D.O. DEMISE IN SPAIN?
In January 2016 a group of 150 of the leading winemakers, writers and retailers of Spain met, following a smaller and earlier inaugural meeting convened by Telmo Rodriguez, of Bodegas Remelluri fame (along with several others), a wine-maker who has achieved almost god-like status in Spain where he is responsible for some of the finest wines on the Iberian Peninsular.
The assembled group gathered in order to write and sign the ‘Manifesto in Defence of Spanish Terroir.’ This document pulled no punches, with an opening line that stated, ‘ . . . . . the Spanish appellation system has been oblivious to soil differentiation and quality levels and that entrenched systems such as Rioja’s Consejo Regulador organising its wines by length of barrel and bottle ageing rather than geographic location was no longer working for many producers.’
They shared a common goal – in order to affect positive change and place Spanish wines in a position where they can rub shoulders with the best wines on the world, there has to be an overhaul of the Spanish Agriculture Ministry backed system of classifying wines. The system we know as firstly the Denominaciónes de Origen (the DOs) and then the Vinos de la Tierra (VdlT) and so on.
Typically, the DOs and, of course, the Ministry, have been slow (some would argue sloth-like) in even listening to the debate, let alone doing anything about placating the growing body if discontent. Blind eyes and deaf ears turned, seem to have been de rigeur!
I’m sure that several of the winemakers at the meeting referred to above had spent a lot of time damaging their wine-making hands’ knuckles knocking on the close doors of the Consejos Regulador (regulating councils) of many DOs asking for something to be done. Nil progress resulted, as we know from last week’s article, in one of the most famous Rioja producers opting to abandon the DOCa and make wine classified now as simply Vino de La Mesa, of just Spanish Wine. A wine incidentally that still sells for around 400€ per bottle!
Regular, long time readers will know of Pepe Raventos pulling out of DO Cava, for the same reasons. In fact about a dozen cava wineries did similarly and are now making sparkling wine referred to as Clàssic Penedés, sparklers made in exactly the same was as they were when their bodegas were part of the Cava family.
However, it would appear to the objective observer – that’s me, by the way – that there are several who have done the same, and yet not so drastically. In 2003 the Spanish Government agreed that bodegas which, satisfied new rules, would be able to apply for, and ultimately attain the new (at the time) Vino de Pago status. A status given to a winery on the grounds of unique micro-climate features and proven evidence of consistent high quality of many years. A loop hole for dissatisfied bodega owners?
Seventeen bodegas throughout Spain have successfully applied for this status – in La Mancha, in Utiel Requena, Toledo, Zaragoza, Cuenca, Cuidad Real and many other zones. Interestingly, some sit on the fence – making wines labeled under their new status, but also continuing to make wines under the auspices of their DOs. Friendly relations are maintained, and if the new idea goes all wrong, then no bridges have been burnt!
It would be wrong to suggest that there are justifiably unhappy bodegas in all the DOs of Spain. Readers will know that I spend quite a lot of time in DO Yecla for example, where the Consejo Regulador has to be one of the most dynamic in Spain. And there are others which perhaps didn’t need to respond to grievances aired publicly elsewhere, as in fact they were doing a good job anyway.
However the #DiaMovimientoVinoDO movement, referred to last week and indeed, ongoing, as I understand other such days are planned, is a response to the wake-up calls to which some, under-achieving DOs, have been subjected over recent years. As we know there has been dissatisfaction in some quarters which has resulted in defections from DOs and it’s only natural that the DOs should feel a need to band together to defend and indeed, celebrate, wines made under DO status.
Having the #DiaMovimientoVinoDO has been useful I’m sure, and I applaud it – as long as the grievances that bodegas have aired are being addressed by the DOs concerned!
I often state that, in my view, Spain is a really happening place in wine terms. I still believe this, but it’s clear that in some areas they do need to be more dynamic, proactive and forward thinking, otherwise the DO system as we know it, may fall by the wayside and become part of the history of Spanish Wine production, confined just to the pages of history books – or, of course, the digital, on-line versions of such!
Wine making is an evolutionary process, let’s hope its organization is too!
My thanks to Jane Anson and to Decanter Magazine whose articles I researched before writing the above; also, of course, to Tim Atkin MW and Sarah Jane Evans MW who are always generous with their time when I ask for their advice and comments.