La Rioja and Rioja Alavesa Vine and Wine Cultural Landscape
Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport
La Rioja, Pais Vasco
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party
The property being proposed for inclusion in the World Heritage list corresponds to a geographical and cultural unit within the Spanish Wine Protected Designation of Origin Denominación de Origen Calificada Rioja (D.O.Ca. Rioja). Rioja is one of the world’s great wines, a position it has achieved not only thanks to its unarguable quality but also because of its exceptionally long historical and cultural background. The property covers 603 square kilometers and the buffer zone 554 square kilometers. The proposed area corresponds to the northwestern part of the Wine Region and extends along both sides of the River Ebro, affecting the two sub-areas of the D.O.: Rioja and Rioja Alavesa. This is the most representative part of the Wine Region and the one that has developed without interruption since the early Middle Ages, with signs that this process might date back to Roman times. It features an exceptional cultural landscape, the result of human efforts to adapt to their environment and the development of a culture strongly associated with the world of wine which goes back to 2,000 years.
Both the general and wine-related history of the region have been marked by constant evolution and sustained efforts over time to adapt to the territory and changing historical circumstances, in an area that has been a major thoroughfare and meeting point for numerous cultures, as well as a frontier zone and the border of kingdoms. Yet, it has managed to find in the culture of vine and wine an element capable of overcoming these barriers. Vine and wine have thus become a cohesive element which demonstrates our common identity.
Physical and climatic characteristics, adaptation, evolution and an amalgamation of cultures are the backdrop to a cultural landscape in which knowledge and material evidence have been integrated to the extent that today we can read and interpret this lengthy cultural process in the land; a process in which wine has played such a key role since ancient times.
Like all great wines, Rioja is the result of a long process of evolution which has been influenced by the social, economic, technical, political and cultural factors that make up this unique region.
The reality of the cultural landscape of the proposed region stems from a characteristic natural environment and the secular actions of man. This anthropic action has materialized in the vine and wine cultural landscape that we find today. It is therefore necessary to examine the unique features of this natural environment as well as the cultural elements that have been incorporated into the region over time.
1.2 Unique physical characteristics
The following physical and natural features should be highlighted:
The location and geography of the region mean that it boasts an exceptional climate for growing grapes. Some of the most important of these are:
The convergence of Atlantic and Mediterranean climatic influences, which has generated a unique climate. A crossroads of climates, reflecting the fact that the region is also a crossroads of cultures.
The influence of the River Ebro, which has a particular impact on the regional climate.
The northern line of defence of the limestone massif of the Sierra de Cantabria, which protects the region from the cold, wet weather from the north.
These factors have established unique conditions of temperature, humidity and sunshine that are ideal for developing viticulture.
Varied terrain: The vineyards in the proposed region range from hilly areas (making it necessary to use terracing), to areas of gently undulating land where different solutions have been used, to flat plains.
Hydrology. The River Ebro and its meanders: there are two distinct situations on the right- and left-hand sides of the river. The former features extremely short and steep, usually seasonal, little gullies which make up an intricate relief of tiny valleys where the vineyards lie. On the right-hand side, however, the Ebro is fed by some large tributaries which give rise to a completely different scenario.
The soils in this region are varied though generally poor, apart from certain areas along the riverbeds.
Although these soils are not particularly suitable for most crops, they offer exceptional conditions for growing vines.
Within the general characteristics, there is an exceptionally high diversity for such a small area. This facilitates the possibility of terroir wines and, along with the specific climatic conditions of each area allows wines to be specified by plot.
-The ribazos (the local name given to the fallow land, or hedgerows, found alongside the edges of crop fields and vineyards).
These are home to native flora and fauna which act as a repository for the yeasts that carry out the natural fermentation of the wine.
They help to maintain agricultural land and prevent the soil from being swept away by flooding or landslips from storms and hence keep the landscape intact.
They are a clear exponent of man’s adaptation to the space.
1.3 Unique natural heritage features
1.3.1 Structures related to the world of wine
Stone wine presses
These consist of piles excavated from the rock, either rounded, square or elliptical, with a slight inclination to one side where there are one or two narrow channels which lead to a small but deep tank, known by the name of torco, a Riojan term that local people use to name the hole underneath the spout of the vat. They used to be used for treading/pressing the grapes right alongside the vineyards.
Most of these presses can be found on the left-hand side of the River Ebro, although in recent years they have also been found on the right-hand side; their number tends to decrease towards the east though at the moment there is no conclusive explanation of this fact. The process of searching for and unearthing these presses is still going on today. So far, four different types of presses have been identified.
The architecture of wine: the wineries
There is no doubt that one of the key elements of the La Rioja and Rioja Alavesa Vine and Wine Cultural Landscape is wine-related architecture. The wineries have changed over the passing years in accordance not only with changes in production models but also with technological advances and the fashions and building preferences of every period.
Winery premises range from excavated cellars, or calados, to the most audacious ideas of contemporary architecture. Some of these buildings have become iconic features in the singular landscape of vine and wine in Rioja Alavesa and Rioja. This region is unique for the different types of winery, their age and their evolution in a land which, over just a few square kilometers, has become an almost universal catalogue of types of wineries, these being understood as the place where wine is made, stored and aged.
Excavated wine cellars
The most traditional system of wineries was the cellars excavated underground in a variety of different models. Excavation methods were used according to different circumstances, leading to different types of cellars: those that were excavated horizontally; cases where it was necessary to dig deep so the calado (the name given to the excavated space within the winery used for storage) would be at a sufficiently low level, and others where the cellars were located underneath the buildings. The building techniques were also different in each case.
It was usual for the excavated cellars to be concentrated in a particular area of the town: a real cellar neighbourhood, one of the unique features of the region, taking advantage of the place that was most suitable for their construction. Some towns have more than 300 calados, which gives us an idea of how the structure of the land is uniquely suited to winemaking: countless small producers with little wineries where they make their own wine, a system that still exists today.
Apart from their entrances, these wineries have left us with another unique testimony on the outside: the tuferas. This is a kind of chimney which was used to ventilate the cellars, prevent a build-up of humidity and, most importantly, allow carbon dioxide to escape (known across the whole region as tufo). These too boast unique forms and construction models —they were often built with beautifully carved and hollowed-out stones.
It can be asserted that the presence of these excavated cellars can be found across the whole of the region being proposed. Most of the towns in the region have both a ‘cellar neighbourhood’ and wine cellars under more conventional buildings. Among the former are in San Asensio, Ollauri, Cuzcurrita del Río Tirón, Rodezno, Elciego, Lapuebla, Samaniego, to name but a few. There are also numerous examples of wine cellars underneath buildings all over the region, though we might single out the towns of Laguardia, Cenicero and Ábalos, not to mention the city of Logroño.
We have no precise information as to when these cellars started to be built. There have been documentary references to the cellars since the 10th century, yet they are not described so we cannot be certain exactly what they were like. It is very likely that these cellars were similar to those which we do have information on, which is the construction of calados from the 17th century onwards, with detailed descriptions and references to the fact that some of them were, in fact, enlargements of other earlier cellars.
