Samaniego Rioja Alavesa
c/Constitución, 1, 01307 Samaniego (Alava)
Tel: +34 945 60 90 22
Fax: +34 945 62 33 35
Winemaker: Fernando Remírez de Ganuza
Total annual production: 150,000 bottles
Total planted vineyards: 55 hectares
Wines Produced: Remírez de Ganuza, Trasnocho, Finca de Ganuza, Erre Punto
US importer: Jorge Ordoñez, Fine Estates from Spain,
The quality or state of being perfect is something we all long for in some way, while recognizing its impossible nature to achieve. Many have set this as their goal only to fail, often due to lack of effort or the presence of obstacles that end up being insurmountable. I mention this because I was given a peek at one individual’s pursuit for perfection. From the moment I have been in Spain, I have heard about its rise to greatness as the next potential country for producing stellar wines. Many of us have heard of Vega Sicilia and Pingus wines, measured not only by price but also by their inherent quality, which have proved to be an integral part of Spanish history. But how many of us have heard of Remírez de Ganuza? I would wager that few outside of the hardcore wine “geek” arena have heard even a whisper; which is unfortunate considering that it is Bodega that has achieved an impressive level of excellence. Though I think the winds are shifting as more people begin to hear about the amazing wines being produced here.
Late last year, I had the chance to visit Remírez de Ganuza, located in the village of Sameniego in La Rioja Alvesa, with a friend who happened to be traveling there. I had been keeping in close contact with the sales manager and had wanted the chance to visit them for quite some time. After reading some reviews and talking with the sales manager, it seemed like the prime opportunity to take jump into the car and see how amazing this Bodega sounded for myself.
The first night, I dined on a juicy leg of lamb and relaxed in the old historic town of Haro, followed by an early rise the next day to hail a cab. The short fifteen minute ride from Haro went rather quickly, as you can imagine, winding through hillsides full of vines. I was dropped off at the entrance to what appeared to be a quaint little Bodega in a small town nestled at the foot of the high and abrupt limestone Sierra de Cantabria Mountains.
Surrounded on one side by an old stone church and narrow roads, the bodega gave the impression of having been squeezed into the small town with a shoe horn.
After a short time standing at the entrance, I was welcomed into a tiny little office and asked to wait for the foreign sales rep who would, evidently, give me a tour of the winery. It was at this exact moment when I began to notice that things worked a bit differently from other Bodegas. Clean offices sat within a portion of the building that seemed both old and new. Walls made of stone seemed to vibrate with histories’ long forgotten, while modern desks and computers furnished the office with a professionalism of a first rate business. I felt as if several hands came together over the years to mold and create a Bodega that not only honors its past, but is also willing to change and grow into the future. It’s quite a feat considering the amount of history your both trying to preserve and build upon.
Luis, the foreign sales rep who spoke both English and Spanish flawlessly, greeted me in the office and explained that Fernando, the owner, was unfortunately quite busy at the moment but hoped to meet with me later that evening. However, Luis offered to give me both a tour of the winery and a tasting of their wines.
Any of you who have taken a winery tour can relate to me when I say that they tend to be the same. “Here are our fermentation tanks, our bladder press, our bottling lineÃ¢€Â¦yadda, yadda, yadda”. When I visit wineries, I’m more interested in having an actual conversation with someone and tasting their wines in order to get a feel for the Bodega’s goals, process and overall intentions. This way, I can better get a feel for what sets the winery apart from the others, if there is anything at all. On the other hand, sometimes the “standard” tour turns out to be an eye opener, which was the case here.
As we strolled about the facilities, the normal tanks and equipment turned out to be in a class all of there own. Evidently Fernando consciously has made it his goal to stand apart, but not just in the wines he makes, but in the way they are made. To truly get a grasp of what I am conveying, allow me to give you a bit about his background.
