Remelluri

(reh-meh-yoo-ree) | Rioja Alavesa

  • Timeless, iconic property
  • Deep cultural and historical value
  • Connecting the past and future of Rioja
  • Cultural & environmental leadership
  • Certified organic, polyculture farming
  • High-altitude, Rioja mountain wine
  • World-class winemaking by Telmo Rodríguez
Press

Remelluri is one of the most timeless and iconic landscapes of the wine world,

as well as one of the most enchanting vineyards in Spain. While firmly anchored in its historical past, Remelluri illuminates the path forward for not only the future of Rioja but also world-class, terroir-based fine wines produced in Spain. It is about rediscovering the essence of Rioja, and the story’s evolution is genuinely cinematic in scope. At Remelluri, the future lies in the past.

“Recovering regions, protecting traditions, head-pruning vines, helping those who are starting out. That’s what I’m talking about. Everything we’re doing is restoring; we’re not trying to invent anything new. In fact, our motto is: The Future Lies in the Past.”

– Telmo Rodríguez

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Remelluri: Incredible Origins

The estate’s origins date back to the tenth century when Count Erramel, a Basque warrior and aristocrat from Álava, founded a small village on the site (uri in Basque); hence the name Erramel Uri evolved to Remelluri. The first wines were made here in the fourteenth century when Hieronymite monks tended the monastery atop nearby Sierra de Toloño mountains and founded a sanctuary and farm on the site. The earliest written evidence of wine production dates from the Laguardia village tax records from 1596, noting Remelluri’s contribution. The monks later abandoned the area, but local hermits continued to maintain the shrine while the Real Divisa, a local community organization, maintained the farms to accommodate the needs of pilgrims who came to pray at the sanctuary. The estate was eventually split up and sold in the nineteenth century, as were many properties throughout Spain belonging to religious orders.

The modern winery was established in 1967 when Jaime Rodríguez Salís, father of siblings Telmo and Amaia Rodríguez, purchased the vineyards at the heart of the former estate and began to make wine from the ancient, abandoned site. Jaime and his wife Amaia were entrepreneurial, non-conformist intellectuals from Irún, where Jaime was a writer and archeologist and Amaia, a writer and artist. The family was always forward-thinking, with incredible respect for culture, creativity, and craftsmanship. Since then, Remelluri has been devoted to restoring the original, historic vineyards to their fullest potential. Remelluri became the first single-vineyard Rioja of the modern era with its release of the 1971 vintage, standing out from a conservative wine culture based on house style and blends of purchased wines from throughout Rioja. Remelluri was founded on individuality and the concepts of terroir and specificity, always distinct from the industrial machine of greater Rioja.

Telmo Rodríguez (winemaker) and Amaia Rodríguez Hernandorena (viticulturist), returned to the property and took over the project from their father in 2009. Their return to their family winery marked the beginning of a new era at Remelluri; both a renewal of purpose and a commitment to the process of uncovering and revealing the truth of Remelluri. Telmo’s winemaking partner in all of his projects, the prolific Pablo Eguzkiza (trained at Château Petrus), has helped implement numerous changes in the vineyards and winery that can now be seen in recent vintages of Remelluri.

Pure Mountain Rioja 

Remelluri’s vineyards are located along the slopes of the Sierra de Toloño mountains in the valleys of Valderemelluri, La Granja, and Villaescusa, just above the village of Labastida in Rioja Alavesa. The vineyards here are at the highest elevation in the Rioja region with vines planted between 500 and 950 meters, south-facing, and protected from the prevailing northern winds and frost. The estate consists of more than 80 individual plots, all of which are vinified separately. One of the keys to the location’s significance is that the vines are planted in terraced amphitheaters following the contours of the mountainside, which shelters them from the harsh weather on the leeward side. It is worth noting that the Atlantic influence of the Bay of Biscay lies only an hour and a half by car from Remelluri, as evidenced by Telmo’s frequent surfing trips with his filmmaker brother Sanxo to Spain’s top destination for big waves. This ideal location is why generations of inhabitants have sought shelter and farmed the site for centuries.

It is this unique microclimate that gives the wines of Remelluri their distinct personality and character. These are mountain wines that express themselves very differently than the typical Rioja wines of the plains below. The grapes at Remelluri in the foothills of the Toloño mountains are almost always the last to be harvested in Rioja; it is common for the vintage to last well into October or November. Poor, stony soils with layers of calcareous clay give considerable structure for aging. At the same time, the Atlantic influence provides abundant rainfall and much lower temperatures than in the rest of the region, lending incredible acidity and freshness. The fluctuation of cool nights and warm days offers the ideal conditions for proper, long phenolic ripening of the grapes, resulting in Remelluri’s hallmark complex and nuanced aromatics.

