The wine-growing sector in Spain is one of the most important in Europe and is classified with the highest quality level DOCa (Denominación de Origen Calificada). Although a large part of the vineyards, 62,000 hectares, are located in the northeastern Spanish province of La Rioja, part of it is also in the provinces of the Basque Country (Subzone Alavesa) and Navarre (parts of Subzone Rioja Baja). The area has a very old viticultural history. Numerous fermentation vats carved in stone have been preserved, testifying to wine growing as far back as ancient times. The most typical are the guardaviñas found in Rioja Alta in Ábalos, Briones and San Asensio. These dome-like stone constructions were used as shelters for winegrowers and their livestock in bad weather and for monitoring the harvests.
Efforts to designate origin and select quality have a long tradition. As early as 1560, the winegrowers decided on a uniform brand for their barrels to guarantee the identity of the wines from this area. In 1635, the mayor of Logroño even forbade the circulation of carts through streets where wine cellars were located. This was done out of concern that vibrations caused by vehicles could spoil the grape must and affect the ripening process of the wines. The first written reference to quality control dates back to 1650. In 1787, the "Real Sociedad Económica de Cosecheros de Rioja" (Royal Economic Association of Rioja Winegrowers) was founded to promote winegrowing, winemaking and wine trading. At the beginning of the 19th century, the custom of the Batalla del Vino (Battle of the Wine) festival was born in the town of Haro and is still celebrated annually.
One of the Rioja pioneers was Marqués Camilo Hurtado de Amézaga (1827-1888), who in 1860 built a Bordeaux-style bodega on his estate and planted vines from there. After the phylloxera invasion in the mid-19th century, many French winegrowers emigrated to the area and gave impetus to viticulture. In 1902, a royal decree was issued defining the origin of Rioja wines and a labelling rule. A control council, founded in 1926, was given the tasks of delimiting the Rioja area, supervising the issue of a "guarantee seal" and protecting the name Rioja. In 1953, the Control Council of the Rioja Denomination of Origin was created to verify, on the basis of organoleptic samples and analytical tests, whether the wine meets the strict regulations.
In 1991, a ministerial decree awarded the Rioja region of origin the attribute "calificada" (qualified), thus elevating it to the first highest Spanish quality level DOCa. The name derives from the river Oja (Rio Oja). The area, which is over 100 kilometres long, lies on both banks of the Ebro River and on the slopes of the adjacent hills. It has a mild climate with short summers and beautiful autumns. The traditional vine training is the bushy en vaso (gobelet), but wire-frame vines are becoming increasingly popular. The vast Rioja area is divided into three subzones, which also differ in soil conditions and wine quality; Rioja Alta is considered the best quality zone:
The 24,000-hectare zone with Haro as its wine centre lies south of the Ebro River and west of the provincial capital Logroño, entirely in the province of La Rioja. Under the influence of the Atlantic, the climate is characterised by hot summers, mild autumns and cool winters. The vineyards are situated on sedimentary soils mixed with...