In mid-June a new winery building, or bodega, will open in Rioja in northern Spain and house the production of Macán wines
This coordinated feat was brokered by a group of Madrid lawyers and orchestrated by Baroness Ariane de Rothschild—who presides over the Edmond de Rothschild Executive Committee in Geneva, and Pablo Álvarez—CEO of Vega Sicilia wines.
The foremost consideration in this project is to produce high quality wines.
“Pablo and I discussed where we should do this and decided most definitely Rioja, He felt very strongly about the quality of the soil and the potential to create a new, very upscale wine. We thought it was a very interesting challenge to deliver yet another highly prestigious wine, starting from scratch. We are working on quality, not volume.” Baroness Rothschild said.
While vines were still being purchased, a temporary winemaking facility was rented and the first vintage was produced in 2009. At that time the wine name still had to be finalized. Many potential names were screened out as being too difficult to pronounce in languages other than Spanish. Finally, from the nickname of the local people in the town of San Vicente de la Sonsierra came Macán—simple to pronounce and inextricably grounded in the local culture.
“It was very important to be very connected to this region,” Baroness Rothschild said.
In this misty land of hilltop castles and low-fissured valleys the bodega is located at 2,100 feet (650 meters) above sea level in the higher vineyard reaches of Rioja. Because the terrain is close to protected natural lands, incorporated environmental measures include a lack of fencing (to allow the passage of wildlife), restrictions on light and sound and the exclusive use of indigenous vegetation for winery landscaping.
Hills of Rioja wine country
Two rounds of architectural competitions took place before the final design of the facility was selected. Construction took just over two years.
Project collaboration worked well because of shared values and vision. “You can have the best plans on earth,” Baroness Rothschild explained. “But if, on the people basis, you don’t get along—it’s very complicated.” Born in El Salvador and partially raised in Colombia, she speaks fluent Spanish (and four other languages) and is endeared to Latin culture. She and Álvarez both understand the need for maintaining a long-range vision, as well as disciplined focus.
“I think our common values are the long term view. Family values. Quality. The patience to produce something good rather than earn money right away. Respecting clients first,” she said.
Considering the process of making excellent wine, Álvarez added:
“There are no secrets. Our new projects need seven years from the moment we begin. We try to make the best wine possible. It’s very easy to say, not so easy to do. It’s also important to maintain the personality of the wine’s region. If all the wines are the same, it’s very boring.”
The combined cost of vines and the new winery was $34 million. The functional building is situated below impressive craggy peaks. The facility’s northernmost structure, closest to France, represents the Rothschild family while the southernmost building represents the Álvarez family. The third structure in the middle forms, metaphorically, the union between both. A permanent staff of 11 maintain the cellar, vines and administration of the bodega. During harvest that number will increase to 60 or more. Although architecturally impressive from the exterior, the bodega’s primary function is production, not eno-tourism.
“The first rule of this building is to produce wine, We did not think that creating an amazing architectural building would really contribute to the business of the wine.” Baroness Rothschild explained.
According to winemaker Ganzalo Iturriaga, one reason the location was chosen is so that most grapes can be delivered within 20 minutes of being picked.
Energetically curious and experimental, Iturriaga varies yeasts, grape sorting techniques and the grain of oak barrels to optimize quality. To improve quality, no herbicides are used on vines, yields per hectare are relatively low and winery processes are gravity fed.
Aerial view of Bodegas Edmond de Rothschild & Vega Sicilia in Rioja, Spain
The winery now produces two wines—Macán and the second label Macán Clásico. Both are made from Tempranillo grapes and aged primarily in French oak barrels (between 12 and 18 months), followed by aging in bottles. Future wines may possibly be blended with Graciano grapes. Whites could also be produced, depending—according to Iturriaga—on the quality and aging potential of permitted white grape varieties, such as Viura.
“We want to go slowly, smoothly to produce elegant, great wines,” Iturriaga said. Yet the year 2013 was challenging for Rioja winemakers. “2013 was a complicated year,” he explained. “There was a lot of rain during harvest.”
Despite these problems, Macán delivers. The taste of this wine is beautifully satisfying, balanced and full
develops within minutes in the glass, includes red fruit and earth and has a long finish. The second label, Macan Clásico, aged 12 months in oak, includes violets, herbs and caramel on the nose and is light and easy to drink. Production of both wines is limited. Less than 99,000 bottles of the 2013 were produced, of which 60% were exported to 60 countries—primarily the United States, Switzerland and Mexico. Expect the price to increase in future years as the wines become more recognized.
“Expensive wines are not always the best wines,” Álvarez said. “First it’s necessary to show that the quality of our wines is great.”
Baroness Rothschild’s favorite wine is a ’59 Château Lafite-Rothschild, while she also appreciates wine from Château Cheval Blanc as well as many Burgundies. And Macán? She favors this not only for taste, but because producing it has been a labor of love.