The nineteenth century: a new concept of winery
During the 19th century there were two events that would have a major impact on the future of Rioja wine, which has always been proactive in terms of modernization and adaptation. The first of these were the activities of certain forward-thinking individuals who put forth the possibility of copying the French winemaking model. The second was the move to the area, mainly Haro, of new wine traders initially and then followed by winemakers, in the wake of the devastation of the French vineyards by different diseases (powdery mildew, mildew and phylloxera). In architectural terms, this would give rise to the emergence of a new model of wineries, amongst which those in Haro’s Train Station Quarter, which benefited from the presence of the railway line, were not the only examples.
The model was copied within a matter of years by other wine firms in the same neighbourhood. This new building model became widespread in other areas too. Architects started to play a more prominent role in these structures, a prime example being Eiffel and his work on the CVNE winery in Haro. This saw the move from small and medium-sized wineries to larger and more business-like enterprises. Huge warehouses were built from ashlar stones for winemaking and storage purposes, with giant cellars for housing huge volumes of wine. These century-old wineries customized a model imported from France to local requirements. Once again, the changes and adaptations to winemaking criteria went hand-in-hand with transformations in the urban landscape which, along with the existing features, brought a new and differentiating aspect to the whole region.
The new architecture
During the 20th century, wineries were either built following an eminently practical criterion, this being the case of the cooperatives, or continued to reference earlier models, such as the Marqués de Cáceres winery. However, from the 1970s onwards new criteria were adopted whereby architecture began to play a more prominent role. Perhaps the Olarra winery (Logroño, 1973) was the first to set this new trend. However, it was not until the end of the 20th century that this phenomenon became widespread across the whole region. Internationally-renowned architects such as Frank Gehry (Elciego) and Santiago Calatrava (Laguardia) developed projects for wineries in the region that have enjoyed international acclaim. Yet these are not the only examples: the new CVNE winery, Bodegas&Bebidas in Logroño, Valpiedra, Ugarte, Baigorri, Regalia... all of them offer excellent examples of these new trends. Many cooperatives also changed their model of a warehouse-type winery for new architectural designs —a new concept in the world of wine and its landscape that would become widespread throughout the area. This was not just for aesthetic effect; there was a clear influence from other sensibilities such as sustainability, which was implemented strongly in the world of wine through the architecture of its wineries, as well as a new form of marketing. This new architecture was used as differentiating asset, a kind of visiting card for every winery. This process also coincided with the development of a new activity in the world of wine: wine-related tourism. Wineries were no longer just places for making wine but also visitor centers, social spaces for use by their communities, art galleries and cultural centers. In short, a new and global concept.
Guardaviñas (vineyard shelters)
When you walk through the fields of La Rioja and Rioja Alavesa, you notice some small stone buildings which, over the years, have provided field workers with shelter and protection from the heat, rain and other inclement weather; it is not unusual to see small orifices taking advantage of rocky overhangs, and some of them have even been excavated in the earth, taking advantage of the lie of the land. In the region being proposed they are known as casillas, chozas, chozos or guardaviñas, depending on the town near which they are located. Although this type of structure is not exclusive to this region, what is surprising here is the refined construction of many of them and, most importantly, the sheer number of them. In the Rioja Alavesa area alone, at the beginning of the 21st century, more than 1,700 shelters have been catalogued. We are currently making an inventory of the shelters in the La Rioja area which we are assuming, given the data already gathered from some municipalities, will show a similar density. The timeline of these shelters is very long. There are documented references of the existence of vineyard shelters in the 11th century and also the occasional reference in the 17th century, although most of those that are still preserved today must date from the 18th and 19th centuries. These humble buildings are a paean to nature, not just because of the materials from which they are built but, most importantly, for the way they harmoniously adapt to the landscape in which they are built, as well as being a living reminder of a long-vanished way of life. Today they are recognised by the locals as a symbol of their identity.
1.3.2. Museum of the Culture of Wine
The Dinastia Vivanco Museum of the Culture of Wine stands in the town of Briones and is unquestionably one of the finest wine museums in the world. It is a magnificent facility of more than 9,000 m2, divided into five permanent exhibition halls, a temporary exhibition hall, tasting rooms, a restaurant, a shop and various meeting rooms. The exhibition is rounded off with a garden featuring every vine in the world, and a range of other services. The Museum also has a documentation centre with more than 8,000 monographs as well as magazines, banknotes, coins, tickets, stamps, postcards, photos and videos. The collection of artistic, historic and ethnographic pieces is truly fascinating from any perspective. The museum represents many years of work in recovering and safeguarding wine-related heritage and is the result of the determination of a family which demonstrates our regional interest in conserving our heritage. The Museum is linked to the newly-created winery, featuring a meticulous architectural design, so that apart from contemplating the history of wine visitors can also learn about how a modern winery works. The Foundation that manages the museum also conducts research programmes on the world of wine, addressing all its different aspects. The Museum of the Culture of Wine is not the only initiative devoted to the preservation of our wine heritage. There are other facilities in the region, all of them supported by private individuals, which work to uphold the culture of wine. Among these we should highlight the work on studying and preserving our heritage carried out by the López Heredia winery, the Wine Centre in the town of Laguardia, and the art-related activities organized by wineries such as Roda, Ontañón and Consejo de La Alta, to mention just a few examples.
1.3.3. Castles that watch over us, bridges that connect us, vineyards that unite us
This region has always been a frontier land; its peoples and crop fields were fought over for centuries by Romans and Celtiberians, Asturians and Arabs, Navarrese and Castilians. The River Ebro, crossed by numerous fords and bridges laid across it to facilitate communications and meetings, also served as a natural dividing border, ending up as a clear line of political and administrative separation throughout history. But over and above this secular tendency to divide, a culture of wine developed that ended up becoming the fundamental element of the region and the factor behind its cohesion. Although many of the castles that were built in La Rioja and Rioja Alavesa are now in ruins, it is not unusual to see solitary fortresses perched up on the hilltops along with defence towers and the remains of fortified walls in the towns and villages.
A few years later, around the same time that the Navarrese rulers extended their power across the region, rock-hewn castles were built up on the sierras of Toloño and Cantabria, tenanted by the Navarrese. The location of these castles, lined up along a range at an altitude of almost one thousand meters in almost inaccessible spots, running parallel to the River Ebro, leads us to assume that they were built to defend a specific territory. These names of these rock-hewn castles are Marañón, Toro, Herrera (Ferrera), Villamonte, Toloño and Buradón; all of them, except the castle of Toloño, stand close to important mountain passes that link the Ebro valley with the inland regions further to the north. Yet the castles were not only built along the strictly defined frontier line; towers and fortresses were also built further to the south of the river. Some of them are still there today in a perfect condition, and are currently in use by their owners, such as the Castles of Sajazarra and Cuzcurrita del Río Tirón, and the strongholds of Torremontalbo, Anguciana and Villalba. Others, such as Tirgo, are now in ruins.
