By Harpers Editorial
Published: 01 December, 2020
Javier R de Galarreta, founder and CEO of ARAEX Grands Spanish Fine Wines, explains why Rioja remains the headline hero with the backdrop of Araex’s growing portfolio of estates straddling Spain’s premium winemaking regions
Why do you consider Rioja to be a Hero region in your portfolio?
Myy original business plan was based on the Rioja Alavesa region and its great potential in the export markets. Araex Grands Spanish Fine Wines started in 1993 and was focused then exclusively on this wonderful sub-zone of Rioja. It’s therefore natural that today, 27 years later, it’s our Hero Region among the 11 appellations we currently specialise in.
How important is Rioja as a flagship in your wider portfolio of Spanish regions?
Rioja is by far the leading Spanish wine region, not only in the domestic market but in international markets. Considering the current market situation, the Rioja brand is driving sales. Regarding our Riojas in the UK and Ireland, shipments are up 23% to the end of August – these are the most important growth markets currently. We are doing well in premium. I believe Rioja has very good wines to be sold in the higher market segment and Rioja’s positioning should be considered to activate sales in this upper segment, to deliver better recognition of the higher value wines for the future.
What are the benefits of having a spread of wines and estates?
Rioja Alavesa, Rioja’s highest altitude sub-region, has multiple terroirs, differing soils and altitudes.
So having a number of estates from Rioja Alavesa offers diversity of terroir, but also the ability to offer exclusive estates from Rioja Alevesa, all the possibilities and styles, plus the other regions, for specific markets and importers – all the possibilities the market is demanding.
What benefits does a mix of modern and traditional Rioja wines offer for Araex and its distribution partners?
Within the Araex family of Rioja Alavesa winegrowers, we have some more traditional wines, but many are in the direction of modern. Having both obviously opens the playing field for us.
And where does the R&G label, including the new high-end Iconic wine, fit in?
The R&G Rioja Alavesa wines fit in well. They are [consultant] Michel Rolland’s and my interpretations of the diversity Rioja Alavesa can offer. The wines are made from plots we select from those owned by our winegrowers but made differently to suit the R&G philosophy and the interpretation of the terroir.
What synergies or benefits are there in presenting Rioja alongside wines from other regions?
We want to continue growing successfully and any company in the UK that wants Spanish premium wines can work with us across Spain’s other regions. Rioja’s a door opener, it’s the strongest ‘brand’ in Spain, so it helps when offering and trying to introduce other lesser-known regions.
Over the 27 years since Araex was founded, what has informed your winemaking in Rioja?
We were always driven by sustainablity because the vineyards are generally quite old. Now that sustainability and respect for the environment has increased in importance, we have a head start – viticulturally and in winemaking.
During 2017 and 2018 we implemented Project Environmental Footprint, an EU-certified programme to become sustainable, not only with regard to global warming and climate change, but to ensure sustainability in the lifecycle of the product. This starts from viticulture, continuing with the elaboration of the wine, using natural techniques and reducing levels of CO2, but also includes logistics and commercialisation, reducing our environmental footprint. We have studied the whole lifecycle and benefited from almost 30% reduction of emissions from the two wineries involved. Now we are going to instigate this across all our estates.
What do the next 27 years hold?
We plan to continue contributing even more to the premiumisation of Spanish wine. It deserves better and more recognition. This doesn’t necessarily mean high-priced or over-priced wines, but wines with the right perceived value.
You recently added Jerez and Priorat to the portfolio – tell us a little more?
This is the culmination of Araex’s mission to include all of the most emblematic Spanish DOs in its offer.
We worked for almost five years visiting wineries and selecting soleras in Sanlucar de Barameda and now, under the Soleras Olvidadas label, we have a manzanilla, a fino and an amontillado.
Priorat was more difficult, because there are not big productions and we wanted a specific terroir. We found a 6ha vineyard in Porrera and started producing Rolland & Galarreta Clos d’En Ferran, with Michel Rolland in 2017. We wanted the project to be a good representation of Priorat and we are very happy with the results.