Having been born and raised in the region, Fernando was a realtor who sold land, specifically vineyards. For several years, he was the guy to know if you were even the least bit interested in starting a winery. Working as a negoiciant of sorts, he continually shifted the ownership of historic vineyards from one winemaker to another. As a result, he became intimately familiar with the Rioja region, and approximately ten years ago, this calling led to the obvious question: why not save a few select parcels for himself and then follow his dream of creating his own bodega? With a wealth of knowledge at his fingertips, Fernando started to purchase the finest parcels of land as they came to market, slowly building the foundation that ones needs to make first rate wine. His goal is simple; to make the best wine in Rioja – a grand statement that one should not take lightly.
Now here’s where his passion to achieve this goal becomes more evident. Most people would: buy a bunch of equipment, hire a young enologist, buy second hand grapes and design a fancy label. Not Fernando. In his case, it went more like this:
1. Either find the best vineyards with the best vines available or wait until they became available.
2. Redesign all the winemaking equipment, so as to improve and innovate what already existed. Each tank, press and barrel is designed to his very own specifications.
3. Cut no corners when it comes to harvesting by picking the grapes as each bunch comes to full maturity.
4. Select incredible grapes – only the best for his premium blend. Going so far as to only use just the shoulders of the bunch. (Basically looking at the bunch as a triangle, he only selects the top half where the grapes are most concentrated for his premium blend.)
5. Rotate his oak fermentation vessels every two years for new ones.
6. Use his barrels only once for aging.
7. Oh and the fancy label!
During the entire tour, I was stunned by the cleanliness and attention detail everywhere I looked; not to mention the unique ways old ideas were approached. For example, as we walked through the main fermentation room, one tank had a continual stream of water running over it. At first, I thought they were cleaning it; but Luis explained that they didn’t use “jacketed” cooling tanks, but rather ran water from the mountains over the tanks and then reused this water in both the fountain outside and other areas around the property.
After we finished the tour through the production area, we continued on to the aging facilities. Located under Fernando’s home, we entered through a ground level door where I felt like I was stepping back a few centuries. Evidently, Fernando is not only a winemaker, but a history buff. To make this point clear, you need to know something about his bodega and home. Originally, it was the site of old farmhouse. When Fernando bought it, he wanted to make sure that the history remained intact. However in order to have a premium aging room, he needed to tear the entire farmhouse down and rebuilt it. So, being an absolute perfectionist, he searched for stones, door handles, wood panels, etc, that were native only to the Rioja region. Huge stone blocks that make up the foundation and walls were taken from buildings that no longer could support themselves. It’s obvious how much care and attention he put into each and every detail. Fernando’s love of history was further exemplified in the reconstructed roman wine press he installed. Some may construe this as an exploitation of antiquities, where someone with money feels that they should “show off”, but the reverence you feel as you enter the lower cellar makes you realize that you are part of something more profound and solemn. Fernando’s soft spoken voice and kind eyes tell you that nothing here was done out of self interest so much as a dedication to honoring the regions history.
Since coming to Spain I have seen a lot of self pride where people with money have built things in the hope of making themselves seem more important than they really are. At times you can fall in love with the wine anyways and admire the fact that “they could”. What set this Bodega apart was the humble feeling you experienced as you watched one man refuse to settle for second best, while at the same time acknowledging that he is the part of something larger.
The last part of my tour ended with a wine tasting, and the notes can be found at the end of this article. We sat in a room with a fireplace on one end, where in the summer; I’m told that they grill lamb chops on a grape vine fire. We talked about the wines – analyzing them inside and out. However, what’s more important is how I felt at that moment. While tasting the wine surrounded by a building created in honor to the region and the wines, I felt privileged. When posing the tough question of “What Fernando is like to work with?” to his employees, everyone says, “Fernando is a hard man to work for, mainly because he wants perfection, but I am privileged and admire him for all he’s done”. For a brief moment, I felt a part of that while sitting in a room that doubles both as a tasting room and a family room.
Sometimes wine seems more about numbers and sales figures than it should. I always wonder why some wines seem to rise above the rest, and in truth, I’m not sure; but I will say that if you don’t appreciate where the wine came from and who made it, wine can never become much more than grape juice.
Fernando may or may not be on track to be the best winemaker in Rioja because trends and personal taste will always lay as road blocks to anyone who tries to achieve this goal. However, people respect him and his wines, and beyond all that, they just taste damn good!
Till soon, Ryan Opaz
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