Another strategic feature from both a military and civil point of view were the fords and bridges, the only places where you could cross between the two banks of the Ebro, as contentious as they were necessary. The problem of crossing the river has been a challenge since time immemorial; on the one hand, the need for communication and exchange has always existed, a situation in which wine has always played a key role. On the other, however, crossing the river was also a military and defensive issue, so it is hardly surprising that a large number of castles and fortresses were built close to the main river crossings on both the Ebro and the other major rivers in the region (Oja, Tirón and Najerilla). In addition, especially in the Rioja Alavesa and Sonsierra areas, there are many small gullies which, nevertheless, can lead to deep ravines that may not be large but cause serious difficulties for transportation.
Thus the construction of these bridges became a permanent feature throughout history in a determined battle to overcome a host of obstacles, from the little bridges designed for local communications to the major bridges spanning the Ebro. They have proved to be a cause of both unity and dispute between the different administrative areas; every frontier has to have a connecting door.
Vine and wine have been the element that has managed to overcome these artificial separations, generating a common symbol of identity for the whole region. Man and his landscape have managed to supersede politics and separation. As a bridge of union and communication, wine, elevated to the category of cultural heritage, has been a key factor in the cohesion of this territory.
1.3.4. Routes of commerce and culture
The Ebro Valley has been a thoroughfare and a meeting place of civilizations throughout history. The axis of the Ebro has always been, and continues to be, a strategic corridor, which has meant that since ancient times the region has been a hub of major thoroughfares. This axis of communications had certain major challenges to its development: the proximity of the Sierra de Cantabría, which hinders passage to the north; the outflow of some large rivers into the Ebro, especially on the right-hand side (Najerilla, Tirón); the narrowing of the Conchas de Haro, which makes it difficult to go upstream; and finally, the route of the river itself.
The network of paved Roman roads was the first benchmark for the road network. In the Middle Ages, the St James’ Way, a pilgrims’ route to Compostella would also define a route through the region. But we are most interested in highlighting the development of highways in the 17th and particularly the 18th centuries when the winemakers and muleteers who transported the wine put pressure on the authorities to build proper roads. The railway, in the 19th century, transformed the concept of connections and the instigation of the railway line linking Bilbao and Tudela, running very close to the river along the right-hand side, overturned the problem and opened up new and better markets for wine. This line also played a key role in the transformation and development of viticulture in the whole region by helping wineries to establish themselves in the wake of the Phylloxera crisis in France. It is hardly surprising to find that the major wineries in this city are concentrated in the Train Station Quarter, with a similar situation in Fuenmayor.
Today, most of the wine production from La Rioja and Rioja Alavesa reaches the rest of the world by rail and, essentially, this network of roads, taking our concept of wine as the fruit of a lifetime to every corner of the world. Without these excellent transport networks, the world of wine would have remained moored in the past or might not even exist. Its historic evolution has run parallel to the development of road infrastructures and other means of transport. They are an essential and fundamental element in our understanding of a considerable part of the history of wine.
1.4 Unique intangible heritage
In the section of intangible heritage, we can highlight the following elements with regard to the configuration of the cultural landscape of the proposed region:
-The traditional knowledge of grape-growing and winemaking, preserved and passed on from generation to generation. The traditional winemaking processes have been studied in depth by various authors and there are numerous specific publications on this subject based on ethnographic surveys.
-The system of ownership and distribution of the land. Most of the land is in private hands and very heavily divided up which, along with the regional topography, makes the landscape so unique. The fragmentation of property has been strongly influenced by an inheritance system based on equal division among the heirs.
-A cooperative spirit as the general method for organizing production. The organization of producers into associations has been a constant feature of the structure of wine production in the region since at least the 17th century. This cooperative spirit is still very much in force today and a great many growers are members of cooperative societies.
-The public festivals and celebrations held in the region. Although in recent times there has been a standardization of public festivals in much of Spain, with a significant loss of traditions and cultural values, in this region we have preserved certain festivals and significant rituals right through to the present day. Examples of these include: Los Picaos of San Vicente de la Sonsierra, the Pastorada in Labastida, the Pilgrimage to Los Riscos de Bilibio and the Wine Battle of Haro (listed as an event of National Tourist Interest).
-“New” fiestas and festivals. In the last two decades, new festivals have emerged that lean more towards events of tourist or trade interest, almost all of them based on wine. Harvest festivals and open doors events, the Young Wine festivals, the Nights of San Lorenzo, the Wine Carnival... these have been developed with an eye to tourism, but the fact is that they have also been developed to a large extent by public initiatives and participation, and this desire to uphold the local identity has meant that many of them have become deeply rooted in the local collective imagination.
-Series of folk dances in the different towns. The traditional dances performed by groups of dancers with an evident ritual nature, which have disappeared from a large part of Spain, have survived here until the present day in a good number of towns. There are still dance groups in Briones, Labastida, San Vicente de la Sonsierra, Laguardia, San Asensio, Labastida, Ollauri, Fuenmayor, Oión, Cuzcurrita del Río Tirón, Treviana, Elciego and Villalba de Rioja.
-An oral tradition related to the world of wine: jargon, refrains, popular songs, stories, etc. The specific vocabulary of the world of wine has been enthusiastically preserved in the region and has been the subject of recent studies and publications.
-Traditional gastronomy, a large part of which is related to work in the vineyards, with a particular emphasis on meals made during harvest times.
-The organization of production by means of regulatory bodies since the 18th century, the most noteworthy body in the last 80 years being the D.O.Ca. Rioja Control Board which was created in 1925.
1.5 Unique elements related to vine and wine
The history of vine and wine
The history of wine in Rioja is a very long one. Today, Rioja wine is one of the most acclaimed designations of origin in the world yet, to reach that point, like a good wine, a long period of maturing has been necessary. The vine and wine landscape of La Rioja and Rioja Alavesa, as it stands today, is the result of a long evolutionary process which has left numerous traces on the land and on our culture. This spatial interpretation of the historic relationship between land, wine and culture imbues the proposed region with a unique value compared to other winemaking regions, defined by a constant commitment to adapt to new realities and new techniques. There are no records of the existence of vine plantations or the consumption of wine before the arrival of the Romans, who were quick to realise the potential of the region for growing vines, starting their cultivation with a view to meeting local needs. Vine growing expanded tremendously between the 1st and 4th centuries AD.
There are numerous documented references to vine growing since ancient times, such as a donation made to San Millán de la Cogolla making reference to wine, dated 934. Ahmad al-Râzî, the Arabic chronicler who lived from 899 to 955, when referring to Riojan lands, said that “There are many vines and many allotments”. In 956, Garcia Sanchez I also gave San Millán the towns of Logroño and Asa with all their inhabitants, lands and vines. In 997, García Sanchez II granted irrigation rights to the properties owned by the monastery in Najera, making particular mention of the vines. We also have references associating wine with caves (the underground cellars?) and torculares (presses); the amount of documentary evidence from this period is very extensive.
These references would increase in successive years and there are regular references to both royal properties and private ownership. We can thus see how grape growing and winemaking expanded during the whole of the Middle Ages. In this respect, the Pilgrims’ Road to Santiago and its role as a melting pot of peoples, cultures and techniques, including winemaking, was highly influential. Exceptional documentary evidence charting the history of vine and wines is provided by the illuminations of the priests of San Millán (10th and 11th centuries) and their depictions of the harvest, grape-treading and grape pressing in beam presses. This extraordinary testimony gives us an idea of the importance that viticulture already enjoyed in the Middle Ages.
