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We could write a huge book with Bodegas Bilbaínas's history. And it would be a fascinating one too. It is also an excellent example of the tremendous influence that French producers had on the implementation of the Bordeaux style in Riojan wines. The start of what is today Bodegas Bilbaínas goes back to 1859 when the Bordeaux firm Sauvignon Frères et Cie purchased vineyards in the area of Rioja Alta and built the winery Haro, at the site called Cantarranas, next to the railway station. Its primary activity was producing red crianza wines and export them to Bordeaux (France), a country that was then scourged by the phylloxera plague.
There are also documents from those days that reveal the production of sparkling wine, which as marketed as Champagne wine with the label Sauvignon Frères; this would be comparable to an original sin nowadays.
Years later, in 1901, when France had recovered from phylloxera, the winery Sauvignon Frères is taken over by a group of businessmen from Bilbao. With José Ángel Aurrecoechea and Santiago de Ugarte at the head, this winery was given its current name, Bodegas Bilbaínas.
Thanks to the great history of Bodegas Bilbaínas, its crianza red wine, Ederra, which is still produced, became the daily wine choice at the palace when Alfonso XIII reigned. For this reason, in 1925 the company was honoured to be the Supplier of the Royal Household and Heritage.
Another interesting anecdote of this period is the written proof of the commercial relationship between Bodegas Bilbaínas and some of the Champagne houses, such as Clicquot and Mercier, whose sparkling wines were dispatched from Haro ready to drink and with the original labels.
Furthermore, another curious fact was the one featured by Viña Pomal. It was one of the first Spanish wines to be marketed abroad, as in 1926 the winery had a bottling plant in London, from where it distributed Pomal all around England. This wine started to become quite popular in the country and, with time, it earned the standing it still has today. The fame that Viña Pomal reached in England was such that, in 1952, the head of the Bilbao London branch gifted the British PM, Winston Churchill, a box of Viña Pomal, which he sent directly to his house at Downing Street. This event was featured in the press, and on the 30 of January 1953, it was made known to the Board of Directors of Bodegas Bilbaínas.
As years went by, the winery started buying more vineyards, which began giving their names to its most emblematic wines: in 1911, Viña Pomal was born; in 1921, Viña Zaco; and in 1923, the white wine Viña Paceta. This tradition is still kept today. Currently, Bodegas Bilbaínas has 246 hectares of their own vineyards, mainly distributed in the Municipality of Haro, on the south-facing side of the Ebro valley, in the surroundings of the river mouth of the Tirón. More recently, since 1997, it is part of the Codorníu Group, which has most part of the shareholding.
The property and their work philosophy
North from Logroño, in the municipalities of Haro and Villalba, we can find the vineyards of Bodegas Bilbaínas. Its property, with 246 hectares, is located in the most privileged site of the wineries of La Rioja Alta. This makes it one of the largest and most excellent vineyards of the Riojan community, and which also stand out for the closeness of the farms to the wineries.
The prevailing vines are from the Tempranillo variety, although other red varieties like Grenache, Mazuelo and Graciano are also cultivated. Within the white varieties, Viura and Malvoisie stand out.
The work carried out in the vineyards shows that tradition is not incompatible with modernity. In the last few years, Bodegas Bilbaínas has performed a thorough renovation and modernisation of the vineyards. At the same time, they have brought together the respect for the century-old tradition, characteristic to the winery, with state-of-the-art technology. Their vast experience and the technology they have at the wineries have allowed them to modernise the vineyards to achieve sheer quality. 60% of the vines are trained in espalier, while the rest remain in the traditional vase-shape.
On the other hand, the winery is located in the famous town Barrio de La Estación de Haro. Perfectly preserved buildings from the 19th and beginning of the 20th century can be found neighbouring the winery. Surrounding them is a chestnut garden and three hundred-year-old sequoias, the symbol of the winery.
The main façade of the old buildings were refurbished in 1997. Since then, the centennial facilities have gone through a change of identity, which consisted of the renovation and construction of new premises.
The process entailed the refurbishment of the old buildings, the construction of the ageing warehouses where 17,000 barrels are stored, the renovation of the old winery, an investment in the production facilities, the expansion of the vineyards and the updating of its wines. The renovation of the facilities of Bodegas Bilbaínas started with the construction of a hall destined to the reception of the harvest, and the pressing and fermentation processes. Later on, a cellar was built for the ageing in barrels.
At the beginning of the 2000s, architect Domingo Triay began the works for the conversion of the old winery. After demolishing an old building that was situated at the entrance of the facilities, the underground passageway with concrete walls was built, giving access to the old French winery called Sauvignon. On the other hand, a street was built to access the winery, as well as a parking area for visitors. At the same time, the corridors and the enclosure of the winery were also renovated. The gardens were remodelled, re-allocating the centennial sequoias, laying down grass and placing a collection of rose bushes from the end of the 19th century. Lastly, the façades of the century-old buildings were reconditioned and, on the rear side of the winery, dated in 1901, they built the new offices.
