D.O. Ribera del Duero (Castilla y León)
Vega Sicilia is one of those wines that everyone has heard of, but no one has tried. In fact, it is said that Vega Sicilia is nowadays a fantasy that has become a myth. Strangely enough, what gave made it popular at the beginning was the production of brandy and ratafia, as in 1876, in Philadelphia, the winery Lecanda attained the quality certificate for its superb brandy. In this same year, they managed to become the supplier of the Royal Household (Real Casa), and in 1880 they were awarded the Great Cross of Isabel the Catholic. All of this happened and the red Vega Sicilia had not even been born yet.
Also discover other wineries such as Pintia, Alión, or the Macán wines made by "Benjamin de Rotschild & Vega Sicilia" that are also part of the Vega Sicilia universe.
Vega Sicilia's history is packed with information and passion. It has been transcribed, and at Decántalo we want to take part and share the legend that catapulted on of the most emblematic wineries in Spain and one of the most admired ones in the world.
Its history starts with Mr Eloy Lecanda's father, Mr Toribio, a rich landowner with a Basque origin, who in 1848 helped lift the Marquis of Valbuena out of poverty. He helped this Castilian nobleman who was going through terrible financial circumstances, buying a two-thousand hectare farm form him.
In 1859, he received the property from this father. Back then, the farm was a cluster of livestock, fruit trees, sale of plaster and pottery. Five years later, the went to Bordeaux to buy 18,000 shoots of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Pinot Noir, and he planted them in the property alongside Red Grenache and Tinto Aragonés. They were aimed mostly at the production of brandies and ratafia, as in 1876, at the Philadelphia Exposition, Lecanda was awarded a quality certificate for his brandies. In that same year he became the supplier of the Royal Household.
However, he also produced some wine, as we can see from an old ad promoting "Table wine from vines of Châteaux Margot (sic)". This earned him the National Agriculture Award in 1882 for his contribution of foreign grape varieties.
Six years later, Lecanda suffers a severe crisis, leading hi to sell the farm to Antonio Herrero Vázquez, who adds Santa Cecilia, Valdecarros and El Carrascal to the property. From that moment, the wine had several names: Lacanda, Hijos de Antonio Herrero, Vega Sicilia y Carrascal, and its current name, Vega Sicilia.
The name "Sicilia" refers to the small church of Santa Sicilia, which is located inside the farm, roughly one kilometre from winery. In 1904, the Herrero rent the farm to Cosme Palacio, from La Rioja. He brought Txomin Garramiola to the winery, an essential character in the history of Vega Sicilia, as he started to use Bordeaux winemaking techniques. This is when the first bottles appeared, labelled with the two surviving brands: Vega Sicilia and Valbuena, produced according to the Riojan trend, with long ageing in barrels and casks, and bottles according to demand.
In fact, there is a doubt whether the first Vega Sicilia is from 1917 or 1915, despite the fact that the winery sold bottled wine before then. What is true is that the first bottles, with simple black and white labels, were created by Luís Herrero, a bachelor, enthusiast hunter and related to the high bourgeoisie and the aristocracy, who gifted them to his close friends through the Pigeon Shooting Society. This extremely uncommon anecdote created the legend of the most expensive Spanish wine and the myth: it was a wine that could not be bought with money, but only with friendship.
Some years go by. And despite the fact that the 1917 and 1918 harvests reached maximum fame, with awards like the one from the Universal Exhibition of Barcelona in 1929, the winery was still not profitable. Therefore, in 1951, the Herrero sold the property to Prodes, a seed company. Here is where they are joined by Jesús Anadón, an important man for Vega Sicilia.
However, the Venezuelan businessman Hans Neumann tried the wine in New York. He fell in love with it and bought the winery and the farm from the Herrero in 1966, although he hardly visited. In 1982, the Álvarez family was commissioned to manage its sale, but they decide to place an offer themselves and they buy the winery and the vineyards of Vega Sicilia. At this point, Jesús Anadón retires, and Pablo Álvarez takes on the general management of the winery, while the oenological area is managed by Mariano García, Anadón's assistant, who after being at the head of 20 harvests founded his own winery, Mauro.
With the Álvarez family in charge, in the vintage of 1987 one of the historic wines of the house disappears, the Valbuena 3º Año. Their vineyards are extended until they reach their current 200 hectares, and Mariano modernises the house wines, cutting back their ageing times. The winery gets a firm grip on the market, both national and internationally, and in 1992 they buy the old winery Bodegas Liceo, now called Bodegas y Viñedos Alión. In 1993 they start their international expansion with the purchase of the winery Tokaj Oremus in Hungary, completing the two first wineries that belonged to the group Tempos Vega Sicilia (2014). Here, Xavier Ausàs takes over the technical management of the group of wineries, after working for six years as a oenologist at Vega Sicilia.
