The striking cellars (or calados in the local dialect) of Bodegas Ollauri-Conde de los Andes unwind over 1km of remarkable caverns and cavities in the cool underground of Rioja Alta, but in terms of time they span centuries.
History seeps from these walls, which display flourishes of Moorish influences, exquisite craftsmanship of 17th century Galician stonemasons and contain sections which stretch back to at least the 15th century.
Through the stewardship of the Murúa family, Conde de los Andes has been the guardian of these evocative vaults since only 2014, but in that handful of years has revived this space; in part, filling it with preeminent historical vintages which celebrate the family’s own notable winemaking heritage which itself reaches back to the 17th century. Fully opened to the public, it’s a project which has been designed to represent the finest example of wine tourism and in 2018 was duly recognised as a Global Winner in Wine Capitals’ Best of Wine Tourism awards.
Above ground level, a similar pursuit of excellence continues apace. The exquisite trio of standard bearers remain in place, namely a single varietal Viura, a Tempranillo and a dessert wine, yet there exists plots of old vines which produce fruit of such quality that Conde de los Andes has been obliged to grant them their own stage via two new wines: Capitulo I (100% Malvasia) and Capitulo II (pure Garnacha).
Home for Capitulo II is a vineyard which sits at 600m above sea level and goes by the name Viñas de Briñas. It’s a concealed, tranquil place which lies within a rugged amphitheatre covered by wild plants and bushes. The presence of long-forgotten stone presses give a clue as to the area’s backstory which is a notably rich one, as evidenced by the age of the Garnacha parcels behind this wine which were planted in 1940 and 1910.
Little more than a stone’s throw away from Viñas de Briñas and Capitulo II is the origin of stablemate, Capitulo I, where the vineyard is on average 50 years old and contains a standout patch of Malvasia vines planted in 1975. Since 2016 these vines have been cultivated and vinified separately from their neighbours, therefore realising the goal of producing a unique cuvee – Capitulo I – from this distinguished collection of vines.
Alongside Conde de los Andes’ already-existing stellar line up, the Capitulo wines draw on Rioja’s distinguished past while simultaneously being very much of the present.
‘For us, tradition means passing down knowledge from one generation to the next,’ explains owner, Javier Murúa. ‘But we must ensure that knowledge is used to adapt to the natural and consumer demands of the present, which is why our motto is “Rioja as it was; Rioja as it is”.’