“Biga! Biga! Biga!”, booms Florentino.
What is Biga, you ask? Biga is the number two in Basque and also the name of the second wine he makes in his line, Luberri Crianza. It also happens to be one of his most popular wines, a wine which we have yet to find anyone who is not a fan. One night, in the midst of an industry tasting of Rioja with many famous labels represented, upon noticing that one particular magnum was completely empty while the other wines were only partially consumed, Florentino leaned over and offered the perfect insight into his wines: “You see, while people like to talk about those other wines, they like to drink my wine. It makes them happy.” It was a simple, yet important observation about winemaking. The wine was a magnum of 1996 Luberri Biga, the first vintage he bottled this vineyard separately and he shared it to prove that it could stand with the perceived “best” in the Rioja discipline. The wine was complex and layered, but most of all it was fun, lively, and simply delicious to drink. It was the wine everyone wanted in their glass because there was as much joy in the wine as there was in the man who made it. That experience encapsulates the spirit and the wines of Luberri. There are names that people in the industry like to drop, but when it comes to wines to drink for pure pleasure, Luberri is always at the top of the list.
Florentino Martínez Monje, the incredible force behind Luberri, is a jovial and mercurial spirit with a heart the size of Rioja. He is also a serious winemaker, a self-made cosechero who is so talented he often makes his craft look easy. In reality, Florentino is one of the most respected farmers in Rioja because he grew up in the vineyards and understands his landscape better than almost anyone alive.
“Authentic, direct, and passionate. I always go straight in life and wine. This is how our wines are: honest and true. We try to convey something very simple yet deep: our very own personality. Luberri wines are land, climate, work, and tradition, captured in the moment” – Florentino Martínez Monje
The Luberri winery is located in the village of Elciego,
in the heart of Rioja Alavesa where they farm 35ha of old-vine tempranillo, along with some white viura and malvasia. Their vineyards are located principally between the important wine-growing villages of Elciego and Laguardia, extending to La Puebla de Labarca and Villabuena de Álava. Along with his wife María José, they started their family winery in 1991. Florentino comes from a family of farmers from San Vicente de la Sonsierra who moved to Elciego when he was eight. There he worked with his father and brothers in the vineyards, learning every nuance of the terruño of Rioja. Building on these formative experiences, Florentino was part of the original Artadi project, where he made wines that were instrumental in the development of modern Rioja. These were the first wines that made the press take notice of Rioja’s greatness.
Despite the success of his previous wines, making wines to gain favor with critics was not for Florentino: “You cannot drink points”. Florentino wanted to make his wines; wines which expressed the truth and gastronomy of his native Basque region. Wines that make people happy. He became famous for resurrecting and perfecting the traditional style of semi-carbonic, whole-cluster maceration of tempranillo that is historic to Rioja Alavesa. This style of fermentation dates back more than two hundred years in the region, before the changes which came with the arrival of phylloxera and the importation of French winemaking techniques.
In the winery, Florentino participates in all aspects of the production,
but his true passion lies in his work in the vineyards. All the plots are farmed ecologically, with each individual vineyard site fermented and vinified separately. All of the cuvées at Luberri are well-considered blends of specific neighboring parcels that yield a certain individual personality for each wine. Essentially all of the wines from Luberri are single-vineyard expressions. Florentino is also responsible for inventing his own trellising system, designed specifically for the conditions of Rioja Alavesa. His trellising system, which is a modified bush-vine system with higher trellising, allows for them to keep yields low while protecting the grapes from the frosts which can collect at the lower part of the vineyard. The system produces grapes with great concentration and flavor, as well as remarkable freshness and acidy, due to his inventive canopy management. At Luberri, the wines are truly made in the vineyard.
The next generation at Luberri is led by Florentino’s two daughters Miren and Laura, with Laura’s husband Carlos taking on a key role in the cellar, ensuring Luberri will be a family affair for generations to come. Not ones to rest on past accomplishments, the team at Luberri has also been innovating through their work on their first Gran Reserva Rioja, from two of their oldest vineyards of 80-90-year-old tempranillo: Las Salinas at 600m and Rehoyos at 460m. While deeply complex and possessing Rioja’s trademark ability to age in the cellar, Luberri’s Gran Reserva remains as welcoming and approachable as the rest of their wines. They also continue to develop their white wines, adding another layer to the expression of Luberri. We are fortunate to bring these vineyard-focused, cosechero Rioja wines to tables across the US, where they continue to spread the energy and joy that Florentino and family put into every bottle.