In 1973, Bodegas Olarra unveiled its striking new winery to the world. In terms of scope, innovation and sheer chutzpah, this exciting project set a new benchmark in Rioja. Situated on the outskirts of Logroño in the Rioja Alta subzone, the building was designed by trailblazing architect Juan Antonio Ridruejo – a true master of his craft.
It remains one of Europe’s great showpieces, demonstrating harmonious and sophisticated architecture; the design is fully integrated into the landscape, which was Ridruejo’s overriding goal. Today, it is a regular feature on Instagram feeds, celebrated for its brick face and exposed concrete.
It has been dubbed the ‘Cathedral of Rioja’ and is built in the shape of the letter Y, its three ‘wings’ symbolising the three wine districts of Rioja: Alta, Alavesa, and Oriental. As the owners celebrate Bodegas Olarra’s 50th anniversary this year, they look to both the past and the future to produce superlative wines for the modern age.
Drawing out exceptional wines
All the ingredients are here. Bodegas Olarra works with 1,200 hectares of prime vineyards in Rioja Alta, a subregion celebrated for its exceptional terroir. It extends south of the River Ebro from the Conchas de Haro in the west to just beyond Logroño in the east. Alluvial matter near the Ebro tributaries’ banks and ferruginous soils elsewhere in this subregion, produce wines of unrivalled structure and finesse.
However, exceptional terroir and raw materials are only part of the story. For over two decades, Bodegas Olarra was fortunate enough to work with renowned winemaker Ezequiel García, who sadly died in 2017. Yet his 21-year tenure at Olarra left an indelible mark on the company’s wines and philosophy. From the outset, Garcia set out to craft fruit-driven, blended Riojas that showcased terroir character – and these consistently high-quality wines never disappoint.
One of founder Pedro Ucín’s main achievements – which plays a key role in Olarra’s success – was his ability to surround himself with talented, committed professionals for whom the ‘Olarra project’ became their own. ‘Olarra is about living history, about all the people that have worked with us through the years,’ says Leopoldo Limousin, second generation family member and CEO until just over a year ago when he retired and left his two sons (Pedro and Luis) and nephew (Marcial) at the helm. ‘We have a unique trajectory of continuity, steady evolution and accumulated knowledge’.
A diverse offering
Among Olarra’s greatest achievements is the well-balanced, expressive and silky Cerro Añón range of wines. While the Añares label remains one of the safest purchases from the Rioja region, especially the Reserva and Gran Reserva categories, each progressively offering more wood and structure. The winery’s prestige label, Olarra, is for limited editions only: elegant Rioja wines with an attractive deep red colour, gorgeous fruit, and aromas of cigar box and chocolate.
Extending the domain
Yet this family’s vision has never been confined to one property. In 1985, they took on a new winery at Ondarre, looking to explore the diversity of soils in the ancient vineyard plots on the slopes climbing towards the Sierra de Cantabria. The winemaking team at Ondarre pursues an equally challenging quest for peerless excellence, with an interest in Rioja’s new wine categories; the ‘Vino de Municipio’ (Village wine) or the ‘Viñedo Singular’ (Single vineyard wine).
Hence their careful focus on each and every plot around the village of Viana. The winery is situated on the northwestern boundary of Rioja Oriental, a zone that has risen to prominence in recent times. Although the very rare Mazuelo (Carignan) performs admirably here in the arid Mediterranean climate of Oriental, it performs particularly well on its south-facing side, yielding potent reds in these shallow, stony limestone and clay soils. Ondarre’s wines show a parallel path towards excellence to that of Olarra, based on the uniqueness of the terroir they hail from.
Thanks to the purchase of a third winery, Bodegas y Viñedos Casa del Valle in Castilla La Mancha in 2000, the Bodegas Olarra Group has spread its wings further and now also produces wines in the Rueda and Ribera del Duero regions.
Continuing positive change
Like all family businesses, the Bodegas Olarra Group will continue to face challenges, not least the disruption climate change is bringing about, which represents a major concern for producers across the world. On a more positive note however, there are also key opportunities to capitalise on – not least the surge of raw talent driving constructive change in Riojan viticulture, winemaking and sustainability. The truth is that above all else, wine is made by humans, and it is that human touch that is keeping Bodegas Olarra relevant in this fast-changing world.
Translated by ICY
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