lunes, 28 de enero de 2013

Bodegas Fernando Remírez de Ganuza (Samaniego - Rioja Alavesa)


Fernando Remirez de Ganuza, who came from Navarra to settle in Rioja Alavesa, was in real estate for many years, and in that profession he came to know the vineyards in his region as very few people did. He bought them and resold them, he swapped them... and, being a wine enthusiast, he soon decided that he should keep some of the best for himself, create a serious estate, and build a winery.

He had started out in 1978 by specializing in land swaps involving tiny vineyards (the well known Spanish minifundios) in order to assemble much larger, unified estates, several of which were bought by some of Rioja’s best known wineries. As he now recalls, “I’d say I have participated in about 2,000 acquisitions, sales, and swaps.”

Never afraid of being called a modernist, Fernando Remirez de Ganuza designed and largely built himself the equipment for a cellar that is different from all others
So, when he changed professions he knew everything about the land. Then there was the winemaking part. And that’s where he created a real surprise in the region, by revealing his brilliant technical inventiveness at the service of his idiosyncratic conceptions about cellar work. Never afraid of being called a modernist, he designed and largely built himself the equipment for a cellar that is different from all others. It was established in 1989.

Meshing perfectly with the rest of the beautiful, medieval village of Samaniego, the winery compound appears to be much older than it is, because it is faced with 2oo year old masonry stone blocks, with a perfect sheen. There is a little brook crossing the large central yard and a general air of bucolic peace. Only inside does one discover an amazing, state of the art winemaking facility that resembles no other.

But before traditionalists start to cringe, the main fact should be stressed: Remirez’s vineyard holdings 57 ha (140 acres) around Samaniego and other villages in Rioja Alavesa, are amazingly good and provide sensational grapes. The average age about 60 years, with some 100 year old vines, is probably the oldest of any estate in Rioja. The varieties are 90 per cent Tempranillo, 8 per cent Graciano, and 2 per cent Garnacha, all of the vines being head pruned.

The minutiae of viticulture and harvesting (entirely by hand, in small baskets) are supervised to the nth degree by Remirez, and they include a system of tries (selective harvests) similar to that practised at the grandest Sauternes châteaux. Ripeness levels are closely monitored, and each vine is visited several times, with only perfectly ripe bunches being picked each time.

Then its on to Remirez’s technical wizardry which starts with a triple selection via three conveyor belts, with the first devoted to removing loose single grapes, the second to discarding damaged bunches, and the third to cutting the bunches in half horizontally. All of those processes are done by hand by skilled workers. The latter technique is a Remirez obsession, based on the conviction that the top part of the bunch (the “shoulders") is much riper than the bottom part (the “feet”). So the bottom goes for carbonic maceration, becoming the much lauded Remirez young unoaked wine, while the top is fermented traditionally. The two wines are never blended back together. "There is a huge difference", Fernando insists. "There may be 1.5 per cent more alcohol and 25 per cent more anthocyanins colour, in the shoulder part.”

Now the gadgetry comes into its own, as the half-bunches are pressed using an innovative technique, designed by the wily Remirez, consisting of a flexible bag that is lowered into the tank of must and gradually filled with water, thus exerting a gentle but firm pressure on the grape pulp. The gentleness of the operation impedes the extraction of harshness or excessively herbaceous flavours. The idea stems from a time, honoured local practice, trasnocho (“sleepless night”), in which traditional winemakers allowed the grape must to drip from sundown to sunrise.

Then its on to the fermentation, done in peculiar, small, conical, stainless-steel tanks. And rather more conventionally, the wine then undergoes  malolactic fermentation in new oak barrels. Overall, one third new oak, both French and American is used, because the barrel stock is renewed every three years.

What comes out of those barrels reflects Fernandos love for assertive, concentrated wines, where the superb quality of those grapes he so meticulously tends in the vineyard and treats in the cellar can shine. He doesn’t favour sheer power for its own sake, however contrary to what some critics say. Over the years, he has expanded his portfolio significantly, but that house style is prevalent throughout.

The first wines produced at Remirez de Ganuza were, logically, the R. (or “Erre Punto”, as it´s called in Spanish), made with the bottom part of the grapes, and the Remirez de Ganuza Reserva, a wine that won many plaudits with its 1994 vintage, a peculiar one, because it was exported to the United Stales before the legal period of oak and bottle aging for a reserva had been completed, so in that market it was sold under a generic label. But it was all the same wine.

The white Erre Punto, made from the fruit of isolated white vines in some of the old mixed vineyards, and possibly from some bought in Viura, was a later addition, but it doesn't much resemble the red Erre Punto, since in this case its an ambitious, rich, barrel-fermented wine.

Trasnocho was introduced as a more modern, more concentrated wine than Remirez de Ganuza, and Fincas de Ganuza as a less expensive wine from vounger vines, but still with reserva-level aging.

With the 2001 vintage. Remírez de Ganuza presented its first Gran Reserva. It was the 2004 version of this wine, from another great vintage, that won Fernando his first 100 point rating in "The Wine Advocate".

A selection of the ten best barrels in the cellar, giving some 3,000 bottles of the best wine in the house, was presented for the first time in 2008 under the name Maria Remirez de Ganuza, a poignant tribute to one of Fernando´s daughters, killed by a car in front of the bodega when she was 14 years old. (His other daughter, Cristina, is now an oenologist and his main assistant in the cellar.) A single-vineyard wine, La Coqueta, has been announced unofficially, but by late 2010 none had been released.

Fernando Remirez de Ganuza
Area under vine: 57 ha (140 acres)
Average production: 250,000 bottles
Adress: Calle de la Constitución 1,01307 Samaniego, Álava
Contact: Tel: +34 945 609 022; Fax: +34 945 623 335;

Writen by Hugh Johnson (The Finest Wines of Rioja)

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