The high-altitude wines from these vineyards have more in common with the great mountain nebbiolos of Italy than the fruity garnachas of southeastern, Mediterranean-influenced Rioja. They are also naturally built to age gracefully for decades, similarly to their Italian counterparts. Remelluri is pure mountain Rioja.

Remelluri’s Cultural and Environmental Plan

The Remelluri farm contains a rich trove of archaeological artifacts, including the remains of a necropolis dating from the 10th century and an ancient stone wine press lagar, carved from a granitic boulder in the middle of the vineyard. The property also contains a chapel dating from the 11th century featuring the last works of Basque surrealist painter Vicente Ameztoy. Dating back even further is Iron Age art found buried on the south end of the farm, discovered while planting the original vineyards in the 1960s. Remelluri has been an original idea of historic rebirth and refinement since its inception.

“One cannot really own Remelluri; the project is always alive and bigger than any one of us. We are only the current stewards of the land, guiding the project until the next generation takes it over. We do our best to uncover the truth of what the land gives us.”

– Amaia Rodríguez Hernandorena

Organic farming principles have always been utilized here to ensure that the wine remains true to its unique terruño. As such, chemicals have never been used at the property, and the entire production has been certified organic since the 2014 vintage. Remelluri also uses an integrated system of agriculture with great respect for the environment. Hedges and plantations are maintained and nurtured, and trees are planted to complement the vineyards, such as almond, peach, fig, and olive trees, as well as a rich and productive native bee colony (the wax from which they use to seal the coveted Remelluri Blanco). The Remelluri property contains many old head-pruned vines, which they use as inspiration for all of their vineyards. Vine training has been restored to traditional head-pruning techniques, and vine row spacing is traditional, suited to hand-harvesting. The history of vines in this region of Alavesa lies in these traditional methods.

Execution of Remelluri’s cultural and environmental plan is the domain of Amaia Rodríguez Hernandorena, who has a PhD from the University of Oxford for anthropology and now works at the property full time. Prior to her return to Remelluri in 2009, Amaia worked closely with their good friends in Burgundy, Domaine Leflaive, to further understand their approach to viticulture and what could apply to the Remelluri project. She also previously worked for the Basque government in their Department of Culture, developing projects to support Basque artists.

Amaia is dedicated to the study and design of continuous improvements to the property, which includes encouraging numerous elements towards an integrated polyculture and symbiosis with the natural environment. Some of her tools include the practice of organic and biodynamic viticultural elements. Her stewardship includes the nearby mountains, the fauna of the area, a botanical, fruit, and vegetable garden, as well as the ancient buildings, springs, roads, and many more elements. Amaia utilizes a whole-system approach in which there is no division between the individual elements of the vineyards and the surrounding ecosystem; they are one and the same.

As for her prolific winemaking brother, Telmo Rodríguez: after years of perfecting his craft and gaining international recognition for his advocacy of forgotten regions and native varieties throughout Spain, Telmo has returned to his family winery with a vision for the future of the estate laser-focused on place with the utmost respect for the future of the region.

Illuminating the Path Forward

With Remelluri, Telmo is evolving the dialog of the future of the Rioja region from one of aging methods, grape varieties, and blends (wines made in the cellar), to a conversation of site, terruño, and respect for the land (wines made in the vineyard). As the estate reclaims vineyard sites, Telmo is handpicking the varieties best suited to the specific microclimate of each plot. He is also refocusing on old trellis styles, such as bush vine training. All parcels are hand-harvested and vinified separately with the least intervention possible and the utmost respect for each site.

This place-based focus is exemplified in Remelluri’s latest project: Lindes de Remelluri. Meaning “the borders of Remelluri,” Lindes is made from grapes grown by a handful of farmers in the neighboring towns of San Vicente and Labastida. The idea is to explore the unique characteristics of each village and give these critical Rioja villages identity by introducing them to a broader audience, while also honoring the long relationship Telmo’s family has maintained with each grower over the decades by encouraging excellent farming through continued economic stewardship. Lindes de Remelluri are the first wines of Rioja to carry the name of the village in which they were produced directly on the label. This labeling practice would be standard for quality wine from Burgundy, Mosel, or Barolo. Yet it remains a very radically progressive idea in Rioja, where big money has been invested in the story of house style at the expense of terroir and village labeling.

Matador Manifesto and The Futuro Viñador Collective

Through an initiative in 2016 called the Matador Manifesto, Telmo and Amaia welcomed other quality-minded wine producers to Remelluri to meet and discuss the future of Spanish vineyards and the path forward to promoting quality over quantity.

