Ribera del Duero, where women helm more wineries than ever. The women leading them are charged with carrying on the history and ethos of the wineries, including their knowledge of what it takes to grow grapes and make great wine at high altitudes (vineyards in Ribera del Duero are situated at altitudes ranging from 800 to over 3000 feet) as well as enhancing the virtues of the wines as laid down from their inception. 

Traditional, Terroir Driven

In many cases in Ribera del Duero and Rueda, long-standing wineries have been paying close attention to farming practices long before doing so became a trend. It was and remains a form of respect for the land as well as the most straightforward way of growing the best grapes from the vineyards year after year. Here, stewardship of the land is nothing short of a self-imposed mandate. 

Many of the wineries here are artisanal in nature, and often that translates to the transformation of grapes from very old vines – some as old as 100 years – into wines for the modern-day palate. To do this, some wineries use a combination of new and old techniques, including centuries-old underground winemaking facilities, organic farming, old-school methods of pest control (read: pre-industrial remedies), and unfiltered wines. The result is tasty juice nurtured from start to finish with little intervention and a healthy dose of agricultural respect along the way. The benefits of this attention to detail are readily apparent in every glass.

Sustainably Farmed

“How we take care of the earth makes a difference.” Bodegas Goyo Garcia Viadero

Although countless wineries throughout the world make great wine, not all of them highlight their care and concern for the earth in their marketing materials or other forms of communication. In Rueda and Ribera del Duero, wineries market their wine and live it. Many producers take their commitment further by obtaining certified organic and/or biodynamic documentation.

Several bodegas in the area boast generations of winemakers who have been farming grapes from very old to “younger” vines – 50 years old or younger – many of which are organic. A lot of wine regions throughout the world rightly boast about their farming practices, but in both Ribera del Duero and Rueda, painstaking attention to the soil and growing conditions and practices is as essential as the air itself. Life on the so-called maseta – high plateau – is inhospitable to many crops, including grapes, which means that growers have to do all they can to nurture the vines throughout the year despite nature’s sometimes cruel turns. In Ribera, 80 percent of the grapes are hand-harvested. Sustainability throughout both regions goes a long way toward helping extend the life of the vines and the quality of the wines.

Delicious and dependable

One of the most striking features in the Ribera and Rueda landscapes may be manmade. That’s because many wineries in the regions have focused on making consistent, delicious, and plentiful wines and on the winery buildings themselves. 

This translates to architecturally graceful structures that stand out because of their striking beauty. They masterfully melt into the landscape as if they’ve been there as long as the old vines themselves. Such beauty turns out to be value-added since the wines produced in these places are as stunning as the buildings in which they’re made. Best of all, they’re often made in higher quantities, which means we all have the opportunity to taste the wines everyone is talking about.

Patio Perfect

Speaking of the wines, everyone is talking about when the screen door opens and patios beckon, light, bright, Joven-style Rueda Verdejos are the ones that answer the call. Luckily, the Verdejo grape is a perfect player poolside, on patios, terraces, picnics, or (and!) happy hours in the peak summer months. Creating crushable, fresh white wines is a big part of winemaking decisions at many bodegas in Rueda, which means that as Rueda Verdejos make their way across the Atlantic, their arrival announces the start of summer. They say, “Break out the shellfish platters and uncork the Verdejos!” So too do local wine retailers who often squirrel away a few bottles for themselves for just such occasions.

Fireside Companions

Over in Ribera, some wines proclaim their winter readiness by begging to be opened while sitting next to a fire or making a fire-cooked meal. It’s as if the winemakers were inspired to create the perfect wine to enjoy with friends at home beside their own fires. These wines are conversation starters and, at the same time, conversation stoppers because of their depth, elegance, complexity, and in some cases, price tag. They are among Ribera del Duero’s most expensive and famous wines and beg for attention with each sip. These exceptional wines are meant to be cellared, though no one will mind if they’re opened right away. Just be sure to have some roasted lamb or beef tenderloin ready to go on the table alongside.

 

 

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