The fueros (Charters) that these towns managed to wrest from the royal authorities gave them certain privileges and powers in many areas, including commercial business, farming ordinances, taxes and levies, the wages of day workers and even the dates of vineyard tasks. This fact demonstrates how, in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, the vine-wine tandem had already achieved considerable importance in the region.
Thus regulations on vine and wine were established in the region from very early on, initially at a municipal level. There is no question that regulation is one of the most characteristic elements of the development of grape-growing and winemaking in the region; its influence on development would be fundamental in the evolution of wine-related activities from the Middle Ages through to the present day. The numerous regulations and ordinances referring to wine are unquestionably a heritage factor that sets this region apart. By the 16th century, the growing area had reached its biggest territorial distribution; however, the vineyards would soon begin to be concentrated into a space that would be increasingly similar to the current distribution of the proposed region. The loss of vineyards in many towns would, however, lead to an increase in the actual areas where vines were still grown. Between 1540 and 1590 production doubled, with more than two-thirds of production concentrated in the area that is controlled today by the D.O.Ca., especially in the region being proposed. This led, very naturally, to territorial demarcation.
The vineyards also determined the development of other crops. Not only was there an increase in growing vines in the region, but also barley, which was essential for feeding the working animals and the mules of the muleteers who transported the wine, to the detriment of cereals for bread making which had to be bought outside the region.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the vine became the single crop in many localities. Cultivation continued to expand along the two sides of the river. The commercial network must have been very large, as two out of every three wine containers were sold outside the region, generally being shipped to the North of Spain and its ports, from where it would embark on the adventure of exports to other countries.
Another characteristic feature in the historical evolution of Rioja wine, and one that has continued to the present day, is the combination of small, medium and large producers. There are many smallholders: almost 40% of them own properties of less than one hectare, though a large area of land continues to be held by the Church and the big landowners. Wine, however, was very much in the hands of the bourgeoisie, who controlled most of its sale and distribution. Production in the early 18th century multiplied by 1.5 times, but the value of the end product increased 3.4 times.
The first half of the 19th century was marked by the War of Independence, whose consequences were quickly overcome, and then the Carlist Wars. The latter would give rise to tremendous instability in a conflict in which the River Ebro played a pivotal role, with the population being strongly divided on each side.
There were also substantial changes being introduced to grape-growing practices: the planting layout was changed, the fruit trees between the vineyards were removed, and animals started to be used to work the land which, up to that point, had been the exclusive task of day labourers.
Winemaking was also transformed, and French methods started to become widespread, not without some difficulties. The previous century had seen a growing interest in improving the quality of Rioja wines and optimizing their storage, which would help to open up new and more distant markets. It was the introduction of Bordeaux methods that enabled Rioja wines to achieve the level of excellence they enjoy today. This would change the landscape once again, giving it an appearance closer to how it looks today.
At this time there was also a significant development in the construction of wineries, which were built to new criteria and new models. Many of these wineries are still in business today, providing us with a very unique concentration of vintage winery buildings. Some of them have incorporated new features and adapted their processes to new contemporary winemaking formulas, but many others still maintain winemaking methods that are almost identical to those that were introduced at that time. Phylloxera ravaged the vineyards in the region in the early 20th century. All kinds of measures were brought in to fight the disease: immersion, carbon sulphate, the Varela method... all of them in vain. The solution would come with the use of American rootstock and the grafting of native varieties. The impact of the disease on grape-growers and winemakers was terrible and forced many of them to emigrate for survival. The effects of the plague also reduced the area covered by vineyards which, even after the disease was conquered, would never reach the same heights again.
In 1925 the Royal Order of the Creation of the Rioja Designation of Origin was published with a text which, despite the determination to regularize the situation, failed to specify the approved production or establish the appropriate control systems. However, a few years later the D.O.Ca. Rioja Control Board was founded, which would clarify the geographical boundaries and set in motion the necessary supervisory procedures.
From the outset, and in a step that was very unusual for those times, the Designation of Origin encompassed land not only in the province of Logroño but also in Álava and Navarre, thus acknowledging a tradition which, above and beyond administrative boundaries, has forged the Rioja production and winemaking area over the centuries.
The history of the Control Board is a long and complicated one, but it is worth highlighting two aspects that have been the determining and differentiating factors in the history of viticulture in this area: the desire to improve, and adaptation to the realities of every situation and period.
Recognition of the Control Board’s endeavours would come with the granting of the ‘Calificada’ Designation of Origin. In recent years, it has been deeply involved in supervisory tasks, engendering improvements and supporting sales, with huge success. There is no doubt that the D.O.Ca. Rioja Control Board is one of the most stringent bodies in the world, and provides a model and benchmark for many other similar organizations.
In the last 20 years the area occupied by vineyards has grown considerably once again; new wineries have opened, winemaking processes have evolved towards new trends, one of the biggest collections of casks in the world has become established, and a huge amount of work has been done on recovering minority native varieties.
This boom in recent years has given rise to three features worth emphasising: the emergence of a new wine-related architecture, concern for the conservation of our heritage and wine-related landscape, all three of them playing a triple role as a symbol of our identity, a support for our brand image, and the development of wine-related tourism, an activity which has taken root strongly in the last few years in the La Rioja and Rioja Alavesa region.
The vines and wines of Rioja
The conservation and current cultivation of a large number of grape varieties authorized by the Control Board of the D.O.Ca. Rioja have resulted in a wine region with a high level of biodiversity in its crops. The different varieties, the result of a selection developed over centuries of tradition and skill, are combined following traditional recipes and new winemaking criteria alike, as well as producing single varietal wines. These grape varieties are as follows:
- Tempranillo (the predominant variety)
- Garnacha Blanca
In 2008 some new varieties were added to the list as a result of years of dedicated efforts to recover grape varieties that were in danger of disappearing. These are: Maturana Blanca, Maturana Tinta, Tempranillo Blanco and Turruntés. This is yet further proof of the efforts made by the local people to conserve their unique regional characteristics. The case of Tempranillo Blanco is a testament of the determination of the production sector, being an albino variety that they have managed to recover and obtain sufficient plant matter to start growing it again, but instead of registering it and taking advantage of its commercial patent, they have allowed it to be freely distributed around the world. Three other foreign white grape varieties were also authorized for growing: Verdejo, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
The different grape varieties can be found across the whole region. There are no huge vineyards growing one particular grape. Quite the contrary; they are grown together or, what is more common today, they are distributed in nearby plots. This situation has an extraordinary aesthetic effect, especially in autumn.
We should also highlight the preservation of traditional winemaking methods, such as carbonic maceration, and wineries which have maintained winemaking processes that are very similar to those used in the 19th century, along with new processes and systems such as the manual separation of grapes, single varietals, experimentation with different oaks in casks, the production of signature wines, new trends in making white wines, etc. This is an ongoing process of adaptation, research and searching for new contributions to the world of wine and oenology; a living society that is evolving based on tradition.
