The underground cellars in Conde de los Andes are the result of the gradual expansion of the winery founded by Federico Paternina y Josué in Ollauri (Rioja Alta) in 1896. Over the years, the property changed hands several times. In 2014 the Murúa family (Muriel group, Elciego) purchased the cellars and their outstanding collection of old wines from the Eguizábal group.
The Murúa family restored the old stone building (the underground cellars had been renovated in 2005) that now houses the new visitor reception area with an open room to host tastings, exhibitions and conferences. They have also brought back the old purpose for which this building was created: winemaking.
The old cellars stretch along corridors and interlinked caves dug up at 18 and 40 meters underground in a maze measuring almost one kilometre. Its construction may have begun in the late Middle Ages. Large masonry foundations and Moorish architectural details have been found. One of the main galleries was excavated with picks and shovels at the end of the 16th century and early 17th century by stonemasons from Galicia, to whom Paternina honored on its Banda Azul labels with the blue and white colours of the Galician flag.
450,000 bottles rest in the cellars, of which 40,000 belong to vintages prior to the 1970s. Despite the fact that Paternina was officially created by Federico Paternina y Josué in 1896, the oldest wine in the cellar dates from 1892. The collection includes a seizable amount of half bottles and white wines.
Grapes are now sourced from 50 plots totalling 22 hectares. Most of the vineyards are located in Briñas and the area bordering Labastida, as well as in Haro and Ollauri. Two wines were initially made. A 100% Tempranillo and a barrel-fermented Viura that is now blended with some Malvasía, both of which were released for the first time in the 2013 vintage. None of them feature Rioja’s traditional ageing categories and are sold for €23. Total production stands at around 35,000 bottles.
The new owners are committed to keep between 15% and 20% of the wines in their cellars and release them at a later date with additional bottle ageing. In fact, Conde de los Andes is also offering limited library releases of old vintages. A 1983 semi-sweet white, a 1983 white and two reds (vintages 2001 and 1970) are some examples. Red wines set to be released in 2019 include vintages 2004, 2003 and 1998.
The “Capítulos” (chapters) is a new range of limited, almost experimental wines which explore specific aspects in the vineyards of Conde de los Andes. With retail prices around €55-60, Capítulo I 2016 is a vibrant, citrus Malvasía (1,938 bottles) whereas Capítulo II 2016 is a well-defined Garnacha (1,162 bottles) displaying lovely acidity. Grapes are sourced from several plots planted in 1910 and 1940.
In 2018 Conde de los Andes received the Best of Wine Tourism Award. With its charming old cellars and its modest size compared to that of other historic wineries in the region, it is really worth visiting. American writer Ernest Hemingway didn’t miss the opportunity during his stay in Rioja in the 1950s.