Located in Labastida (Rioja Alavesa), Bodegas Tierra is owned by Carlos Fernández alongside his brothers Fidel (winemaker at Luis Cañas) and Raúl. Their grandfather was one of the founders of the local co-operative in 1964, but their father left it to start producing wine on his own. Upon his arrival from Casalarreina, the grandfather could only afford to buy some of the poorest vineyards in the area. Now Carlos loves to take visitors there to admire his vines. "If there's one thing we can really boast about, that is our vineyards,” he points out proudly.
The family owns 24 hectares and rents 20 more in the big part of this village that stretches from the banks of the Ebro river in the south to the foothills of mount Toloño to the north. Thus, Tierra was one of the first producers to adopt the new category of village wines in Rioja.
Although they don’t farm organically, they favour minimum intervention and describe their philosophy as “clean farming” and have been successfully using biodynamics in order to achieve greater balance in Castrijo, the plot destined to the white Tierra Fidel. The jewel in the crown is Cubanegra, a plot planted in 1910 which is painstakingly looked after. After doing a masal selection of cuttings, a field of mother plants was created in order to replace the dead vines; a huge investment to avoid the uprooting of these hundred-year-old vines. However, Carlos’s favourite areas are Las Callejas and Barranco del Oso, which stand at a higher elevation. He distinguishes between vineyards located south of the village where Mediterranean climate prevails, and those to the north with an Atlantic influence.
Tierra produces around 200,000 bottles in its picturesque facilities in the old Jewish quarter of Labastida that can only be accessed up a couple of really steep slopes. Oak vats, concrete eggs, foudres and barrels of different sizes are intermingled in a winery that includes four houses built on several underground cellars dating back to 1400 and 1500. The backyard has awesome views of the sierra de Toloño but it is also exposed to the cold winds descending from the mountain.
Barrel-aged wines usually spend a couple of months in concrete vats before being bottled. The range is wide and with somewhat contrasting labels in terms of the design. It starts with a traditional carbonic maceration named Fernandez Gómez (the family surnames) and the single-varietal Tempranillo El Primavera, which is aged in barrel for four months. The flagship brand Tierra, includes a white blend with a few months in barrel and a Tempranillo-based Crianza (around €11). Since the 2017 vintage, they are sold as village wine.
A little over 1,000 bottles are produced for each wine in the premium range. With grapes sourced from the old Cubanegra plot, the top red is Belisario (€43) aims to be classified as “viñedo singular” in the new Rioja single-vineyard category. Two Tierra Fidel (€32) wines follow. The red is an original blend of Graciano and Garnacha in equal parts, whereas the white is a field blend of mostly white Cariñena, which is an absolute rarity in Rioja. Its grapes come from the biodynamically-farmed plot and is expected to be a “viñedo singular”.
White wines play an important role in Tierra, even if they just account for 15% of the total output. Another curious example is La Abuela Visi (about €27), a blend of Malvasia and Viura which was named after one of the women in the family.
Exeo is a second, particularly interesting project made under the same roof. The brainchild of Carlos and Salamanca-born Francisco Astudillo, production is smaller (40,000 bottles altogether) and has a strong focus on Garnacha. Astudillo has been living in the US for a long time. His background is in the hospitality industry where he worked for chef and entrepreneur José Andrés before he launched his own wine importing company).
The range starts with Letras Minúsculas (around 20,000 bottles, €11), a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano, but the true stars are the two Garnachas under the Cifras brand (around €18) which are aged exclusively in egg-shaped concrete vats. While the red version (around 9,000 bottles) excels for its fine texture, our favourite is the broad, creamy, elegant white (less than 4,000 bottles).