Meet The Winemaker:
C&C Wines’ Portfolio Ambassador Peter McCombie MW in discussion with Rafa Usoz
PM: Bodegas Sonsierra has more Vinedos Singulares than any other producer in Rioja. How did you identify the vineyards? Was it as simple as applying the official criteria such as a 35 year minimum vine age or did each vineyard have something special to say?
RU: No, it wasn’t as simple as that. We actually have 220 vineyards that are more than 40 years old, which is the age we consider old vineyards. We used a spectral camera to determine the vigour of all of these vineyards, and selected nine in 2017, each of which has something special about it, whether that be the soil, the age, the orientation, the vines….We had many vineyards to select from, and of course, we selected the ones we thought could bring contribute something unique.
PM: Can you describe the wines in terms of what the vineyard brings?
RU: El Manao is a vineyard near the river Ebro, but the soil isn’t aluvial, it is calcareous clay. The wine is well-structured and tannic, with around 14% alcohol, and needs a medium ageing period to reach its best. Duermealmas is a vineyard which is also near the river, but the soil is partly alluvial and partly calcareous clay. Its tannins are softer, and because of this it is ready to drink sooner. The El Rincón de los Galos vineyard is made up of sandy soils, but this sand comes from the degradation of the sandstone rocks. It is the earliest maturing vineyard due to the soil, and we usually harvest it before the white grape vineyards, because it suffers a lot from drought. It usually has the most powerful tannins and continues to improve and become more rounded in the bottle. All three have a lot of ripe fruit, the old Tempranillo from la Sonsierra almost always contributes ripe fruit, and rarely fresh (and more underripe) fruit.
PM: Blending has long been the tradition in Rioja. Does making single vineyard wines require a new or different approach, either viticulturally or in winemaking?
RU: No, in terms of viticulture we treat each single vineyard in the same way as all of our other old vineyards. In winemaking terms, we adjust the number of pumpings and temperatures to each vineyard, just to achieve the best of the vineyard.
PM: The bodega has built a new winery just for the VS wines. What does this facility allow you to do differently?
RU: We built a new winery with the possibility of making “micro” fermentations, with vats from 700-5000kg, which we didn’t have previously.
PM: We might expect prestige bottlings in Rioja (as elsewhere) to be impressive and powerful and given extensive oak ageing. I found the Sonsierra VS wines I have tasted so far to be impressive indeed, but happily also, balanced, without excessive oakiness. How did you achieve this?
RU: We don’t like excessive oakiness in wines, and believe our wines must show what they are and where they come from. So we always search for a balance between fruit and oak. Although we use new french oak, the wines have enough structure to balance the fruit with the oak. We decide upon the time in oak by tasting and deciding when to take the wine out of the oak, which is usually not until 16 months. Though it may sound strange, in Tempranillos with 12 months of french new oak the wood stands out more than in Tempranillos with 16 months.