You might think that the famous wineries residing here have been around forever, but it’s only relatively recently that the full potential of Ribera’s fruity, complex, elegant reds has been realised.
One of those iconic wineries is Protos. For starters, it’s the oldest commercial winery in the region – in fact, it helped to create the D.O. It’s a rare thing when the name of the producer ends up becoming the name of the entire winemaking region – it was once known as Protos Bodega Ribera Duero de Peñafiel, but graciously gave it up for the greater good once the D.O. was established in 1982.
Founded in the dramatic hilltop castle town of Peñafiel in 1927 by a group of 11 like-minded childhood friends, Bodegas Protos now includes more than 250 families in the area, while four of the founders’ grandchildren still sit on the board of directors.
Protos works with 1614 hectares of vineyard, half of which it owns, the rest it contracts and closely controls. It produces 10 different wines in all, from fresh, zesty Verdejos made in its Rueda winery to top-drawer reds (all the reds are barrel-aged), made across the other four wineries it owns in Ribera del Duero.
You can try them all in its jaw-dropping Peñafiel HQ, the winery designed by famous British architect Richard Rogers, which unsurprisingly receives over 40,000 visitors a year, and boasts cellars that connect up with the labyrinthine tunnels belonging to the castle above.
The company is committed to helping to preserve the environment, with solar farms in all the wineries, and its vineyards currently converting to organic viticulture. The climate might be a tad trickier than other spots in the region, with nights that can dip to minus 18°C, but the upside is a boost to both aromas and natural acidity.
The team at Bodegas Protos now includes 300 viticulturists, eight agricultural engineers, and eight oenologists, led by Marilena Bonilla, one of the few female chief winemakers in the region. “We’re always learning,” says Bonilla. “For example, over the last 10 years we’ve been studying each parcel of land observing how Tempranillo clones adapt. Our findings led us to divide and sub-divide all our vineyards, helping us to gain a deeper understanding of the vines, so we can determine with great accuracy the best time to pick.” It’s this kind of pioneering spirit that enables Protos to continually evolve, helping them to remain at the forefront of quality winemaking in Spain.