The movement in the DOCa Rioja is not new: For years, numerous producers in Spain's best-known origin have been trying to split off from the DOCa Rioja. They are all located in the Alavesa sub-region on the northern bank of the Ebro. This is where some of Rioja's highest quality wines grow.
Under the Basque-Spanish name "Arabako Mahastiak/Viñedos de Álava" they now want to go their own DO ways, as various media report. Both the Basque and the Spanish governments have agreed to this step. The initiative will now be submitted to Brussels for approval.
The background is the very different quality level of the wines from the entire Rioja region. Individual premium producers and mass producers work under the same label of origin, with the classifications Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva referring only to the storage period. The producers in question complain that there are no other quality characteristics. They would like to see a distinction based more on the French system with a generic designation of origin and corresponding cru classifications.
For the new DO, yields would be limited to 6,000 kg per hectare for red wines and 8,000 for white wines, and only manual harvesting in small containers would be permitted. Varieties not native to the region, such as Verdejo, Sauvignon and Chardonnay grapes, are not to be permitted, but Muscat grapes are, which in turn are not permitted in the DOCa Rioja.
Of course, this step does not meet with much approval from the Consejo Regulador of Rioja. The secretary general José Luis Lapuente is quoted: "We have appealed against this decision, and we will go to court and to Brussels if this is not stopped first".
Rioja Alavesa's aspirations for independence were already raised in 2016. The dispute was settled in 2017 with the introduction of region and place names, which could henceforth be printed on the label. aw