At the start of the new millennium, the group of wineries is extended with the purchase and incorporation of Bodegas Pintia, in Toro, and in 2009 they start to produce DOC Rioja alongside the Rothschild family, owners of part of the mythical Château Lafite and other wine-related properties around the world. This is when they both created, at 50%, Bodega Benjamín de Rothschild & Vega Sicilia.
After years and with a steady but somewhat dangerous pace, in 2010 Vega Sicilia launched which is probably the most modern and exemplary production warehouse, reflecting the map of all the soils on the farm, resulting from the exceptional parcelling of the vineyard areas. Daniel Álvarez Díez, chairman and founder of the group Eulen and Bodegas Vega Sicilia, passed away in November of 2015, and his son, Pablo Álvarez, now continues as the managing director of Vega Sicilia.
The latest news concerning Vega Sicilia is the departure of the oenologist Xavier Ausàs mid 2015, after 24 harvests, and the addition of Gonzalo Iturriaga as the new technical director. From Madrid and of Riojan origin, he initially worked at the winery Ribera del Duero Alonso del Yerro. Then, he worked as an oenologist at Bodegas Habla in Extremadura for five years, and subsequently became the exports manager of Lamothe-Abiet, a company that markets oenological products.
Currently, the property of Vega Sicilia has a surface area of 970 hectares, and its viticulture space lies on more than 200 hectares of vineyards. These are located on the bends of the south side of the Duero river basin, between Valbuena and Quintanilla, less than two hundred metres from the winery. Here they have the Tinto Fino variety, which occupies 85% of the vineyards, and some Albillo variety, as well as those from Bordeaux origin, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec, which have been planted on the farm for more than a century. These have adapted extremely well to the ecosystem of the area, where most part of its vineyards show a Mediterranean range of varieties (encepagement) pruned in a vase shape, although they also have the Atlantic model, with a large amount of vines planted in espalier.
The house-winery has been extended twice, in 1970 and 1982, and its façade is cladded with Castilian brick, simple and with a monastic style. Inside the farm there is also a chapel where more than a century ago, Eloy Lecanda met his spiritual precepts. Today, it remains as a devotional ornament. Nowadays, the winery has an advanced productions warehouse, with 81 deposits so that plots can be worked on individually. It has cooling chambers, sophisticated selection tables, a system used to work with gravity and directly pour the grapes into each deposits, and even a lift vat that carries the wine to a lower level, so that it can be transferred to barrels. None of the barrels are older than six years, and the American oak ones continue to be manufactures in-house, in a larger, automated and effective cooper.
One of the most important pillars of Vega Sicilia is in the vine. As an anecdote and an example of work and care for the vineyards, we have to point out the metallic fans that are distributed throughout the farms to avoid frosts.
The more than 200 hectares that surround the winery have been subject to analysis and a clonal selection of the varieties for more than a decade. This has resulted in a complex soils map, with 19 different types, which have been reparcelled in 50 farms.
This diversity of soils has clearly affected the production warehouse, where there are now 90 instead of 20 deposits. Two thirds are made from stainless steel and the rest are made of oak, aimed at producing wine from each farm individually. From the technical point of view, working with 50 batches when it comes to the end assembly, allows them to refine the quality even more, although the production remains the same.
On the other hand, taking advantage of the experience and the excellent results of the cold chambers installed in 2001 in their winery of Pintia, in Toro, the new production warehouse also implemented them, allowing them to make wines with more aromatic components, colour and flavour. Once grapes are at the low required temperature, perfectly identified in each box with their exact origin, the picking of grape bunches begins on the selection table. Here, a team of operators certifies that the work performed in the vineyards is perfect.
From this point, the bunches are transferred to the destemming machine, which separates the stems from the berry. The grape berries pass on to another selection table, where eight people on two lines control the grapes one by one to get rid of the petioles and bad grapes.
From here they move on to small deposits where exactly 500 kilos are poured in. Using a guide system, these reach the 6000 and 8000-litre fermentation deposits, the largest ones, although there are 500, 800 and 1000-litre ones to make special small amounts of wine, as well as the 22 large wood vats.
