All great journeys begin with a single step and often it is a pioneer with exceptional vision who takes that step. This certainly applies to Don Celestino Navajas Matute, who established the very first winery in his Rioja Alta hometown of Fuenmayor in 1870. Surrounded by flat-topped hills, and bordered by the Ebro river and Cantabrian Mountains, Fuenmayor had huge potential for making fine wines. Don Celestino named his winery ‘Montecillo’ – meaning ‘little mountain’ – in honour of this unique topography.
Today that winery is still in use. Boasting its original golden stone masonry, with the name Montecillo emblazoned in wrought iron above the door, it’s the third-oldest winery in Rioja. Meanwhile Fuenmayor has become a key wine-producing town, boasting one of the longest grape-growing traditions in Rioja Alta. The history of Bodegas Montecillo in the intervening years is a story that intertwines two winemaking families and witnesses the evolution of modern Rioja wine.
The year 1880 was the dawn of new era for Rioja. In the wake of the phylloxera epidemic that ravaged vineyards in France, winemakers introduced new techniques from Bordeaux (particularly oak barrel ageing) to the region. Seeing the opportunities, Don Celestino sent his son Alejandro to Bordeaux to study. Returning home, he began making a new style of Montecillo wines aged in oak, which soon garnered international attention.
Showing the same spirit of innovation, Alejandro’s son, José Luis, studied in Burgundy and became the winery’s manager in 1943, driving quality with the introduction of techniques such as cold vinification, which became key to the elegant style of Montecillo’s ageworthy wines.
Having no heirs, in 1973 José Luis entrusted the winery to another winemaking dynasty: the Osbourne family. One of the world’s oldest family-run companies, Osborne was established in 1772 by Englishman Thomas Osborne in Jerez, and has remained in family hands ever since. Today the business is overseen by the sixth generation.
Without doubt this family winemaking heritage has helped to shape the character of Bodegas Montecillo wines. But these are also wines that speak of the unique terroir of Rioja Alta. Located in the west of Rioja, this is an area where vineyards are planted on slopes with limestone and clay soils, that can be rich in iron or full of pebbles. In these challenging conditions old bush-vines are dry-farmed and yields can be as low as 3,500kg/ha, producing grapes with concentrated flavours.
Montecillo works with top growers in Rioja Alta, maintaining relationships that stretch back decades, which enables the winery to select the very best fruit from over 800 separate parcels across the region. Varieties include Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo. Modern innovations such as GPS-controlled vineyard systems ensure the optimum quality of the grapes.
For chief winemaker, Mercedes García Rupérez, respect for the vine and selecting the best grapes are key to the Montecillo winemaking philosophy, along with choosing the winemaking techniques best suited to each varietal. She sees her challenge as updating Montecillo’s wines without ever losing their essence, tradition and roots. To that end she uses technological innovations including small flextanks in the winery, to create wines with greater complexity and expression.
The Classic Rioja range of Bodegas Montecillo includes crianza, reserva, gran reserva, blanco and rosé expressions. The winery also produces a Signature collection featuring Montecillo Limited Edition and Montecillo 22 Barricas, as well as a selection of historic vintages: Montecillo Gran Reserva Selección Especial 1973, 1982, 1994 and 2001. This year, to celebrate its 150th anniversary, the winery is also releasing the limited-edition Bodegas Montecillo 150 Aniversario Selección Especial Gran Reserva 2005.
All wines are aged in the winery’s cellar, a veritable treasure trove of old and rare bottles – including vintages dating back to 1926, the year the Rioja DO was created. It’s a testament to the journey begun by Don Celestino 150 years ago – and a story that Rioja lovers will be enjoying for many more years to come.
A wine of celebration
The Bodegas Montecillo 150 Aniversario Selección Especial Gran Reserva 2005 is an exceptional wine released to celebrate a very special anniversary. Hailing from a vintage that was classified as ‘Excellent’, grapes were sourced from a traditional mixed vineyard with bush-trained vines aged over 60 years old that flourish in the pebbly calcerous-clay soil.
After selective harvesting, Tempranillo (70%), Graciano (20%) and Maturana Tinta (10%) grapes are fermented in underground cement tanks, with continuous pumping over and maceration on skins for two weeks. The wine is then transferred to fine-grained French oak barrels, where it is aged for over five years, then aged for at least another nine years in bottle.
This produces an intense ruby-red wine with aromatic intensity and significant complexity. Aromas of spiced oak, liquorice, black pepper and tobacco combine with very ripe black fruit and a dusting of pepper. The harmonious palate is creamy and robust, with a noticeable silkiness to the texture and a distinctive, lingering finish. Best served at 18-19°C, it can be savoured on its own, but also pairs beautifully with a range of food including red meat and game dishes.
Only a very limited edition of 2,798 bottles of Bodegas Montecillo 150 Aniversario Selección Especial Gran Reserva 2005 have been produced.
For more information visit www.bodegasmontecillo.com