A particular mention should be made of the hard work that has been put in to implement regulations in the region and the role in recent years of the Control Board of the D.O.Ca. Rioja. Wine is the determining factor in the landscape of La Rioja and Rioja Alavesa, yet it is also a key factor in its economy; in order to maintain an optimum level of development and economic viability there has to be an ongoing process of research and innovation. This, as we have shown earlier, is nothing new.
1.6 History, territory and wine
The Ebro Valley has been a natural thoroughfare travelled by numerous peoples and civilizations since ancient times. There is no doubt that the history of this area has been forged by its status as a crossroads of cultures. Human occupation of the region dates back to ancient times. Flint attracted settlers and you can find many flint works in La Rioja, especially in the area around Haro and Sajazarra. The anthropization process of these lands began around 20,000 years ago.
Deposits from the Bronze Age are frequently found and are widespread throughout the area. The most striking of these are undoubtedly the megalithic monuments found on the left-hand side of the Ebro, in Rioja Alavesa and in Sonsierra. So far nine dolmens and one menhir have been found, which may date back more than 5,000 years. During the Bronze and Iron Ages these settlements became more established, and the town of La Hoya, very close to Laguardia, is a clear example of this.
During the first millennium BC the area welcomed new settlers who integrated with the existing peoples. Celts from Central Europe boldly penetrated the whole length of the Ebro valley, but quickly succumbed to strong Iberian influences due to the arrival of new waves of settlers from the south and east of the peninsula. Once again, a mixture of cultures would crystallise within the area.
There is evidence of the presence of “vitis vinifera” (the common grape vine) linked to nearby archaeological sites. We also have some tenuous references to the consumption of wine by pre-Roman peoples who occupied the area; Estrabón tells us that the peoples of the north of the Iberian Peninsula were barbarians because they “also drink beer, wine being scarce, and if they manage to get any it soon gets used up in banquets with their families.
” Roman domination would impose itself upon this mosaic of peoples following the integration of cultures in the region. The whole region would undergo a powerful Romanization. And it would be its addition to the Roman Empire that would bring the cultivation of vines and the culture of wine to the area around the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. It is likely that local production started to become significant and supplied regional demand from the 1st century AC onwards. From this time onwards, vine and wine would be inextricably associated with the area. In the 2nd century AD grape-growing became generalized in the Ebro valley and major vineyard expansion took place through to the end of the 4th century AD.
From this time on there was a new wave of settlers, this time from the north. This penetration would not be quite as peaceful as on previous occasions. Indeed, in some areas of La Rioja there were uprisings of smallholders against the tough conditions imposed upon them. At the end of the 5th century the Visigoths occupied the upper and mid valley of the River Ebro, although some lands remained independent, governed by local owners and assemblies; thus Cantabria (which used to occupy territory larger than the current area and extended through La Rioja Alta, La Rioja Media and part of Burgos) and Vasconia were not subject to Visigoth rule.
During this period there was another significant event in the region’s evolution —Christianity started to strengthen its hold as the main religion. The 5th century saw the start of an important movement of hermits who inhabited little caves at different points throughout the region, achieving considerable social recognition. Some of these caves would end up becoming powerful monasteries in the Middle Ages. San Millán and San Felices are two of the most well-known examples, but not the only ones. Remains of these hermitages can still be seen throughout the region. In the 8th century the Arabs conquered the peninsula. We do not have many records of their passing through the region in question, although we do know that they ruled in towns such as Abalos, Briones and Cenicero. From the year 799 the region became a frontier territory between the Kingdom of Navarre and the area under Islamic influence. This was the start of a long period during which one of the most characteristic features of the region was its status as a frontier: Asturians, Arabs, Navarrese and Castilians constantly redrew the borders and alternated control over them. In the 9th century, most of the territory belonged to the Kingdom of Navarre, with the capital at Nájera.
The result of this situation was that from the 8th century, and throughout the Middle Ages, many castles and watchtowers were built in the region, as well as fortified mansions. You can still find some of these fortifications in an excellent state of conservation, as mentioned earlier.
The advance of the Reconquest sparked off a new repopulating process with colonisers from àlava, Vizcaya, Cantabria along with the Mozarabs who, once again, merged their cultures in this spot. The Basque influence has left an obvious legacy in the form of place names, and still today we can see a large number of names of Basque origin, another sign of the coexistence of cultures in this area. In this amalgamation of settlers from different origins we should highlight the integration of two ethnic minorities: the Jews, with a strong presence in the whole area, and the Mudéjar people.
A new factor emerged to add to the development of the region: the upsurge of the Pilgrims’ Road to Santiago which would become a new thoroughfare for racial and cultural mingling. There are two branches of the route running through the territory: the one from San Adrián and the one known as the French Route, which is definitely the busiest one.
In the Middle Ages, the cultivation of vines saw a resurgence. Documentary records confirm the existence of a large number of already established settlements. Contemporary towns and villages date back to this time along with many others which, over the centuries, have disappeared. Numerous monasteries were also founded across the region throughout the Middle Ages. Today we can still find the Monasteries of La Piedad (Casalarreina), La Estrella (San Asensio), Santa María (Nájera) and Herrera (Villalba de Rioja) in the area under consideration, yet there were many others. Some of the monasteries outside the territory had a major influence on the region, where they possessed estates which they kept throughout long periods of time. For example, the Monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla (a World Heritage Site) had a significant influence on the town of Cihuri (to the point that it was called Cihuri de San Millán).
As well as the monasteries, we should also highlight the development of some interesting Romanesque and Gothic religious architecture. Some of the most representative examples of Romanesque style are the chapels of depopulated mediaeval settlements. Many of these churches were altered over the centuries, combining their original style with new architectural tastes. We should make particular mention, due to its singular beauty, of the entrance to the Church of Santa María de los Reyes in the town of Laguardia, dating from the 14th century, with its beautifully preserved polychrome features (made in the 17th century).
The Middle Ages would also see the introduction of the formula of ‘fueros’: town charters that granted administrative independence to a good number of towns, which would lead to a unique administrative model in the region that was very different from most of the other models used in Europe.
There also emerged, during the Middle Ages, another singular occurrence: the emergence and consolidation of languages and the first written records of them, both Basque and Castilian. The Monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla, which lies very close to the region and over which it had a significant influence, still houses the most ancient texts written in these two languages.
During this whole period, references to vines, wine and wineries are frequently found in documentary records, being significant in legal cases, wills, donations and sale and purchase agreements. These records leave us a clear testimony of the importance that grape-growing and winemaking was achieving.
In the late Middle Ages, on the cusp of the Modern Age, wine started playing an increasingly important role across the whole region to the detriment of other crops such as cereals. Trade in wine also expanded during this period, becoming one of the most important commercial activities. The big concern of wine producers and traders began to be the protection of their wines from competition. From the 13th century, winemakers and producers started making efforts to prevent foreign wines from coming into their towns and trying to assert their influence in northern markets.
At the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the modern era, the land was ravaged by disease and famine. The plagues at the end of the 15th century were particularly savage, leading to a significant drop in population levels and the abandonment of many villages and hamlets.
