Passion for Spanish wine


Spanish wine
See more articles
  • Villota: wines born on a singular meander in Rioja Alavesa
  • Villota: wines born on a singular meander in Rioja Alavesa
  • Villota: wines born on a singular meander in Rioja Alavesa
  • Villota: wines born on a singular meander in Rioja Alavesa
  • Villota: wines born on a singular meander in Rioja Alavesa
  • Villota: wines born on a singular meander in Rioja Alavesa
  • Villota: wines born on a singular meander in Rioja Alavesa
  • Villota: wines born on a singular meander in Rioja Alavesa
1. The path dividing Villota and Contino with Cerro de la Mesa in the background 2. Ricardo Pérez 3. Carmen Pérez at La Abejera 4. Soils 5. Viña Gena and Sierra Cantabria 6. Map of the estate 7 and 8. New wines Photos: Yolanda O. de Arri

Wineries to watch

Villota: wines born on a singular meander in Rioja Alavesa

Yolanda Ortiz de Arri | October 6th, 2020

The path that begins a few metres before La Abejera cottage and runs through vineyards to the Ebro River, in the San Rafael meander in Laserna (Rioja Alavesa), marks not only a physical separation of plots and grapes but also a turning point in the life of Ricardo Pérez Villota and his daughter Carmen Pérez Garrigues.

Third and fourth generation respectively as owners of this 175-hectare estate acquired by Ricardo Pérez Pérez upon his return from Chile in 1930, it was Carmen's grandfather (Ricardo Pérez Calvet) who in 1945, after completing his studies as an agricultural engineer, took over the management of the estate, planting more vines with the traditional varieties of the area and making wine for his own consumption.

The first major change came in 1973, when after Rumasa's attempts to purchase the estate, Ricardo Pérez Villota and his father decided to join forces with Cvne, to whom they had been selling a substantial part of their crop. Thus was born Viñedos del Contino, one the first bodegas-châteaux in Rioja to pioneer the production of single-estate wines and one of the region's top quality producers. "It was a natural partnership", recalls Ricardo Pérez Villota. "Each of the parties put up 50% of the capital and we took turns in the management. Villota provided the vineyard and its cultivation and Cvne provided the sales and distribution”.

Going it alone

Forty years later, and after lengthy and intense negotiations, Cvne took full control of Contino, including the winery —originally the house where Ricardo Pérez Pérez lived— and 62 hectares of vineyards on the right side of the road down to the river. Aware of the legacy they had in their hands, Ricardo and his daughter Carmen, both agricultural engineers in keeping with family tradition, decided to continue growing the remaining 100 hectares of vines —the property has 113 hectares. They set up a company called Viña del Lentisco to produce their own range of wines under the brand Villota.

It was not an easy decision, but it was the right one, admits Carmen, who has been working these vineyards for 30 years and is passionate about the countryside. "We have three different types of soil: the sandy area next to the river, another with pebbles and clay, and a more calcareous area at the top," she explains, as we walk around the three wide terraces that form the estate, along three kilometres of the Ebro River as it flows through El Cortijo. From this hamlet, on the opposite bank, there are fabulous views of the estate, one of the largest in the Rioja Alavesa. To the north, Viña del Lentisco —named after the large mastic tree that stands on its way to the river— is protected by Cerro de la Mesa, a knoll that acts as a natural barrier meaning that grapes are harvested here about 10 days earlier than in Laguardia, just 10 km from the meander. The elevation from one end of the estate to the other ranges from 380 metres by the river to 420 metres on the hillside. 

The varieties they grow are the traditional ones in Rioja, both red and white, in keeping with the tradition of their forebears. "I studied what was done in France, but I structured the vineyard seeking to preserve the local varieties," recalls Ricardo Pérez Villota, who borrowed from the neighbouring country the idea of planting roses as early indicators of disease. Now, well over half of the vineyard is over 35 years old and is planted mainly with Tempranillo but they also have Graciano, Garnacha, Mazuelo, Maturana Tinta and two hectares of white Viura, Garnacha Blanca, Malvasia Riojana and Tempranillo Blanco. Over the years, they have introduced better sustainable practices in the entire estate, avoiding the use of herbicides and working with an inter row weeder, although for the moment they do not work organically. Unhurriedly but steadily, Viña del Lentisco has been gradually coming into its own. 

