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Fernando Remírez de Ganuza, founder of the eponymous Rioja estate, dies at 73

The unconventional and entrepreneurial ‘bodeguero’ became one of the most recognisable names of ‘new Rioja’ in the 1990s.

After a long battle with lung cancer, Fernando Remírez de Ganuza, founder of the eponymous Rioja estate, passed away in Barcelona, where he was undergoing treatment, at the age of 73. His death was announced on Tuesday prompting immediate and heartfelt reactions from all those who worked and interacted with him throughout his illustrious, if unconventional, career.

‘Fernando leaves an incredible legacy, both professionally and personally, inextricably linked to the history of Rioja and Spanish wine,’ said Jose Ramón Urtasun, general manager of Remírez de Ganuza. ‘He led all our harvests, including 2023. The vineyards were his passion and the focus of all his energy.’

A path of his own

Remírez de Ganuza helped to define the present and future of modern Rioja, with an idiosyncratic approach that questioned many of the assumptions that constrained the region’s wine output in the late 1980s and 90s – prompting debates that, in light of recent developments within the DOCa, are still topical today. ‘In the 1990s, Rioja was an extremely traditional region, where wine production was led by local families. Fernando’s arrival represented the beginning of a revolution,’ said Urtasun.

Born in Navarra 1951, to a family dedicated to the production and retail of cured meats and sausages, Remírez de Ganuza went on to study technical drawing – a skill that would prove particularly useful in his later chapter as ‘bodeguero’. His inquisitive nature made him quit school at the age of 21, marking the beginning of an entrepreneurial path that culminated in the foundation of the Rioja estate in 1989. Before then, Remírez de Ganuza spent 20 years working as a vineyard broker and agent in Rioja, facilitating more than 2.700 transactions, of which some are of rare importance to the region (the best example is perhaps the arrival of the Vega Sicilia-Rothschild joint venture, now producing the Macán label).

Passion and ingenuity

Over two decades of intense commercial activity, Remírez de Ganuza developed in-depth knowledge of the region’s terroirs and a fierce passion for its incredible stock of old vines. Thus were defined the foundations of the Remírez de Ganuza estate and of its founder’s obsession: selecting the best vineyards and grapes to produce high-quality wines only.

Selection table at Remírez de Ganuza

His lack of viticultural and oenological training on the one hand, and his status as an ‘outsider’ not bound to family traditions on the other hand, required Remírez de Ganuza to learn through experimentation while also allowing him to freely question techniques that, in his view, did not do justice to the quality of the fruit. Armed with ingenuity and drafting skills, he created some of his own, then pioneering, equipment – such as a selection table and grape press – which would go on to be used by other Rioja producers. The focus on precision and careful selection steered the development of a portfolio that now counts 10 labels, including sommelier favourites Trasnocho and Fincas de Ganuza.

In 2010, Remírez de Ganuza sold a 50% stake of the winery to the Sidercom group, owned by the Urtasun family. In 2019, the group purchased the remaining half of the business; however Fernando Remírez de Ganuza remained closely involved in the estate’s operations and production process. Having worked alongside Remírez de Ganuza for the past 14 years, Urtasun will remain at the helm of the estate and winery, now without its founder to guide him through the perils of each vintage. ‘He leaves an unfillable void,’ said Urtasun.


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