Enrique Forner, the founder of Rioja’s Marqués de Cáceres, has died aged 86.
Forner was born in Valencia in 1925 but spent his formative years in France, where the Forner family moved in 1936 after General Franco’s nationalists defeated the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War.
Forner senior, who had been in the wine business in Valencia, was a Republican member of parliament.
In Bordeaux the Forners continued in the wine business, eventually buying two abandoned properties, Château Camensac and Château Larose-Trintaudon, and restoring both.
While in Bordeaux, Enrique (then known as Henri) Forner studied at the university under the great oenologist Emile Peynaud – and it was Peynaud who advised him when in 1964 he decided to return to Spain to start a winery.
Forner and Peynaud selected Cenicero in Rioja Alta as an ideal location, and there he built his handsome new winery in the chateau style, which was finished in time for the 1970 vintage.
As he owned no more than a two hectares of vineyards, Forner gave local growers shares in the operation in return for grapes, while a family friend from Valencia, Don Vicente Noguera y Espinosa de los Monteras, the Marques de Caceres, allowed his name to be used in return for an annual payment to a charity of his choosing.
At the new winery – acting on his belief that Rioja was too oaky, hidebound by strict rules governing barrel ageing – Forner had installed stainless steel tanks.
In his book The Wines of Rioja, John Radford writes that Forner was the latest in an honourable tradition of reformers in Rioja
‘It is interesting to speculate what must have been on the minds of his neighbours when Forner installed his shiny new tanks; perhaps they shook their heads, as their great-grandfathers had done at the time of Murrieta and Riscal [C19th pioneers, both also founded by Bordeaux exiles], and expressed the feeling that while the wines were very good they were not Rioja.’
Forner also reduced ageing time while using more new oak. As his daughter Cristina recently put it, they discarded ‘the common practice of continuous use of old barrels that left the tastes and aromas of previous wines. Instead, we started to renovate the casks on a regular basis to obtain the full potential of the wine with better balance of oak and fruit.’
Such practices, and stainless steel fermentation, are now the norm in Rioja.
The experiment worked, as Marques de Caceres’ success in both export and domestic markets showed. Many bodegas followed suit and the Caceres style – less oak, more fruit, more elegance – became the modern style of Rioja.
The Bordeaux connection, albeit Bordeaux at its most international, continues with Michel Rolland acting as consultant to the winery.
Today Caceres is one of Rioja’s most recognised brands, at every level, producing a range of nine DOCa wines, sold in more than 120 countries, representing a tenth of all Rioja exports worldwide.
Berry Brothers says of the wines, ‘Both the reds and whites are very judiciously oaked with the emphasis being on fresh, fruit-dominated wines that are delicious in youth. The exceptions are the Reserva and the Gran Reserva, which are more traditionally made and can be cellared for up to 10 years following the vintage.’
In recent years Forner took more of a back seat at the winery, handing over the keys to his daughter Cristina in 2007.
She has described herself as ‘my father’s daughter’, and paid tribute to his work as like ‘haute couture with a controlled exuberance’.
Enrique Forner is survived by his wife and three children, Cristina, Henri and Genevieve.
Written by Adam Lechmere, and Tessa Ditner