New releases

The oldest vineyard in the estate, planted with Tempranillo on sandy soils, dates from 1930 and is called Viña Gena, in honour of Carmen's grandmother. It is a special place, where you can hear the Ebro river flowing by, and where Carmen and Ricardo have installed a couple of picnic tables under the hundred-year-old holm oak tree to taste and admire the spectacular views of the Sierra Cantabria in the distance. This is where Viña Gena is born, a red wine with depth and finesse, which is set to become the house's new top wine. Labelled as Viñedo Singular after meeting the requirements established by the Rioja DOCa, the 7,000 bottles from 2018, the first vintage, will be released by Christmas at a price of €30 in Spain.

This will not be the only novelty to be presented by Viñedos del Lentisco on this “difficult but tremendously exciting year,” says Carmen. “We are finally at the stage of consolidating our brand and introducing our meander to the world”. She has two limited production varietals, Garnacha and Graciano, that continue to develop in the winery, but coinciding with the launch of Viña Gena, Carmen also plans to release Villota. Intended to be their flagship red wine, 10,000 bottles of this Tempranillo, Graciano and Garnacha blend will be on sale at a price of €18.

"Villota is a selection of plots to produce a wine where the fruit is always present despite being in barrels for 18 months before being polished in concrete tanks. The idea is for it to be the reflection of the estate", says Carmen, who is now working on the sales and distribution network both in Spain and abroad with the help of wine marketing expert Maite Corsín. "With Villota we have room for growth and we wanted to offer an attractive price because we are a new brand". 

Another red wine that offers a lot for very little money is Selvanevada, which Carmen describes as "the gateway wine to the meander" in contrast with Villota, which she refers to as "the tablecloth wine" meant to be enjoyed with food. Selvanevada was launched at the beginning of the summer, and despite the difficulties of presenting a new wine in the midst of a pandemic, Carmen is very happy with the response. It is their only wine in a Bordeaux bottle and sports an eye-catching label -designed by Xavier Bas, like the rest of the new range- depicting the hundred-year-old holm oak next to the Ebro and two ladies from the days when the Marquis of Selvanevada owned the meander, before his penchant for gambling forced him to auction off the estate to pay off his debts. Priced at €10 and with little over 15,000 bottles, Selvanevada is an impeccable introduction to this producer, made in a fresh, agile and accessible style that blends Tempranillo, Graciano, Garnacha and Mazuelo and is conceived to be an everyday wine.

The range is completed with Villota Selección Tinto and Blanco (€27-€29), the two limited production wines with which the project was launched. Both are a selection of specific plots in the meander that may vary depending on the vintage. They are excellent wines, but the white one may be more surprising because of its freshness and volume, with a delicious saline quality and with sufficient acidity to anticipate a good evolution in the bottle. 

The first vintages of Villota Selección, from 2016 to 2019, are the work of Basilio Izquierdo, an old friend of the family from the days when he was winemaker at Cvne. But since last year the person responsible for making the wines is Maribel Bernardo, from Zugober in Lapuebla de Labarca, where the entire Villota range is produced. The idea is that in the near future, and if all goes well, the estate will also house the Villota winery so that they will be estate —and meander— wines from the moment they are born until they are released on the market.


Introducing Rioja’s first Viñedos Singulares
New releases to try this Christmas
Rioja through the eyes of veteran winemaker Basilio Izquierdo
50 years of Contino, a single-vineyard pioneer in Rioja
0 Comment(s)
Comment on this entry*
Remember me:
privacy policy
*All comments will be moderated before being published: