The century old Bodegas Bilbaínes was born with a Gallic heart and was consolidated with a Riojan spirit. Bodegas Bilbaínes is the oldest bottling company in La Rioja, and is the winery with both the largest area of underground cellars, as well as the winery with the largest span of vineyards in the town of Haro. Since its founding, the winery has been characterised by its profound knowledge of the terroir, as well as the careful production of its single estate wines, all of which express the character of the plot they come from, each recognised with their own name: with Viña Pomal born in 1911; Viña Zaco in 1921, the white wine Viña Paceta from 1923, and their latest addition the reserva La Vicalanda from 1994,adifferential and expressive wine that comes from a payment of 9 hectares selected from the plot Viña Pomal.
The history of the Bodegas Bilbaínes could fill the pages of a novel, and an exciting one at that. Its history is a good example of the enormous influence that French winemakers had on implementing Bordeaux wine making styles in La Rioja. The roots of Bodegas Bilbaínes dates back to 1859, when the French company Sauvignon Frères et Crie acquired vineyards in the Rioja Alta and built a winery in Haro, in an area known as Cantarranas. The winery was built close to a train station, and dedicated its main activity to producing wines for export to Bordeaux (France), that had been devastated by the phylloxera outbreak.
There are also documents to indicate that the winery also dabbled in the production of sparkling wine, marketed as a Champagne under the label Sauvignon Frères, although today it would probably be considered a sin.
Years later, in 1901, when France had moved passed the phylloxera outbreak, the Sauvignon Frères winery was acquired by a group of businessmen from Bilbao, led by José Ángel Aurrecoechea and Santiago de Ugarte, who changed the name of the winery to its current on, Bodegas Bilbaínas.
The good track record of the Bodegas Bilbaínas resulted in their crianza Ederra, which is still produced today, being served daily at the palace during the reign of Alfonso XIII, leading to the company being honoured with the title of ’Proveedor de la Real Casa y Patrimonio’ (Supplier of the Royal House).
Worth nothing in the history of the winery is the business relationship that Bodegas Bilbaínas with certain Champagne houses, such as Clicquot and Mercier, among others, who issued sparkling wines with original labels from Haro. Another curious fact is that Viña Pomal was perhaps one of the first Spanish wines to move abroad, when the winery had its own bottling centre in London from 1926, where it distributed of Viña Pomal to the rest of England. The wine became well known in the UK, managing to enjoy a great prestige that it still enjoys today. The wine reached such a level of fame that in 1952, the then head of the Bilbao London subsidiary presented the then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill with a box of Viña Pomal at his home in 10 Downing Street.
Over the years the company has acquired more vineyards, and currently is home to over 246 hectares of their own vineyards, situated mainly in the municipality of Haro, on slopes on the Ebro valley close to the mouth of the river Tirón. Since 1997, the winery has been part of the Codorníu group, who hold nearly all of the shareholders.
The Winery and Work Philosophy
Bodegas Bilbaínes is located to the north of Logrono, in the towns of Haro and Villalba. The wineries 246 hectares of vineyards are situated in the prestigious enclave of wineries in the Rioja Alta region, which is perhaps one of the most extensive and excellent vineyards in the Rioja community, and is also noted for the wineries proximity with the winery’s facilities.
The work carried out at the vineyards show that tradition is not incompatible with modernity. In recent years, Bodegas Bilbaínas has undergone through a major renovation and modernization of its vineyards, yet at the same time it has managed to combine the most advanced and latest technology with century old traditions that have helped characterise the winery. The winery´s extensive experience and this use of technology has allowed the wineries to modernise the vineyards to the maximum quality. 60% of the vines are cultivated on trellises, while other 40% remains on traditional low bush vines.
The winery itself is located in the famous “Barrio de Haro Station” (the train station district). Here adjacent to the nineteenth and twentieth century buildings, which are perfectly preserved and surround a century-old chestnut and three redwood trees, a symbol of the winery’s rise.
The main façade of the old buildings were renovated in 1997, signalling a change of with the renovation and construction of new units.The process involved in the reform of old buildings, construction of new ageing facilities with space for 17,000 barrels, renovation of the old cellar, investment in processing facilities, expansion of the vineyards and updating are housed their wines. The renovation of the premises of Bodegas Bilbaínas began with the construction of a pavilion for harvest reception, pressing and fermentation. Months later a cellar for aging in barrels was built.
In early 2000, a project by architect Domingo Triay, the reconversion of the old bodega was undertaken, constructing a concrete-walled underground passage leading to the former French winery known as Savignon. Other improvements were the construction of an access route to the winery, a parking area for visitors and landscaping of the gardens, rearranging the existing trees, sowing a lawn and planting a collection of late 19th century roses. The façades of the century-old buildings were remodelled and the new offices were built in the rear part of the winery created in 1901.
One of the best attractions for visitors at Bodegas Bilbaínes is its underground cellers. These underground cellars are home to underground corridors and endless tunnels, in humid conditions, with hundreds of barrels that are a clear testimony to the hundred years of history surrounding the winery.The restoration process also included sections for maceration and fermentation, which are home to metal containers which were produced in Germany in 1941, as well as wooden vats from Germany in 1859.