One of the primary attractions of Bodegas Bilbaínas is its caves. Worthy of any film, these endless, resounding, humid underground passageways in the shape of tunnels hold hundreds of barrels, which are the true image of more than a century of history surrounding these wines. The restoration included other sites, like the maceration and fermentation halls, with metallic containers from Germany dated in 1941 and wood vats that date back to 1859. They also renovated the train station hall and the visitors' dining area, where we can find large wooden harvest baskets ("comportas"), tools and old winery machinery.
Since it was taken over by the Codorníu Group, there is no doubt that Bodegas Bilbaínas has awakened its sixth sense for businesses. Not only does this allow them to forecast new market trends, but it also allows them to execute them with pure mastery.
To the business ability of Codorníu, we must add the figure of Diego Pinilla, its Technical Director, Agricultural Engineer by the Public University of Navarra and National Oenology Degree by the Agro of Montpelier (France) in 1998. Despite his youth, his professional career is outstanding: he has produced wines in Château Canon-La Gaffelière (St. Emilion, France), in Brown Brothers Milawa Vineyards (Victoria, Australia) and in Clos du Val (Napa Valley, California). He was part of the creation and the first years of Ysios until in 2007 he received a call from Bilbaínas to take over the position held by José Hidalgo.
It is clear that Codorníu and Diego are both driven by their passion for wine. They share a vision of future with precision and certainty, and they do not hesitate when it comes to making decisions, some of them challenging, but always aimed at achieving the qualitative values of top quality. They have the investment and their own vineyards, and indeed a huge winery; an unbeatable hand to win a great game.
Wines from Bodegas Bilbaínas
Currently, wines from Bodegas Bilbaínas now add up to more than twenty, including rosé and white Viña Pomal, and Cavas Royal Carlton in the form of Brut, Brut Nature and Semi-dry.
In the family of Ederra, a wine born in the Bilbao-style, they produce Crianza and Reserva, both 100% Tempranillo and aged for 12 months in barrels.
The Viña Pomal family is the largest one. It maintains the Riojan hierarchy of the Crianza, with Tempranillo and aged for 12 months in barrels; Reserva, also made from Tempranillo and aged for 18 months ; and the Gran Reserva, with 85% Tempranillo, and Mazuelo and Graciano, aged for one year in a 30,000-litre wooden vat, plus three years in American oak barrels.
Viña Pomal Ecológico also stands out. It is made from Tempranillo grapes that come from 17 hectares of vineyards with organic certification located in Haro. It is aged for nine months in American oak barrels (20% new) which provide the necessary complexity and maturity to complete the expression of this wine.
Another varietal wine is Viña Pomal Garnacha. Using wood protects the finesse of the Grenache, so 50% of the wine finishes its alcoholic fermentation in French oak barrels, on its lees during the entire ageing process. The rest is aged for 10 months in 1-year-old American oak barrels.
Within their collection of unique wines, we have to highlight Viña Pomal Tempranillo Blanco Reserva, a white wine made from a clone of White Tempranillo. It goes through batonnage the first 4 months, and it is aged for a total of 12 months in new French and American oak barrels.
We can also find the Viña Pomal Maturana Blanca, a variety that is also known by the name Ribadavia. It was approved in the D.O.Ca. Rioja in 2007, although it is the oldest known variety in Rioja, as it is mentioned in written documents from 1622. It comes from the farm Finca Paceta 14, located in the municipality of Haro. This plot borders the Basque Country and Burgos, it is 17 years old, and it has a surface area of 0.66 hectares. This wine was aged on its lees in deposits for 6 months. It has predominant citruses, accompanies by aromas of green apple and oak toastings; intense, extremely fresh, well balanced and lingering, with good ageing in the bottle.
And in this cast, we cannot forget about the two reds of La Vicalanda.
This wine was born in 1994, amidst of the euphoria for wines called "high expression wines". It comes from a selected plot within the vineyards of Viña Pomal.
La Vicalanda Reserva is made from Tempranillo. It goes through malolactic fermentation in French oak barrels (50% new), where they are then aged for 14 months. During this time, the wine is racked several times to clean in naturally and avoid treatments later on. It is intense and elegant, with fine woods that combine with black fruits, slightly balsamic and with a mineral background which gives it subtleness and elegance; powerful, structured and long lasting, with great body and balance.
Vicalanda Gran Reserva is only made in exceptional harvests. Ageing in oak and bottle gives Tempranillo maturity, finesse and elegance, respecting the identity of the emblematic region. Grapes are softly crushed and destemmed, and then fermented and macerated for an extended period. They are aged for two years in new Bordeaux barrels made of French oak with medium toasting. This wine remained bottled in underground caves for three years. It is a wine with clean aromas, with great intensity and persistence, with aromas that go from ripe fruits to mineral notes, accompanied by slight spicy hints; with remarkable body, unctuous, balanced, lingering and complex.
And its last update is the Viña Zaco, a very juvenile and easy to drink wine, with fruit and freshness. It goes through cold pre-maceration, and it is fermented at lower temperatures than usual. Then, it goes through a long maceration to achieve full extraction. It does not stay in barrels for a specific time. The ageing may vary between 8 and 12 months until the oenologist decides that the wine is in the optimum conditions for its consumption. A lot of wild flowers and violets, with ripe red fruits. Fresh and intense, with great volume, generous, structured and with round tannins.
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