Rioja adopts new village and vineyard designations


The village of Briñas (and surrounding vineyards), Rioja Alta

On 15 February, DOCa Rioja’s Regulatory Council approved new regulations to change the name of the region’s ‘Vino de Municipio’ classification to ‘Vino de Pueblo’ (village wine), signalling new openness to terroir-driven Rioja.

In addition to the name change, the Regulatory Council approved a new term, ‘Viñedo en’ (vineyard in), which will appear on labels of wines made exclusively from vineyards in a particular village. As an example, a wine that comes from a vineyard in Ábalos can now include ‘Viñedo en Ábalos’ on its label, alongside the ‘Vino de Pueblo’ designation.

DOCa Rioja currently has three geographical classifications for its wines. ‘Vino de Zona’ allows producers to label wines based on their origin in the Rioja Alavesa, Alta, or Oriental subzones. ‘Vino de Pueblo’ – previously ‘Vino de Municipio’ – allows producers to reference one of Rioja’s 144 villages on a wine label. Finally, the ‘Viñedo Singular’ classification, approved in 2017, recognizes single plots with unique characteristics directly linked to terroir (the vineyards must be at least 35 years old and harvest must be done by hand).

Addressing discontented producers

The new ‘Viñedo en’ terminology may appease those who take issue with the rules of the ‘Vino de Pueblo’ classification. Under existing rules, for a wine to be labelled as ‘Vino de Pueblo’ both vineyard and winery must be in the same municipality. That means a wine vinified in one village from grapes grown in a neighbouring one is excluded from the classification and cannot include any village name on the bottle, stopping many smaller producers with holdings in various villages from including information about their wines’ origins on the label.

In recent years, producers like Bideona have found creative ways to circumvent labelling rules, hiding village names in plain sight on their wines ‘V1BN4’ (from vineyards in Villabuena) or ‘S4MG0’ (vineyards in Samaniego). In 2023, Telmo Rodríguez openly defied the DOCa by releasing his Lindes de Remelluri project: six wines whose labels each indicate a different village of origin, although production and ageing are carried out in Labastida.

Ongoing disputes

Conflicts over Rioja’s treatment of terroir are not new: in 2015, Artadi abandoned the DOCa after a disagreement with policies ‘in which only ageing differentiates one wine from another.’ In September 2023, Bodegas Familiares de La Rioja, an association of about 200 small- and medium-sized wineries, chose to give up its representation on the Regulatory Council, stating that Rioja’s current strategy only benefits big industrial producers and highlighting discontent with policies that have caused ‘serious surpluses of wine and vineyards on soils where they should never have been planted; the closure of small and medium-sized wineries and excessive and overwhelming bureaucracy’.

Meanwhile, the Asociación de Bodegas de Rioja Alavesa is considering a departure from the official Rioja DOca, arguing that the specificity and character of the region’s Basque section is not rightly represented in the wider context of the appellation.

According to statements from the Regulatory Council to local Rioja publication Nuevecuatrouno, the changes to the regulations ‘respond to demands to continue highlighting the origin of the wines and their vineyards; facilitate consumer understanding and emphasise the diversity of the Rioja Designation of Origin’.

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