Vega Sicilia wines go through alcoholic and malolactic fermentation in this warehouse. Then, they are taken to the ageing area, using another of the most striking inventions of the new winery: a large lift-deposit. There is only one other in the entire world, in Château Cos d'Estournel (Bordeaux). It allows the to transfer the wine through gravity, respecting the verticality system of the traditional wineries, where using pumps is avoided to prevent the product from been damaged.
After the winemaking process, all wines a transferred to large wooden vats where they are left for some time. After this, they are tasted and destined to what will be their base wine. After this stage, all wines are poured into new barrels so they can start acquiring maturity, tannins and ageing capacity. Now they are passed on to used barrels to that wine and wood can combine, and from here, they are taken back to large vats so they can recover their fruitiness and their properties. This process takes place for three years, in the case of Valbuena 5º, and between six and nice years for Único, depending on the vintage. Production is completed in the winery's bottle rack, where wines will continue to refine until they are marketed through the famous system of "cupos", which means a buyer is entitled to have a certain amount of wine.
At Vega Sicilia there has always been concern when it comes to looking after the environment. Therefore, new buildings strictly comply with the most rigorous international standards in environmental matters (ISO 14001). This way, there is a separation between sewage waste water and waste water that comes from different cleaning and disinfection tasks, so they never come into contact to avoid possible contamination. In the same way, solid residue from plastic where they receive different raw materials they use (barrels, bottles, phytosanitary products,...) or paper (packaging boxes), are compacted and taken to a "clean collection point" destined to these residues, until they are collected by companies specialised in their processing.
Wines from Vega Sicilia
Wines from Vega Sicilia do not need further presentation. Currently, this winery markets three types of wine: Valbuena 5º red reserva, which is released in its fifth year, Vega Sicilia Único in its tenth year, and Vega Sicilia Único Reserva Especial, released when the youngest of its three vintages has exceeded a decade.
Valbuena 5º is the purest expression of Tinto Fino, the prevailing grape, for the most part. The other variety used is Merlot, which takes part, more or less, depending on the vintage. Tempranillo de Valbuena comes from plots located on concave hillsides with slight slopes, which descend from the hills to the moorland. These soils originate from the sediment that was eroded and accumulated as colluvials on lower hills, developing soils with great expression, and an important evolution that concluded with the formation of a calcium horizon in deeper layers. Valbuena shows us a direct vision of this terroir, with the direct influence of each vintage. Wine ferments at a controlled temperature in stainless steel deposits with local yeasts. Malolactic fermentation is also carried out in stainless steel tanks, and after fermentation, wine is left to age in wooden barrels and in bottles for five years, hence its name, Valbuena 5º. French and American oak, 225-litre new and used barrels, and 20,000-litre vats.
Vega Sicilia Único is the reference of Vega Sicilia. This wine combines the properties of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon in different proportions depending on the vintage. And also, small amounts of Merlot and Malbec, where each one of them provides a distinguishing element, and a unique style when they come together. Vines are cultivated in plots with soils located right where the sides that descend from the moorland and the alluvial plane meet. The surface soils are comprised of fine hill colluvials with small fragments of limestone, and in deeper strata, we can find a lot of quartz gravel in a sandy layer. On the surface there are a lot of limestone boulders with angular edges. Wine ferments at a controlled temperature in wooden deposits with local yeasts. Malolactic fermentation also takes place in wood. After this, wine goes through what is probably the longest ageing process in the world of red wines: almost 10 years between wooden barrels and bottles. It goes through different stages in different types of barrels, 225-litre new and used French and American oak, and 20,000-litre vats. Each one of the batches determines what type of wood is used and the time they will remain in each container. After this, they are aged in the bottle to complete a complex and long ageing process. In normal conditions, it will remain 6 years in wooden barrels and 3 in bottles.
Vega Sicilia Único Reserva Especial is a red without vintage. It is a tribute to tradition that the winery uses to continue with a very old Spanish practice: bringing together the balance of different vintages. Traditionally, in Spain the small number of wineries that had a bottling system produced two types of wine in each harvest: the one for the current year and another wine with no specific harvest, which they called "Reserva Especial". It was a blend of wine from the best harvests where the most representative wine of the winery was born. Reserva Especial is the wine with most personality. It gathers the complexity of Único and multiplies it by several vintages, offering a complex and intense range of aromas and flavours. Only the best Únicos are able to make a Reserva Especial, a mixture of years, virtues, experiences and sentiment, which contribute to outline the essence of the unique and unrepeatable style of Vega Sicilia.
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D.O. Ribera del Duero (Castilla y León)
D.O. Ribera del Duero (Castilla y León)
D.O. Ribera del Duero (Castilla y León)
D.O. Ribera del Duero (Castilla y León)