In the 16th century, wine was responsible for 46% of gross agricultural production. The La Rioja and Rioja Alavesa regions were producing red, white and claret wines (this last being given the name of aloque); in San Asensio, 60% of the production was made up of this wine, though in other towns red wine was predominant. This was also a period of continuous conflicts in the commercialization of Riojan wine in the Basque markets.
In the 17th century, the area covered by vineyards continued to expand along with the construction of excavated wine cellars, the traditional model for the whole region. It was during this time that some of the area’s major churches were built which are particularly noteworthy for their interiors. As mentioned earlier, many of these buildings were extensions of existing churches, while the lengthy time spent on enlarging them meant that they featured a blend of different styles which sometimes makes it difficult for them to be ascribed to a specific style. At this time, work also began on magnificent altarpieces which would achieve their greatest splendour in Mannerism. The altarpieces in this region as a whole are quite remarkable.
During this time, tensions arose once again on the Navarrese border of the Ebro, which led to a strengthening of the defences built along the river. This was hindered by popular rebellion and conflict in Navarre, which did not accept its integration into the Kingdom of Aragon with good grace.
Commercial disputes in the sale of wine also continued due to the difference in taxes that Alaves and Navarrese wines were obliged to pay in the main destinations, over and above the Riojan wines. Improvements in communications would also prove a concern for producers looking for the best way to encourage the distribution of their products.
This century also saw an increase in concern for quality. In contrast to other designations, where royal or seigniorial power was responsible for implementing quality criteria, in this region the standards would be set by the local town council and the producers themselves. This was also the beginning of marking the barrels with a stamp of origin and is probably the oldest precursor of what we understand today as a quality mark.
The 18th century would be a time of profound changes across the whole region. Measures were taken to increase the population, both by encouraging more births and facilitating residence to foreigners. At the same time, urban improvements were carried out in towns and villages. Most of the municipalities in the region still have buildings and street layouts dating from this period.
Despite the uniformity of the landscape and the specialization in wine production, the region was still divided administratively with the river acting as a frontier. However, if there was one thing that characterized the 18th century it was its reforming spirit, which would also lead to a reorganization of the wine sector. The increase in demand led to an increase in production and price rises. By now, wine production was unquestionably the number one source of wealth for the region.
This century also saw a change in regional administration. Up until that point, administration and, to a large extent, the regulations and development policies relating to wine had been tackled from a local standpoint. The 18th century saw a new spirit of cooperation and collaboration emerging. In Logroño, the Winemakers’ Board was constituted in 1729 with 190 members. In 1764, the Bascongada Royal Society of Friends of the Country was founded, followed in 1790 by the Royal Economic Society of Friends of La Rioja Castellana, this last organization being made up of winemakers from 52 municipalities, all deeply concerned about the need to improve transport connections, a task in which the winemakers themselves got involved.
Baroque, as a style, with its new concepts and approaches, would find the ideal place to develop in the proposed region. The new ideas that were being generated and the economic boom, very closely associated with the development of the wine industry, facilitated the construction of impressive palaces and churches. Inside the churches, as mentioned earlier, the altarpieces represented some of the most outstanding artistic assets of the region. Their numbers, monumentality, beauty and dynamic nature constitute one of the most important collections of Baroque imagery in the whole of Spain. We should also highlight the proliferation of a unique model of large church organ which became widespread throughout the region.
The mansions that were erected during the 18th century are another unique point of reference in the region. The urban centres of the towns were the scene of new and highly monumental civic buildings, leading to a structural uniformity in all the towns in the area which was very noticeable and gave them an exclusive look that set them apart.
The first third of the 19th century would once again prove to be a turbulent period with wars that left a huge impact on the territory, and an acute economic crisis which affected winemaking activities, with a moderate loss of vineyard acreage.
It was at this point that the vineyards reached their current provincial distribution. In the first instance the world of wine had an influence on the configuration of this administrative arrangement and a province was created whereby Rioja Alavesa and La Rioja formed part of the same administrative unit, La Rioja (1822). However, a new distribution was quickly forthcoming (in 1833) which has survived to the present day.
The second half of the 19th century would be a time of transformation in the world of viticulture in the whole of the proposed region. This was the definitive launch of Rioja wine both nationally and internationally, representing a real revolution in winemaking processes.
The cause of this new drive can be found outside the region itself: the diseases that had ravaged the French vineyards forced wine producers and traders to start moving to the area from 1854 in search of wine production that would guarantee a supply of wine to our neighbouring country. The construction of the railways and the marketing opportunities that it opened up would play a crucial role in this process.
This period was absolutely fundamental in the evolution of the landscape and culture of Rioja vine and wine. On the one hand, the traditional winemaking methods were being transformed, running hand-in-hand with considerable changes in many other areas: farming, manufacturing, commerce and architecture, which would all affect the landscape and farming communities of the region. On the other hand, there was now international recognition of the quality of wines from the region, endorsed by numerous international awards. Rioja wine entered the exclusive club of the great wines of the world.
In 1899, phylloxera reached the area. As in France, its arrival would have devastating effects, decimating a large part of the vineyards, but they were quick to recover. Having said that, the recovery process was a costly one and not devoid of conflict, as mentioned earlier.
The turn of the century would continue with the modernization of the region, with major transformations in politics, administration, culture and the economy. There were also changes in transport, a feature of the landscape which, as mentioned earlier, has always been a key factor for the region and for the wine industry. Railways became integrated in the landscape, roads were repaired in order to meet essential needs, and bridges were built to facilitate transit in the constant toing and froing that had been taking place since time immemorial.
In 1925, the Control Board of the Rioja Designation of Origin was established, an organization which, going above and beyond administrative guidelines, would from that moment on oversee the control of Rioja wines. The Control Board picked up the threads of a legacy born from the express desire of the winemakers at the beginning of the 18th century, culminating a process of guaranteeing quality and certifying the origin of wines which had been instigated by the producers themselves 200 years earlier. The structure of controlling and supervising vineyards was thus regulated in terms of the actual production needs of the region and not those of political and administrative boundaries: a wine for a region.
Around the middle of the 20th century there was another notable event, which was the important process of organizing small wine producers into cooperatives. The tradition of divided property would thus find a new organizational formula which would still allow the layout of the landscape of Rioja Alavesa and La Rioja to be preserved, divided since ancient times into small plots.
The Spanish Constitution of 1978 established a new administrative framework for Spain, now structured in the form of Autonomous Communities. The region was divided by this new organizational structure into two communities: La Rioja and the Basque Country, which from that point onwards would develop their own framework of authority, with broad legislative and government powers. Once more, despite these circumstances, the region would remain united by its vineyards and its wines which, once again, provided not only an element that united the physical landscape but also the production and control structures, social relations, culture and harmonious coexistence. This is a unique example of how a landscape and a product have served as an element of regional cohesion over the centuries.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
The La Rioja and Rioja Alavesa Vine and Wine Cultural Landscape responds to the definition and characteristics applicable to cultural landscapes:
-There has been a human settlement process in the region over many centuries and a continuous exchange of cultures, adapting and taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the natural environment in a joint action between man and nature.
