Founder and wine aging pioneer Ramón Bilbao would have been delighted with the winery's excellent brand awareness nowadays, which is the result of the strategy developed by Zamora Company -a heavywight in the drinks business with brands such as Licor 43- since its takeover in 1999. As well as launching a new range of modern red wines and updating its traditional bottlings, the Haro-based winery, a standardbearer for good value, has built a small winery empire which includes Mar de Frades (Rías Baixas), Cruz de Alba (Ribera del Duero) and Ramón Bilbao Rueda.
The commercial muscle of Zamora Company has undoubtedly made the brand visible in the market but the man who has orchestrated the evolution in styles, new label designs and expansion towards other Spanish wine regions is Rodolfo Bastida, managing director of the group's wine division. Selection was the starting point: high quality vineyards, fermentation in oak vats, a larger presence of French oak. The result of this action were two wines: the best grapes were destined to premium Mirto (€32, around 35,000 bottles) with the rest going to Ramón Bilbao Edición Limitada Crianza (€11, over 200,000 bottles), an affordable red harvested with quality procedures usually reserved for higher priced wines.
Annual production stands at 4 million bottles, half of which are Crianza (€7-8). Balanced and unpretentious, it shows an improved fruit character and definition over the years and it doesn't disappoint.
Reds are Tempranillo-based except for Ramón Bilbao Reserva (€12) and Gran Reserva (€19), which include small amounts of Mazuelo. The exception is Viñedos de Altura, a singular wine which is a 50% blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha from the region's two extremes (the first comes from Villalba, on the westernmost part, and Garnacha from Tudelilla, in Rioja Baja). Vineyards are 80km apart and lie at an altitude of 700 and 650 metres respectively. The result is a fresh, light and fragrant wine which highlights the enormous potential for different styles in a region as large as Rioja. There are two new Garnacha-based rosé wines: the premium Lalomba (€20) and the entry-level Ramón Bilbao (€6 in Spain). Grapes for this wine are sourced from the Alto Najerilla Valley in Rioja Alta.
When Zamora Company acquired Ramón Bilbao in 1999, the winery barely owned two hectares of vines. Since then, the figure has grown to 203. Now, there are specific traceability records for the different styles of wines. Thus, grapes for the Gran Reserva are sourced from two vineyards in Labastida, the new Original Reserva (€19 in Spain) which attempts to recover the spirit of historic Riojas, comes from two plots in Villalba, a village on the northwestern boundary of Rioja. While Edición Limitada tries to capture the character of Rioja Alta, the grapes that go to Mirto are selected each vintage from the best-performing village in terms of quality.
Apart from some vineyards in Villalba and other villages in Rioja Alta, two of the most important acquisitions in recent times include a 90-hectare property on the slopes of Mount Yerga in Rioja Oriental with vineyards planted up to 720 metres, and a 23-ha property stretching across a meander of the Ebro river in San Asensio.
Ramón Bilbao’s last and most ambitious venture is Lalomba, a collection of special vineyards that aim to gain a place among Rioja's top wines. The wines are produced in an adjacent yet separate, state-of-the-art winery in the headquarters of Ramón Bilbao in Haro. There is a special focus on fermenting and aging in concrete tanks. The range so far includes the rosé Lalomba Finca Lalinde (90% Garnacha, 20% Viura) from Mount Yerga, Lalomba Finca Ladero, a red blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha from the highest plot in this property in Rioja Oriental set to be released in September 2020, and Lalomba Finca Valhonta. Grapes for this wine are sourced from a vineyard planted over 100 km away in the village of Villalba, on the northwestern end of Rioja. The packaging features sloping surfaces evoking hillside vineyards. Retail prices for these two new reds will range from €65 to €70.
The winery is open daily to visitors and offers guided tastings. All the wines can be bought at the winery's online store.