The last few days have been so amazing, that I don’t even know where to start writing about them. I have harvested grapes in La Rioja, eaten tapas in Logroño and pintxos in San Sebastián, tasted incredible wines, watched the sunset and sunrise at La Concha beach, toured the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, drank huge gin & tonics and danced in a club with the worst DJ in Spain! But let me start in order…with my visit to Campo Viejo‘s winery.
I was in northern Spain for #weekendatcampo, a press trip organised by Campo Viejo and Pernod Ricard to show UK journalists and bloggers the beauty of La Rioja region and the passion and hard work that go behind each bottle of Campo Viejo. We spent two days in Logroño, capital city of the autonomous community of La Rioja and stayed at Hotel Marqués de Vallejo in the old town.
On the first day of our trip we toured the Campo Viejo winery, located just outside Logroño.
Many of you might have picked a bottle of Rioja wine at the supermarket, but might not know exactly what Rioja is or where it comes from. La Rioja is the premier wine-growing region of Spain and the native home of the Tempranillo grape.
Over 75% of the total planted area is dedicated to tempranillo, but other varieties of grapes are also grown here. A total of 18.000 kilos of grapes are estimated to be picked this season (that will roughly make 30 millions of bottles of white, rosé and red wines).
La Rioja is divided in three areas, each with unique climates and distinctive taste of their grapes: light flavours in Rioja Alta, full-bodied flavours in Rioja Alavesa; rich and deep flavours in Rioja Baja. Grapes from different areas are blended together to make the best Campo Viejo wines.
The grapes are ripe in September and October, harvesting season.
The winery was in full production. At this time of the year the viticulturists and winemakers basically live in the winery, they have to be there every day to check the grapes, assess which ones to pick and which ones to leave on the vines, control the production and make sure that everything is progressing well in the fermentation tanks.
Campo Viejo was founded by two local winemakers – Beristain and Ortigüela – in 1959, however the winery as we see it today was unveiled in 2001. The bulk of the construction is concealed underground to create dark, serene areas that evoke the feeling of traditional Rioja wineries.
Campo Viejo are committed to the strictest quality standards and, from the vine to the bottle, they adhere to sustainable winemaking practices. In 2011 it became the first Spanish winery to certify its carbon footprint and in 2012 become the first winery in the world to achieve Carbon Neutral certification.
Overground, the Campo Viejo winery is painted in the warm colours of La Rioja region so the building is seamlessly integrated with the environment, preserving the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape.
I had the chance to learn all about Campo Viejo’s history and brand directly from Mario Ezquerro (Chief of Viticulture) and winemakers Elena Andell and Clara Canals. A huge thanks to them for taking time out during the busy harvesting season to show us around the winery.
The highlight of the day was harvesting the grapes. Harvesting is very dependent on weather as it can only happen on sunny days (ideal conditions are sun, wind, and 23-24 degrees). We were lucky to get a beautiful sunny day, despite the heavy rains of the night before.
Donning hi-vis vests, protective goggles, gloves and garden scissors we spent half an hour picking viura grapes, a white variety. The process reminded me of PYOP farms in England, with the difference that after the picking we moved on to the winery to process the grapes and make wine!
We then visited Campo Viejo’s nano-winery, a facility opened in 2013 to produce experimental wines. The nano-winery allows Campo Viejo’s winemakers to play around with new varieties and improve their production techniques. What is learnt from the small batches is then implemented in the big scale winery.
At the nano-winery the harvested grapes are sorted by hand as they come along the conveyor belt to remove the dry or moldy ones. The whole bunch goes into a machine that removes the stalks and steam off the skins.
The grapes are then pressed into a sweet, fresh juice.
The juice is transferred to fermentation tanks for about one to two weeks. During this stage the sugar is released from the juice and is turned into alcohol. A lot of aromas are also released from the fruit, so this is the most important stage of wine production. The wine is tasted every morning by Elena and Clara to check that the fermentation is progressing well and that the temperature in the tanks is right. Once the wines are fermented, they are blended and aged in oak barrels or bottles for different lengths of time.
After lunch we attended a masterclass of grape tasting and wine tasting with Elena. Grape tasting is not just eating fruit! It is an important part of wine-making and it is done with a three-step process to analise the pulp, the skin and the seeds.
Wine tasting is an exercise of memory: you can learn the theory from books, but the best way to learn about wines is to drink them and memorizing flavours.
We tasted Campo Viejo Tempranillo (a bold wine, but also very versatile to pair with many dishes); the Garnacha (a great summer red and the fruitest Campo Viejo wines); the Reserva (a more complex, spiced wine, aged 18 months in barrel and 18 months in the bottle); and Gran Reserva (made with specially selected grapes and aged for two years in barrel and three years in the bottle).
My favourite was Campo Viejo Winemaker’s Art 2011, a limited edition wine created by Elena with 100% Tempranillo grapes, exclusively grown in Rioja Alta. It’s aged in French and American oak barrels, but the taste is not oaky, it is actually a very fruity wine (black cherries and blackberries) with a vibrant red colour.
The most important thing I have learnt from my day at Campo Viejo is that every step of the wine making process is controlled to create the style of wine you want. You have to know which wine you want to make in order to choose the best tools to make it.
Our long day ended with a beautiful dinner at the winery: plates of delicious Jamón Ibérico and glasses of Cava to start, followed by lamb chops barbecued on coals made from the vine branches.
A great end to a fantastic day spent with lovely people and Campo Viejo!
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Campo Viejo. All opinions are my own.