A well-known producer in DO Ribera del Duero, Pago de Carraovejas is the dream come true for restaurateur José María Ruiz. In the late 1980s, not long after he opened the famous restaurant bearing his name in Segovia, Ruiz bought 9Ha of vines in Peñafiel (Valladolid). The vineyards extends across a south-facing slope with fabulous views of the ancient castle that crowns the village in the Botijas valley. The first vintage to reach the market was 1991, in the midst of Ribera’s boom, and quickly became one of the region’s most sought-after reds.
The property expanded across the slope over the following years to reach 120Ha of vines grown between 760 and 900m above sea level. As the area is perfectly protected from northern winds and exposed to the afternoon sun, grapes are able to ripen fully.
Soil specialist Vicente Gómez and viticulture professor Ramón Lisarrague helped with their expertise in terms of wine growing. Pago de Carraovejas has its own clone of Tempranillo as well as its own yeasts. Pedro Ruiz Aragoneses, José María’s son, took over in 2007 and brought more consultants to the team such as Vega Sicilia’s former winemaker Xavier Ausás. Ausàs works closely with Almudena Calvo, who has been overseeing the Carraovejas wines for over 15 years.
With the new generation, work with separate plots has been intensified and new wine making vessels have been introduced such as stainless steel, large oak vats and wood and concrete eggs. "I like to manage the business in an all-encompassing style, taking care of all the processes and including every single little detail which will set us apart from other producers," Pedro Ruiz explains.
The 2015 vintage has brought sweeping changes to Carraovejas. The family has decided to remove the ageing Crianza and Reserva categories and has released a single Pago de Carraovejas wine carrying the generic vintage seal normally seen on young wines. Production is set to reach 800,000 bottles on a regular vintage and will be sold for around €32. The style has also been polished with more emphasis on fruit purity, terroir and less evident oak.
Pago de Carraovejas produces two single-vineyard reds, which remain unchanged. In both cases, grapes are sourced from some of the highest plots in the property. Released for the first time in the 1998 vintage under the name Cum Laude, Cuesta de las Liebres (€130 in Spain) is ripe and powerful. In contrast, El Anejón (around €73 in Spain) is arguably the freshest, most mineral and distinctive wine in the range. It comes from an unusual terraced vineyard planted following the Priorat model in highly steep terrain. Soils have a high lime content.
Pago de Carraovejas wants to focus on fresh wines. Plantings on the high plateau, which started in 2008, now stretch across 40Ha and there are plans to plant an additional 40 hectares on northern exposed slopes on the other side of the valley. In this context of climate change, cool areas are specially needed as a source of freshness in hot, dry vintages. “We are looking for extra finesse in our wines, but maintaining the identity of our terroir,” says Pedro Ruiz.
A separate project is underway to make a premium red with grapes sourced from very cold vines planted above 900m, most of them in the village of Fuentenebro.
Wine tourism is also important for Carraovejas. Its new restaurant called Ambivium opened recently offers a sophisticated dining experience and includes a wine list with domestic and international wines. The next step is to build a boutique hotel so visitors can discover the culture, scenery and gastronomy of the region.
In 2013 the family took a stake in Ossian and since 2016 is the only stakeholder. There is also a new project in Rioja -2020 will be the first vintage.