“I’d like Remelluri to be a meeting place, somewhere that is open to everyone, where people can come to meet, discuss and drink wine. It’s time to be generous with others. We have to help those that are starting out; that way, we can give back to wine what wine has given to us.”

– Telmo Rodríguez

The resulting document of intent was signed by over two hundred of Spain’s most relevant viticultors. The resulting movement has been a catalyst for discussions between producers and change throughout the Spanish wine industry. Three years of meetings and discussions resulted in Futuro Viñador, a new non-profit, terroir-driven association on the rise in Spain. They pursue a dynamic, open approach where sustainability, viticulture, and winemaking aspects are all taken into account.

“The members will carry the Futuro Viñador logo on their bottles and want consumers to know that they are purchasing a wine made by artisans, people who care for the soil and the landscape, who respect the countryside and who have nothing to do with industrial, marketing-driven wines. It’s not a matter of drinking one type of wine in favor of another; we just want to make it clear that they are different.

Alongside many other vine-growers from all over Spain, we take our place in a silent revolution that is helping to transform not only our wine culture but also the cultural practices and image of our country.

The foundations of this great change are the recovery of ancestral cultural practices, the vindication of our great historical vineyard, the wealth of our own ancient varieties, and both the biodiversity and the diversity of the climates, landscapes, and people of our country.”

– Futuro Viñador collective

Expressions of Remelluri

Remelluri Reserva is the flagship red wine of the property, exclusively focused on conveying the essence of Remelluri, the place. Made from organically farmed grapes grown exclusively throughout the property, Remelluri is always a blend of traditional Rioja varieties, produced with minimal impact and low intervention. True to its origins, Remelluri Reserva is a wine of place and vintage, offering a snapshot of the conditions each year brings for high-altitude, mountain viticulture in Rioja. As such, vintages of Remelluri will age gracefully and improve for decades to come, repaying those with patience many times over.

If Remelluri Reserva is the flagship of the estate, expressing the terruño and weather conditions of each vintage, then Granja Remelluri Gran Reserva represents the ideal expression of the mountain vineyards. A classical expression of the place, the quintessence of the vineyards.

Telmo selects specific parcels of the oldest vines at some of the highest altitudes on the property for Granja Remelluri Gran Reserva. The blend includes a larger proportion of centennial garnacha from a vineyard planted more than a hundred years ago at 750 meters in the foothills of the mountain. Granja Remelluri has a marked Atlantic character and goes through extended aging in large format foudre barrels for a long time, with further bottle age until they feel the Granja is ready to be released.

Everything here is done by sensory tasting and the experience of the team, not by formula. Recently, they have completed renovations on a former stable that now houses a neat cellar containing a battery of large foudres that are reserved solely for the production of Granja Remelluri. Telmo wanted to completely separate Granja Remelluri, both physically and spiritually, from the production of the Reserva, to give the project its own separate, clear identity, which is evolving. Future exploration of the Granja Remelluri project may include the definition of specific vineyards. For now, Telmo and Pablo want a quiet place where they can taste and really listen to what the character of the wines has to say. Produced in only the best vintages, Granja Remelluri Gran Reserva is offered in small quantities to the most discerning cellars. The aging potential of Granja is matched only by a precious few of the greatest red wines in the world, as a well-cellared case will continue to enchant the owner over a lifetime.

The wine at the estate that has been the passion project of Telmo Rodríguez since his early days as a winemaker, and has become one of the most coveted and sought after cult wines in all of Spain, is the Remelluri Blanco. The story goes that Telmo’s father Jaime would never let him experiment with the red wines of Remelluri because the risk of failure was too great to make substantial changes. Instead, Telmo was given free rein to create a white expression of the Remelluri farm. For this project, he was inspired by his time spent learning winemaking in France with Gérard Chave in Hermitage, Clape in Cornas, Château de Beaucastel in the southern Rhône, and Domaine de Trévallon in Provence. There he learned to make wines that Telmo refers to as “human-scale wines” that spoke of people and place. Wines with a soul. That was exactly the type of white wine he set out to make in the high-altitude vineyards (700m+) on the mountainside, overlooking the Ebro river valley with Rioja sprawling out below in every direction.

