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Solar Viejo: The Freixenet family’s journey to Rioja
Originally wine was made in the cellars of one of these manor houses in the city. Eventually the bodega outgrew its space and settled itself at the foot of the hill. When the Ferrer family came to Solar Viejo they immediately recognised its potential, and the opportunity to create a family winery of their own in Rioja.
In winemaker Vanesa Insausti, they found just the person to develop their vision. ‘I am Logroño [her home town, the capital of Rioja], I am Rioja’, she stresses, underlining her connection with the town and the region.
‘Wine has always been part of my life. As children we were given wine to smell and to sip. We’d visit friends and relations who made wine in their own lagares. The aroma of wine is something that remains for ever in the memory,’
Given her history in the region, Insausti knows where to find the grapes she likes. ‘Rioja Baja has some really good estates, especially at altitude. You’ll find the fruit is more deeply coloured and more jammy. Rioja Alta is finer, fresher, more elegant. Altogether more likeable. Alavesa is in many ways like Alta, but with lovely fruit.’
At university, she studied agricultural engineering, and then gained a Masters in Oenology. The formative period was working in Rioja: first with Bodegas Vivanco, and then at Finca Allende, where she worked with Miguel Angel de Gregorio, and learnt from a person who was ‘really obsessive with quality’.
Insausti joined Solar Viejo ten years ago, and remains passionate about research and attention to detail. ‘Every year I will try out different techniques or approaches, but perhaps only 20% of them make it through.’
Under the Solar Viejo brand she is used to ensuring consistency of quality across the portfolio, with wines that are youthful, and with excellent fruit. She makes an average million bottles of the flagship Crianza, and 100,000 of the Reserva. Part of her job is to build the best relationships with her long term growers, and ensure that they are up to date with the best practices.
‘I can see the sector is professionalising, as the next generation come into the business.’
Visits are available by prior arrangement: www.solarviejo.com
Solar Viejo Crianza, the icon brand
Aromas of Vanilla, ground coffee and spices. Floral notes include violet and geranium, and fruity notes of raspberries and ripe strawberries. Good tannin levels, giving the wine a certain power and vitality and ensuring favourable development over time.
Orube: the estate project
The latest project of the Ferrer family at Solar Viejo is Orube, and it is all about producing a select collection of wines that speak of their origin. In this case, the heart of Orube is just a matter of miles from the winery in the Los Molinos vineyard. It’s a lovely site, looking across towards the undulating roof of the Ysios winery and beyond to the old city of Laguardia.
The vineyards, surrounded by holm oaks, were planted in 2011. The soils are poor, with chalk and clay. Winemaker Vanesa Insausti is full of plans for the years to come. Los Molinos in particular sits on a slope at the foot of the Sierra Cantabria and at 650m it’s a usefully cool site, but also a windy one. Hence the fact that the cordons of vines need to be secured on high posts. ‘It’s the hardest job in the vineyard, managing the frame of the vine against the wind.’ Los Molinos is not all Tempranillo; there’s an experimental plot of Maturana Tinta.
Insausti currently makes two wines, a Crianza, and Orube Autor, a high expression wine. The theme is Tempranillo; the purpose to reveal the best expression of the variety in the Orube Autor. The winemaking is classical: the grapes are handpicked into small boxes, sorted, and destemmed. The Crianza is a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano and it is aged in French and American barrels for 12 months The Autor is 100% Tempranillo, matured for up to 18 months in new French oak with some older French and American oak, depending in the year. Increasingly, with the passage of time, Orube is becoming 100% French oak.
There are always plenty of trials taking place in the winery. ‘This year I have been worked with 500 litre vats. If I decide to use them then the wine will be launched as a generic’, (because Rioja limits barrel size to 225l for wines using any of the categories such as reserve or gran reserva).
And in the future? Insausti dreams of a winery just for Orube, a home of its own.