-This continuous settlement around the key activity of grape-growing and winemaking has left traces and manifestations on the land that can still be found in the landscape today.
-It is associated with the development and implementation of a series of traditional techniques which have allowed human integration in and adaptation to a specific natural environment that has been adapted to new needs within a criterion of sustainable economic development, preserving the essential balance between man and his environment.
-Unique geographical and climatic characteristics which are optimal for growing vines, a process which we might define as diversity within unity.
-It is a constantly evolving landscape driven by the social and economic need for survival in the environment, which retains its social function in present-day society and has undergone a constant evolution over the course of time. Thus the landscape of La Rioja has gone through different phases which have been described earlier. A constant, timeless action that has taken place without interruption and has allowed a dialogue defined by vine and wine to take place between man and his environment.
Added to the above is the outstanding visual quality of the landscape: a variety of slopes and peaks, the backdrop of the Sierra de Cantabria, the presence of the River Ebro and its meanderings, the spectrum of perspectives, the range of different colours, the integration of urban spaces and the absence of industrial elements or significant mining activities. Just one fine example is the spectacular variety of different colours through the seasons.
And finally, the region boasts a rich cultural heritage which has been forged over centuries and has left traces that enable us to interpret this whole evolving landscape as a physical or intangible testimony of this process. This testimony includes abundant Neolithic vestiges from the Bronze and Iron Ages; remains from the Roman era, the conservation of the first hermitages, the monasteries, the abandoned medieval villages, Romanesque remains, castles and strongholds, the wineries (already mentioned in medieval documentary archives), and the ‘cellar neighbourhoods’ that date back to at least the 16th century, the well-preserved town centres, the bridges and the road network, the centuries-old wineries that sprang up alongside the changes in Riojan viticulture in the 19th century, the new wine-related architecture and a long list of traditions and knowledge that are still very much alive in La Rioja and Rioja Alavesa.
This is thus a landscape that has evolved as a result of social and economic need, with a capacity for adaptation that goes above and beyond administrative conditions, and one which preserves its social function in an ongoing evolutionary process that can be read from the landscape.
When determining the area of the proposed region, we have taken as a reference what some authors refer to as the ‘historic rhombus’ of Rioja wine: Logroño, Laguardia, Haro and Nájera. This region is the ultimate exponent of the wine landscape of Rioja.
The property is defined by:
-Its conceptual unity
-Its historical evolution
-The key role of the vineyards
-The River Ebro as an axis
The buffer zone in this case is not exclusively a protective perimeter zone but also features some important values that complement and also help to interpret the core zone correctly, making an essential contribution to the integrity and authenticity of the Cultural Vine and Wine Landscape of La Rioja and Rioja Alavesa.
Criteria (ii): The Ebro valley has always been a place of passage and encounters. Throughout history, many peoples and cultures have passed through this geographic and cultural corridor, as explained in the initial description. In addition to the more general reasons that have made the Ebro Valley a space of coexistence, we must also add La Rioja Alavesa and La Rioja’s wine culture as an attraction for this area in particular. This exceptional landscape, which we can understand and interpret today through the common thread that is the world of wine, came into existence through the development of interrelationships between cultures, the gradual acceptance of new winemaking techniques and knowledge, the need to solve economic and social problems, the influence of monasteries and manors, the application of laws and regulations that go from the Medieval statutory laws to the Supervisory Council regulations of today or the Common Agricultural Policy and through the people’s unfailing commitment to the space that surrounds them. It is an exceptional and unique landscape, a space that represents what has been a complex evolution throughout history.
Criteria (iii): The landscape of vineyards provides an exceptional backdrop, bearing witness to the importance of the winemaking tradition, which has developed according to a balanced coexistence between tradition and development. Today, it is a vibrant cultural and social reality, a culture that has evolved over the centuries and which remains real today. A cultural element that led to a culture that overcomes political and/or administrative boundaries and maintains a permanent dynamic of commitment to its past, leaving proof of the evolutionary process that, over the years, has created the rich mosaic of the landscape presented here. History leaves its mark on the landscape, in an exceptional example of the adaptation and structuring of a land over time, brought together today in this vibrant cultural landscape.
Criteria (v): For almost 2000 years, La Rioja and La Rioja Alavesa have been linked to grape growing and winemaking. The outcome is an attractive and complex cultural landscape, built on agricultural activity and the specific transformation of the space for this purpose. While the economy has been based on production of this kind, as already mentioned, this industrial activity has, over the centuries, become a true element of the area’s civilisation. Vinicultural models have influenced property, the distribution of settlements, the shape of urban areas, traditions, specific legal frameworks, social structures, people’s sentiments, the economy, how space is organised and the region’s professions and parallel industries. In short, it has influenced the region’s way of life. We can therefore say that the landscape of La Rioja and La Rioja Alavesa is the culmination of a process connected to an activity that has shaped the land’s culture and environment. Nevertheless, the major historical anthropization of the land makes the space and culture highly sensitive to possible future changes. Even though the area’s vocation (and evolution) has always been tied to movement, 21st-century reality means we must manage the land intelligently, in order to maintain the balance forged over centuries.
Criteria (vi): As mentioned previously, the wine and vineyards that make up the landscape of La Rioja and La Rioja Alavesa are a vibrant reality. In fact, it can be said that this is what sets the pace of life throughout the land, in a space and society whose existence revolves around wine. The wine culture found in the area under proposal came about as a result of the adaptation, over time, of a space and the activity of its inhabitants. This has meant that wine culture becomes the land’s culture – one cannot be understood without the other, whether today or throughout history. This cultural tradition of wine also provides unique, differentiating features that provide the region with its own identity on the global vinicultural scene.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
Summarising the information sources that refer to the vineyards of Rioja is a huge task. The age-old techniques for caring for the vineyards, the winemaking and their influence on the development of the land means that the amount of information is considerable. The first time we approach the reality that is the value of La Rioja and Rioja Alavesa Vine and Wine Cultural Landscape, it should be with our eyes – a visual inspection allows us to clearly perceive the dominant elements and the presence of the vineyard and the culture of wine. However, we will also see an endless amount of legacies that are all milestones and testimonies of a lengthy evolutionary process that has left behind a significant material heritage on the land. We will now show some of the elements that illustrate the authentic nature of the landscape of the vine and wine in La Rioja and La Rioja Alavesa:
The land: As mentioned, wine has been a fundamental element of cultivation in the proposed territory since ancient times and there are buildings and constructions associated with wine and the vine in all the region’s towns and villages. It is supported by on the singular nature of the space, defined by the alliance of Land-River-Mountains-Climate. And we may also add to this the mosaic of the land created by the different vineyards and their distribution into small plots, creating a special and exceptional landscape that is the outcome of a constant process of adaptive evolution. The natural and agricultural elements are joined by the human activity that has gradually shaped today’s landscape. First, man’s battle to adapt the space for agricultural activity, giving the lands being farmed a singular and varied configuration, the need to build terraces in many places in order to adapt the space and the conservation of the steep slopes as an essential element when organising the different spaces. The way viticulture is used has been developed over centuries, creating a new landscape through the adaptation of man and the land. A historical evolution that can be understood today through simple contemplation.
