Lopez de Heredia

"For us, tradition and conviction are life-long attitudes. Our winemaking process has been passed on from generation to generation, and our daily tasks are rooted in tradition, yet at the same time based on our deep belief in the validity and modernity of our methods.  By “tradition”, we do not mean immobility and opposition to change; rather a dynamic and aesthetic concept in maintaining eternal principles and criteria. We are perfectly aware of the rhythm of change, and for this reason, our openness to change, our flexibility, our non-conformism and our self-criticism enable us to face the future. What we have inherited from our ancestors is what converts our idiosyncrasies into positive qualities and attitudes." www.lopezdeheredia.com

Lopez de Heredia - one of the most venerable producers in Spain– produces traditional, age-worthy Rioja. Their wines are legendary and still made the way they were when the winery was founded over 130 years ago. Following a tradition that has been passed down through generations, their wines are released at least 5-10 years after harvest, which provides added complexity and elegance to their Crianzas and Gran Reservas. 

A rarity in Rioja, Lopez de Heredia uses only estate bottled fruit from their prized vineyards- Tondonia, Cubillo, Bosconia, and Zaconia- with the idea that the only way to get the best fruit is to care for the vines themselves. The Tondonia vineyard is their most famous; over 100 hectares, it is situated in a shell-shaped depression on the right bank of the river Ebro, where the most typical Rioja wines are grown. The soil is alluvial clay with a high proportion of limestone. Average vine age is 45 years old and organic farming and natural fermentations are implemented, creating wines that exhibit great terroir. Grapes from Viña Tondonia are always used in making their highest quality wines, with truly exceptional vintages becoming Gran Reservas. The first Reserva was bottled by the founder in 1890; a few bottles of this are still kept in the family wine museum.

The winery itself is a remarkable structure. When D. Rafael López de Heredia y Landeta began building the bodega in the late 1800's, little did he realise that his masterpiece would one day be acknowledged as an example to the rest of the industry of the most perfect combination of buildings and vineyards. Like many medieval masterpieces it is still incomplete. The buildings stand below and above ground, and are a veritable "cathedral to wine".  Moving through the vaulted underground corridors and staircases, you find yourself travelling back in time, and the founder’s touch can still be sensed in the very stones and fabric of the building.

"I have adored, indeed occasionally worshiped, the wines of Lopez de Heredia for many years, so I am not ashamed to admit that visiting both their vineyard and their winery was a pilgrimage. Founded by Rafael Lopez de Heredia y Landeta in 1877, it has withstood the tide of corporatization and homogeneity, and epitomizes timeless, artisan winemaking in their own individual, almost solipsistic manner. Technology is noticeable by its absence here. For example, to quote her sister Maria-Jose at a tasting that I subsequently attended in London: “Indigenous yeasts have adapted to high temperatures. To control the temperature during fermentation, we open doors and windows” and “malolactic is the invention of modern winemakers.” I had to check whether this was 2012 or 1912. If you were to award points for charisma, then this producer would be in a league of its own. That would count for nothing if their wines were not distinguished, individual, long-lived and above all, delicious. It is commonly known that if you are seeking bags of fruit and lashings of oak, this is not the place to come. My views and these scores might be irrational to someone with a penchant for lush, voluptuous Rioja. Lopez de Heredia is the apotheosis of traditional, classic wines: taut, fresh, bucolic, utterly charming and amazingly long-lived. I spent two or three hours with winemaker Mercedes Lopez de Heredia, who was celebrating her birthday with, appropriately enough, a bottle of Tondonia Gran Reserva from her year of birth. I urge readers to access the video I took of Mercedes explaining the vineyard in her own breathless style. In the meantime, I will crack on with the wines. 'Wines should talk by themselves,' Maria-Jose enthused to her enraptured audience at a tasting in London. 'My father was a vine maker, not a winemaker. Each wine is a reflection of a different land that my great-grandfather bought. Our wines respond to the history of Rioja.' I would add to her comments that since these are mainly aged wines, a bottle of Lopez de Heredia is an individual and each time you meet, you may see a different side to its personality. So treat these reviews as they are: snapshots at a given moment. We commence with their white wines and indeed, I know of several connoisseurs who rate these even better than their reds and I can sympathize with that view. "  -Neal Martin, The Wine Advocate, August 2012

www.lopezdeheredia.com