A particularly audacious venture, Vintae is a Spanish wine group that emerged in Rioja and expanded to Navarra (Aroa), Toro (Matsu), Ribera del Duero (Bardos), Aragón and Catalonia -where they source grapes for a range of Garnacha-based reds-, and northern Spain -Galicia and the Basque Country- to produce the Atlantis range of white wines.
Over the course of this trajectory, not devoid of controversy, Vintae disrupted traditional communication and labelling in the industry, using all sorts of ways to let the world know that wine is fun. They also popularised certain styles of wine and even launched Wine Fandango, a bar in Logroño aimed at presenting alternative ways of enjoying wine.
While most of these milestones must be credited to a young and dynamic team led by Ricardo "Richi" Arambarri, the winemaking business was established by his father. José Miguel Arambarri Terrero was born in Badarán in 1942 at a time when there was little future in farming. In recent years, this Rioja village has gained a reputation for the quality of its Garnacha, but in the 1940s it was a world away from the most famous villages. Arambarri made a career in construction and property development before venturing into other sectors.
In 1999 he turned his attention to wine with an unconventional plan. At a time when planting white varieties was not allowed in Rioja, he set out to recover Moscatel de Grano Menudo around Calahorra in Rioja Oriental and a few years later championed the creation of Valles del Sadacia PGI. Under this seal, Vintae produces the range Libalis (aromatic wines at affordable prices between €6 and €8 including whites, rosés and frizzantes) and the sweet Melante (€7.5 for a 50 cl. bottle).
In 2003 Vintae launched Hacienda López de Haro to make Rioja reds. However, it was not until 2006 that they built their own winery. The chosen site was not the family village but one with greater prestige: San Vicente de la Sonsierra. By 2004 the Arambarris had bought their first vineyards in Navarra, the project in Toro was underway and they began to explore the Queiles Valley, an area between Navarra and Zaragoza for their "Proyecto Garnachas," which they later expanded to Campo de Borja, Priorat and Rioja.
The year 2008 was pivotal for the company. José Miguel suffered a stroke and his sons had to take over the business. "A family problem turned into an opportunity," explains Richi Arambarri, who at the time was a defiant 23-year-old who regarded wine as a dull and boring business. He and his brother José Miguel found themselves in charge of a business that was producing 400,000 bottles and had invested heavily soon before the impending crisis of the late 2000s.
Instead of panicking, they embarked on a complete transformation. One of the milestones of this period was the redesign of the López de Haro range to incarnate Rioja classicism -the business was called Bodega Classica- with a controversial new image reminiscent of a prestigious century-old bodega. Another important addition was the trilogy of Matsu wines in Toro, representing three wines -El Joven, El Recio and El Viejo (the young, the resilient and the old man)- at different ageing times and three stages of a man's life. Theses striking portraits marked a turning point in wine label design.
Vintae also popularised natural wine with the launch of the red Le Naturel, boldly featuring an expiry date on the label. This project was developed in Navarra after taking majority ownership of Bodegas Aroa in 2013. There were also failures like the range of Spanish Guerrilla whites, made from Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Albariño or Gewürztraminer, which lacked varietal character.
Vintae has always relied on Moruba design studio for its packaging. Based in Logroño, Moruba was launched by Javier Euba and Dani Morales, who used to work for Vintae.
Winemaker Raúl Acha is Vintae’s technical director. He has been involved in the project from the start and forms a solid tandem with Richi Arambarri. Born in Cárdenas, a village in the Najerilla valley with a rich heritage of old Garnacha vines, Acha is a partner at Vintae and a great advocate of this grape variety -it is no coincidence that El Garnacho Viejo de la Familia Acha (€70 in Spain) is one of the group’s top wines.
Another important presence in the technical team is grape expert and winemaker Rioja Pedro Balda. In charge of the company’s R&D department, most of his work is focused on plantings at high elevation, sulphite-free wines, ageing in different vessels and bubbly -Vintae is about to launch a new range of sparkling wines under the DOCa. Rioja seal.
Viñedos El Pacto is a mature, terroir-driven project. Wines are sourced from old traditional vineyards in two specific areas of Rioja: the Sonsierra and the Alto Najerilla valley, a 30-minute drive southwest of Logroño. Two wines are made in each part: a local cuvée and a single-vineyard red recognized as Viñedo Singular. In Sonsierra, El Pacto (70,000 bottles, €12) is a great value Tempranillo blend sourced from close to 30 plots scattered across the foothills of the Sierra de Cantabria mountain range. The elegant, firm single-vineyard Riojanda (700 bottles) comes from a 0.21 ha plot planted in 1920 on the road from Laguardia to Navaridas.
In the Alto Najerilla valley, the range starts with a white (€16, 9,000 bottles) made from several north-facing plots with clay-ferrous soils between Cárdenas and Nájera. Valdechuecas Viñedo Singular (about 3,000 bottles) is a juicy, expressive Garnacha from Cárdenas. Grapes are sourced from a terraced plot planted in 1912 and 1918; the wine is fermented in concrete vats and aged in foudre.
The group currently owns around 250 hectares of vines, mostly in Rioja and Navarra and to a lesser extent in Aragón. In other regions they buy grapes from local wine growers. This is the case in Ribera del Duero, where they want to produce fresh wines from vineyards planted at high elevation both in Soria and in the Moradillo moorland in the province of Burgos. They work in a rented winery and produce 300,000 bottles.
Matsu in Toro is the largest firm with 1.2 million bottles, followed by Hacienda López de Haro (Bodega Classica) in Rioja with one million. In Navarra, Bodegas Aroa produces around 250,000 bottles, whereas Proyecto Garnachas stands at 200,000 bottles and Atlantis at around 60,000.
50% of the wines are exported. Toro leads the way with 70% of sales abroad against 50% for Ribera del Duero and 30% in the case of Rioja.
The wines can be bought at the winery’s online store.