Protos: a true Spanish pioneer


Bodegas Protos helped to establish the reputation of the entire Ribera del Duero region. Julie Sheppard finds out how it’s still at the forefront of quality wine production today; while Natasha Hughes MW tastes and rates the Protos range

The name Ribera del Duero is well known by lovers of Spanish fine wines today. But in the early 20th century, it was a very different story. At that time the DO didn’t even exist and there were few wineries in this part of northwest Spain.

The story begins with Bodegas Protos, established in Ribera in 1927. The pioneers were a group of 11 childhood friends, who set up their winery in the dramatic hilltop castle town of Peñafiel. Appropriately, the winery took its name from the Greek word ‘protos’ (πρῶτος) meaning ‘first’.

The venture proved to be an immediate success, when its first vintages –1927 and 1928 were awarded gold medals at the Universal Exposition of Barcelona in 1929. No wonder the winery’s motto is ser primero: be first.

Over subsequent decades, Protos continued to pursue excellence in its wines, expanding as more families joined the venture. In 1970 it constructed a winery purpose-built for the ageing of its red wines, with over 2km of underground tunnels running beneath Peñafiel Castle.

There’s little doubt that the efforts of Protos shone a light on the potential of the whole Ribera del Duero region and the complex elegant reds it produces. Indeed the winery was once known as Protos Bodega Ribera Duero de Peñafiel; Protos graciously allowed the use of its name for the greater good when the official Ribera del Duero DO was established in 1982.

Fast-forward to today and Bodegas Protos now works with more than 250 local growers and over 1,600ha of vines – half of which it owns, the rest is managed under long-term contracts. Three of the founders’ grandchildren sit on the board of directors.

Continued success has led to the setting up of three specialised wineries: one in Ribera for reds, one in Rueda for whites and one in Cigales for rosés. The company’s stunning main winery in Peñafiel, designed by famous British architect Sir Richard Rogers and opened in 2008, hosts over 40,000 visitors a year, making it one of the region’s most-visited tourist attractions.

The award-winning Protos range of 11 wines includes fresh, zesty Verdejos from Rueda, vibrant rosados from Cigales and serious barrel-aged Tempranillo reds from Ribera del Duero. But Protos is constantly striving to improve and innovate, both in the winery – with new techniques and modern equipment – and in its vineyards.

The team includes dedicated viticulturists and agricultural engineers, who have analysed the vineyards plot-by-plot, to determine how Tempranillo clones adapt to different soils and microclimates. This precision viticulture has allowed Protos to fine-tune its harvest dates and preserve the unique characteristics of its vines.

The company is also committed to preserving its legacy for future generations, with a dedicated environmental policy that includes converting all of its vineyards to organic agriculture. Each of its energy-efficient wineries is powered by solar farms.

This forward-thinking approach has always been at the heart of Protos. It’s an example of the pioneering spirit that enables the winery and its wines to continually evolve and deliver the quality that is exemplified in its motto: ser primero – be first.

Protos at a glance

Established: 1927

Vineyards: 1,600ha

Vignerons: 250

Employees: 65

Protos: key dates

1927: Protos was established, the first winery in Ribera del Duero

1970: Opening of an ageing winery with underground cellars, under Peñafiel castle

2006: Opening of a winery in Rueda for white wines

2008: Opening of a new winery in Peñafiel, designed by Sir Richard Rogers and Alonso Balaguer

2019: Protos is the most-visited winery in Ribera del Duero, with 38,000 visitors

2020: Opening of a new winery in Cigales for rosé wines

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The wines

Tasted and rated by Natasha Hughes MW

Bodegas Protos Verdejo Rueda 2019 – 90 pts

Attractive aromas of guava, pink grapefruit and peardrops, with a hint of fennel. Rounded mid-palate, lively acidity and a long, fresh finish. Drink 2021-2022. Alc 13%

Bodegas Protos Verdejo Reserva Rueda 2018 – 92 pts

The oak masks some of the grape’s punchy aromatics, but enhances the voluptuously textural mid-palate. The fruit (grapefruit and pineapple) is most noticeable on the lively, persistent finish, which is also tinged with spice and smoke. Drink 2021-2024. Alc 13%

Bodegas Protos Reserva Ribera del Duero 2015 – 93 pts

Seems much younger than the 2014 Reserva. Plush, generous palate with notes of dried herbs and damsons. Oak spice adds complexity and richness. Grippy tannins lend support. Drink 2021-2026. Alc 15%

Bodegas Protos Gran Reserva Ribera del Duero 2012 – 90 pts

A dense, powerful wine with a nice balance of primary (dark plum and cherry) and tertiary notes (truffle, smoke, tobacco leaf). Tannins still fairly firm and a bit dry on the finish, which shows a touch of warmth. Drink 2021-2024. Alc 14%

Bodegas Protos 27 Ribera del Duero 2017 – 91 pts

Red cherry and dark plums, with just a suggestion of woody herbs and fennel and a touch of smoky oak. The tannins are quite chunky, adding heft to the palate. Drink 2021-2025. Alc 14.5%

Bodegas Protos Protos Finca El Grajo Viejo Ribera del Duero 2016 – 90 pts

A glossy, ambitious wine of great concentration and depth. Firm tannins promise longevity and there’s a generous dollop of oak spice to add complexity. So well balanced that the alcohol barely shows on the long finish. One for those who like their wines heady and powerful. Drink 2021-2030. Alc 15%

Translated by Emma Zhao / 赵丹

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