La Rioja La Rioja

The history of Rioja wines, the most famous wine area in Spain

La Rioja

The history of the Rioja wine reflects a long and varied wine making tradition in a Spanish region of the Ebro valley, between the Obarenes Mountains and the Sierra de Cantabria to the north, and the hills of the Sierra de la Demanda to the south, in the territory belonging mainly in La Rioja and to a lesser extent in Álava, in the region known as Rioja Alavesa; Navarra, in a small area in the south of the community; and the enclave of El Ternero belonging to Miranda de Ebro (Burgos).

One of the distinguishing features of these areas is undoubtedly the wine. But not just as a product, but as a social and cultural reference point in a region where an important part of its festivals and traditions revolve around it.

The beginnings

There are written testimonies that document the presence of wine already during the period of Roman domination, which found in this territory the ideal conditions for its cultivation and transformation. In the Middle Ages, characterized by the birth and development of the monastic centers, which represented a cultural reference in Europe, the production of wine is greatly increased and it is precisely in the monasteries and abbeys that the harvesting techniques have improved. In the sixteenth century, La Rioja was one of the main producing regions, and this allowed it to export wine to the rest of Spain and even to Europe.
The two successive centuries, XVI and XVII, saw the affirmation of La Rioja as the main wine region, thanks above all to the implementation of the first quality control measures and to the creation of regulations concerning wine-making.
In the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern age, there is a great demand for wine from the population that leaves the countryside and concentrates in the cities. La Rioja, which has since increased its production, takes advantage of this moment to join the important push of the trade.
In 1787, the Real Junta de Cosecheros was created to help improve the quality of wines and improve trade with the northern markets. His priority was to build and improve the infrastructure needed to unite the Rioja wineries with Vitoria and the port of Santander.

Modern times

But it was only during the second half of the nineteenth century, with the introduction of new methods of winemaking, that La Rioja wine began the path that would make it famous all over the world. The terrible plague of phylloxera, which devastated the French vineyards, forced the buyers of that country to look for wines from other regions. La Rioja returned to their choices, thanks to its proximity to France and the similarity of the production processes.
However, in 1900 the epidemic also reached its crops, with 70% of the vineyards in the region that disappeared in seven years. The only effective measure was the grafting of American strains, the only ones immune to this parasite as it came from this continent. The recovery has been slow, more than two decades, but after this serious setback the Rioja has returned to occupy its place of prestige.
In 1926 the Supervisory Board was created, the first in Spain, with the aim of defining the production area, checking the issue of the guarantee seal and deciding the legal measures to protect the Rioja from counterfeiters.
The Regulatory Council, as it is currently structured, was created in 1970 with the approval of the regulation of the designation of origin and of the Regulatory Council. Only in 1991, the Rioja Qualified Denomination of Origin is granted, another step in the recognition of wines from this region.
Thus, from the combination of an exceptional raw material, favored by the environmental conditions and the land and by the French production techniques, Rioja wine reaches a hitherto unknown quality in the region and a universal prestige. The following decades will mean the expansion of the vineyards, the creation of some of the most representative wineries in the region and unprecedented economic growth for these wine-growing areas.
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