The concept of Remelluri Blanco remains the obliteration of grape variety by using a number of co-planted vines and utilizing a gentle, low-impact élevage. Thus, Telmo ensures that Remelluri Blanco speaks only of the terruño of the place, rather than of any particular grape or process. With Remelluri Blanco, he has achieved something truly unique and singular, with each vintage coveted by the same collectors who search out Chave’s Hermitage Blanc and Montrachet by Domaine Leflaive. Telmo’s Remelluri Blanco illuminated a path forward for world-class, place-based white wines in Rioja during an era when only the red wines garnered any attention or respect. As with all of the wines of Remelluri, the white wine handsomely repays extended cellar aging and patience. Remelluri Blanco is produced in very small quantities and offered to the best clients of Remelluri.

The Future Lies in the Past 

The evolution of this project at Remelluri lies in the exploration of two rivaling yet sometimes complementary, core concepts to the origins of Spanish wine, and more specifically, to the Rioja discipline: one of place and one of time. The concept of place is one that, until quite recently, has been relegated to the outer limits of the Rioja discussion, in favor of the dominance of brand and appellation identity. We are told not to worry about the villages where the grapes come from; rather, focus on the wine being a “Rioja,” either Crianza, Reserva, or Gran Reserva. How long was the wine in the barrel, and what kind of barrels were they? What percentage of American oak does the wine contain? How much tempranillo? These questions lead the drinker directly away from the vineyard to a path which specifically concerns the concepts of time and élevage and their effects on the wine. They are the results of a process, and that process is time. This is the concept from which Remelluri Blanco stood in stark contrast, carrying the flag for specific places, made with as little process as possible.

One can draw a straight line through Rioja directly to the famous fortified wines of Jerez, the Sherries that reigned supreme during the years of Spanish expansion of trade and shipping throughout the world. At this time, when boats were the primary source of transportation, Rioja was a relative backwater of a wine region with powerful, young wines still made in the villages from which they came. The vineyards were still small holdings, co-planted with varieties that have since disappeared, and tempranillo was one of many players in the wines from the area. The arrival of modern Rioja came as a direct result of the arrival of technology in the form of trains and subsequent transcontinental railroads linking remote areas of Spain, which were previously cut off from one another. The train station in Haro changed everything in Rioja, allowing for the connection of vineyards from far away villages. Shortly after that, came the arrival of phylloxera to the vineyards of the world and a crisis in the vineyards of France, and with it, the incredible demand for a steady and consistent product to supply thirsty clients.

Enterprising wine companies sprang up in Rioja close to transportation, near the railway station. The blueprint for scaling up production was already present in the famous wines of Jerez, the most prevalent and successful wine in Spain’s history. The DNA for fractional blending, as well as the process of blending diverse components from various sources, followed by extended aging periods to achieve a consistent product, was in the blood of the Spanish wine industry. The prevailing style for white wines during this time period in Rioja was based on the popularity of the finos and manzanillas of Jerez. The technology was there to age the wines for very long periods in barrels that were not always filled to the top. Many barrels developed the characteristic veil of flor yeasts, which require younger, nutrient-rich wine added to feed the flor and continue the process. The resulting wines were increasingly more stable for transport, and therefore a more reliable investment for the big Rioja shippers of the day.

The concept of fractional blending and the subsequent modernization of Rioja during this time relied on the core concept of time as one of the principal mechanisms for this style of wine production. The exploration of the effects of time on wine leads us to a fork in the path and Telmo to a new iteration of the Remelluri Blanco story.

Inspired by this history, as well as the solera work being done in Champagne by Jacques Selosse, Telmo has been separating parcels of grapes once destined for the Blanco program.  Instead, he ages them much longer, exploring the process of time. The solera project starts with all of the white grapes crushed and fermented together in large wood foudres, with skins intact and then pressed after fermentation. The resulting wine goes into a fist pass through a solera of barrels Telmo acquired from his friends at the Lopez de Heredia winery, which adds a rancio note and gives the wine great acidic structure and backbone. From there, the wine is put into a concrete egg of solera wines he started in 2010.

This resulting time-based Remelluri Blanco iteration is very different from his traditional terroir-focussed, place-based masterpiece that brought blanco Riojas onto the world stage. With all other factors being constant, one Remelluri Blanco is a snapshot of place and vintage, and the other is of that same place but seen through the lens of time and the results of a long élevage.

Simultaneously tasting both wines leaves the drinker with a complete picture of the path that viticulture in the region has followed. They are also both incredibly delicious and rare. At the end of the day, the wines have to taste incredible, and in that pursuit, Remelluri has never fallen short.

This relentless spirit of the scholarly exploration of wine and culture is perfectly at home at Remelluri. The estate presents a timeless environment where one can discover not only the history of the northern Iberian peninsula but also the future of Spanish viticulture through inspiration from the past. Remelluri is alive, and the future is bright in the hands of Telmo and Amaia Rodríguez.

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