There is no doubt that since joining the Codorníu Group, the winery has developed a sixth sense for not only anticipating new market trends, but also executing them with impeccable mastery. This sense of Codorníu entrepreneurship is combined with the expertise of Diejo Pinilla, the technical director, an agronomist with a degree awarded from la Universidad Pública de Navarra and National Diploma from the Agro de Montepellier, awarded in 1998. Despite his young age, his career has been impressive: producing wine at the Château Canon-La Gaffelière (St. Emilion, France), at the Brown Brothers Milawa Vineyards in (Victoria, Australia) and Clos du Val (Napa Valley, California); he also worked as winemaker at Concha y Toro (Peumo, Chile); and was an integral part of the birth and early years of Ysios until he received a call from Bilbaínas in 2007 to take over from Jose Hidalgo.
It’s clear that Cordorníu and Diego have united their passion for wine, sharing their vision with precision, and have not hesitated in making decision, some tough, but always with the aim of achieving high quality wines. In order to achieve this aim, the winery is not tight on investment, nor on the care of their vineyards, to build the foundations of a strong winery.
The wines of Bodegas Bilbaínes
Currently there is a range of around twenty Bodegas Bilbaínas wines, including a rosé and white variety of Viña Pomal, and the Cavas Royal Carlton, which come in Brut, Brut Nature and Semiseco.
One of the range of wines produced by the winery is Ederra, a wine made in a Bilbao style, with both a Crianza and Reserva version, both 100% Tempranillo and aged for 12 months in barrels.
The family of Viña Pomal wines is the largest, and maintains the traditions of the Rioja region: with a Crianza, made exclusively with Tempranillo grapes and aged for 12 months in barrels; a Reserva, also made with Tempranillo grapes and aged for 18 months in barrels; a Gran Reserva, a blend of Tempranillo (85%), Mazuelo and Graciano, aged for 12 months in 30,000 litre capacity wooden vats and 3 years in American oak barrels.
Then there is Viña Pomal Ecológico, made exclusively with Tempranillo grapes taken from 17 hectares of organically certified vineyards located in Haro, aged for nine months in American oak barrels (20% new), to provide the complexity and maturity to complete the expression of the wine.
Then there is Viña Pomal Garnacha, another single variety wine produced with the Garnacha grape variety. The use of wood seeks to protect the delicacy of the Garnacha, hence why 50% of the wine undergoes alcoholic fermentation in French oak, as well as with its lees throughout the whole ageing process, while the rest ages in first year American oak barrels for 10 months.
Within the winery’s collection of unique wines, Viña Pomal Tempranillo Blanco Reserva stands out, made with a clone of Tempranillo blanco, with bâtonnage during the first 4 months and aged for a total of 12 months in new French and American oak barrels.
Then there is the Viña Pomal Maturana Blanca, a variety also known by the name of Ribadavia, approced by the DOCa Rioja in 2006, although it is perhaps the oldest variety in Rioja, since it is quoted in documents dating back to 1622. The grapes come from the Paceta 14 estate, located in the town of Haro, a 17 year old plot that spans around 0.66 hectares. Work on its lees is applied in tanks for 6 months. The wine offers strong citrus aromas accompanied by green apple and toasted oak. It is an intense, very fresh, well balanced and persistent wine, one that will age well in the bottle.
We coundn´t continue without mentioning the two reds from La Vicalanda. These wines were first produced in 1994, and are wines that are made from a selected plot within the Viña Pomal vineyard.
La Vicalanda Reserva is produced with the Tempranillo grape variety, and undergoes malolactic fermentation in French oak barrels (with are 50% new), where it is aged for 14 months, during which the wine is decanted several times to naturally clean it and prevent further treatments. This is an elegant and intense wine, with fine wood and combines with notes of black fruits, slightly balsamic with a mineral background that gives it a subtle elegance. It is powerful, structured, with a great body and balance.
Then there is La Vicalanda Gran Reserva, which is only produced during expectional vintages. A careful ageing process gives a maturity, finesse and elegance to the Tempranillo, while respecting the emblematic variety of the region. The grapes are crushed and de-stemmed very gently, fermented and undergo a long maceration. This wine is then aged for two years in new French oak medium toast Bordeaux barrels, and then remains in the bottle in underground cellars for three years in the bottle. It is a wine with clean aromas, very intense and persistent, with aromas ranging from ripe fruits to mineral notes, accompanied by light spices, with a remarkable body, it is smooth, balanced, long and complex.
Finally, there is Viña Zaco, a very youthful and agile wine, which is characterised by its fruity and fresh character. The wine undergoes cold maceration, fermentation in temperatures lower than usual, and a long maceration to achieve total extraction. There is not a fixed ageing period in the barrel, with ageing lasting between 8 and 12 months, depending on when the winemaker believes the wine has reached the optimum moment to be tasted. The wine has a profile of many wildflowers and violets with ripe red fruits. It is fresh and intense, with a great volume, generous, structured with rounded tannins.