Archaeology: Successive waves of different peoples have passed through and settled in this natural corridor of the Ebro Valley and, consequently, in our territory, their presence overlapping and leading to a continuous cultural exchange that has left in its wake different elements of material proof that, with the help of archaeology and the application of scientific criteria, we can understand today. Although archaeological studies cannot be considered complete, we do have access to sufficient information to provide us with precise knowledge and understanding of the land’s past.
Documentation: The wine landscape of La Rioja Alavesa and La Rioja are clearly represented in the documentation that allows us to follow the territory’s evolution (alongside that of its landscape) from the 10th century, during which the references to the world of wine are constant. It is worth highlighting that since the 19th century, we also have access to an archive full of photographs that provide us with priceless graphic evidence that is invaluable in terms of interpreting today’s landscape. Similarly, a considerable amount of research has been carried out about the land, covering social, ethnographic, archaeological, historical, architectural, town planning, economic, landscape, legal, agricultural and oenological issues.
Oral tradition: The memory of the area’s inhabitants is home to extensive knowledge of the traditional tasks of growing, making and ageing wine. This information is passed down from father to son and is currently being studied systematically.
Artistic and historical heritage: Wine and the vine have also had a major influence on artistic works in the area. The territory has a high number of exceptional monuments, both civil and religious, which are the outcome of the economic development of the region throughout history, thanks to wine.
Customs and traditions: The area still maintains some of the aforementioned exceptional celebrations and rituals. Some are directly linked to wine, while others have found a space to survive in a land so firmly tied to its customs. The small wineries, owned by small-scale wine growers, must be highlighted for their role as space for social interaction. The winery has been a traditional and contemporary place for meetings, reunions and celebrations. It is therefore a place of coexistence and socialisation – a function that remains until today.
The vine and wine landscape of La Rioja and Rioja Alavesa is the area that best represents the Rioja Designation of Origin, reaching out over the most historically and culturally similar area in the region. It brings together the unique characteristics already mentioned in previous sections and includes all the elements that represent the exceptional values of Rioja’s wine culture. The area represents a geographical unit, uniform in terms of climate, that is the platform for winemaking activities. Man’s adaptation to the land, worked for centuries, has shaped the landscape while also developing it economically, socially and culturally. The proposed area allows us to interpret the development of this long historical process based on material evidence that can be found here. The landscape of the vineyards is a constant. In the past it provided the main agricultural activity and the backbone of the territory and continues to do so today. In a space that is divided in administrative terms, and which has been an age-old cultural corridor, the culture of wine is presented to us as the element that brings everything together, defining and structuring the land. It has a size that is manageable for undertaking management, planning and protection activities. The proposal is also the result of the collaboration of different administrations, regions and groups, overcoming administrative boundaries based on respect for the geographical reality of the wine landscape and a social consensus concerning the need to take care of and protect this cultural landscape.
Comparison with other similar properties
The La Rioja and Rioja Alavesa Vine and Wine Landscape is a model that has evolved organically as one of the special relationship —previously mentioned— between Man and Nature. It is maintained with the idea of achieving a specific objective: obtaining one of the best-known wines in the world. This situation appears in a similar form in other cultural landscapes included in the World Heritage List, but here it acquires singular characteristics that illustrate a particular relationship between the people and the environment.
It is clear that Europe contains the highest, and the longest-standing, concentration of winemaking areas, although it is not the only region. Among these we would highlight the following, which are already included in the World Heritage List: Portovener, Cinque Terre and the islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto in Italy, the vineyards of Saint Emilion in France, Wachau in Austria, Tokaji in Hungary or Alto Duero in Portugal. However, these are certainly not the only areas where wine culture has developed; there are many European regions in the Iberian Peninsula, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia where wine has become a cultural reference. We could add many other places on Earth to this list: the United States, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, some countries in North Africa (Morocco and Algeria), to make up the complex atlas of wine in the world.
Not all these wine-producing areas and landscapes have evolved and developed in the same way. In every case, the landscapes of wine culture have differentiating and particular features that have to do with an endless number of factors: climatic, geographical, historical, ethnographic, economic, oenological... giving each one a particular and specific identity. Among these are some that are already included in the World Heritage List and others, such as the La Rioja and Rioja Alavesa Vine and Wine Landscape, represent outstanding models due to the characteristics that make them unique.
In the case of the territory in question, first of all we would highlight its singular combination of valleys and mountainous areas, with ranges leading down to the Ebro valley. This creates a different winegrowing landscape that can generally be classified in two types: vineyards on slopes and vineyards on plains and low hills. The model of the area proposed for inclusion is the result of a special combination of the two. In areas of steep slopes (which sometimes means that terraces have to be built to secure the land or to obtain more acreage for growing vines), we are not, however, faced with a situation of mountain vine-growing in the strict sense of the word. For its part, the river Ebro has cut plains, on which we would highlight the soil in its meanders. However, this flatter land is very close to the steeper areas. Furthermore, the river has left behind hills and plateaus, once again with quite steep slopes. This situation is enhanced by a very particular climate that is different from that of other territories and allows high-quality viticulture. Furthermore, winemaking in the area is a singular model of how a certain product can determine a territory regardless of its administrative structure, in contrast to other places. As we have seen in the description, this process has been maintained over time and is still a reality today. It is a very particular case of how an economic activity has generated a territorial identity capable of surviving across political boundaries over a long period of time.
Historically, the development of winegrowing has been characterised by two basic aspects: on the one hand, ongoing evolution and adaptation, and the involvement of the local population in its management and planning on the other. Regarding the first aspect, in contrast to wine-producing areas that have focused their strategy on the maintenance of a single variety of wine, in Rioja the process has been the opposite. In agricultural, wine-making and marketing terms, the process has been a long one and it has been open all the time. Wine from Rioja nowadays is not the same as it was 1000 years ago; it is a different wine created through the determination of the producers to adapt their product to the reality of new situations. It has also left material testimonies; for example, from rustic wine cellars we have progressed to the most outstanding examples of contemporary architecture. This process is still taking place in the landscape and in practice, combining traditional methods with state-of-the-art approaches.
Most wine-making areas in Europe have been structured into strong and centralized organisations. For example, the area of production of Alto Duero is organised under the system designed by the Marquis of Pombal (1699-1782); King Carlos III of Hungary established the geographical limits of the production area of Tokaji. In our case the situation is totally different. The planning and regulation of the sector has been based on power at local level, the organisation of the petite-bourgeoisie and the coordination of small producers; this has been the case since the Middle Ages. This process is currently maintained in a similar way: the Control Board for the Rioja ‘Calificada’ Designation of Origin is an organisation that brings together all the sub-sectors in agriculture and winemaking and operates beyond the limits of the current territorial division of Spain. The distribution of the winemaking areas also differs from the classic chateaux model of most wine-producing areas. In the case of Rioja Alavesa and La Rioja wineries are concentrated in urban areas (below houses and palaces, in suburbs full of wineries, or as separate buildings that are nevertheless integrated into or near urban areas). In recent years, however, the situation is starting to change the overwhelmingly prevailing model, which is the traditional one.