This historic winery, located in the Barrio de la Estación area in Haro and founded in 1890 by five Basque and Riojan vinegrowers, holds the honour of having converted the name of the Rioja subzone into their brand. At the time, French négociants were looking for wines that could replace Bordeaux, where phylloxera had destroyed the vineyards, and the newly created company, keen to produce fine wines, brought in French winemaker Vigier to make Bordeaux-style wines.
La Rioja Alta has managed to preserve the classic style of the Denomination. It is one of the few wineries that withstood the urge to launch a modern style brand in the last two decades of the 20th century. Its main concerns in those days were to gather a sizeable number of own vineyards (453 hectares); build modern production facililites (located in the nearby village of Labastida), update barrel stocks and install a cooperage in the winery, given the decisive role that American oak plays in the long aging periods in barrel.
Its most iconic brand, registered in 1942, is Viña Ardanza (600,000 bottles, around €20 in Spain). It is a blend of 80% Tempranilllo grown in the Rioja Alta villages of Fuenmayor and Cenicero, and 20% Garnacha from Tudelilla, in Rioja Baja, where the winery owns 63 hectares which guarantee a homogeneous style of wine. Annual production is not the norm, but the latest vintages, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2009, are particularly noteworthy. From 2004, the Tempranillo variety ages for 36 months in oak barrels as usual, but Garnacha sees just 30 months in oak in an effort to maintain freshness and fruit presence along with the aging character.
Gran Reservas deserve a special mention. They are named after decisive moments in the history of the company: Gran Reserva 890 honours its birth in 1890. It is aged for six years (instead of four), costs around €110 and its production reaches 10,000 bottles). Gran Reserva 904 takes its name from the merge of La Rioja Alta and Bodegas Ardanza in 1904 (around €42; 150,000 bottles). Both are perfect examples of this category thanks to their aromatic complexity, silky tannins and evocative power. Vintages 1998, 2001 and 2005 are specially interesting.
The new Viña Arana Gran Reserva has replaced the Viña Arana Reserva from the 2012 vintage onwards. Fewer bottles (around 80,000) are made and the retail price has risen to €25 in Spain. These reds together with Viña Alberdi Crianza (€12; 500,000 bottles) are both pleasant, light bodied and easy to drink.
Wine lovers who visit the winery will find a well stocked shop and bar offering wines by the glass. Children are welcome during the scheduled winery tours.
Nowadays La Rioja Alta is an important winery group which includes Torre de Oña in Rioja Alavesa, Lagar de Cervera in Rías Baixas and Bodegas Áster in Ribera del Duero.