Telmo Rodriguez uncorks terroir in Rioja

telmo rodriguez
Telmo Rodriguez was in full cry when I met him in New York City recently. Although the 50-year-old “driving winemaker” studied enology in Bordeaux, worked a vintage at J.L. Chave in the Rhone, and for 25 years has made his own wines across Spain, what was on his mind when we spoke was Rioja:

“What do we know about Rioja? Just a few brands? Nobody wants to talk about site, or villages. Rioja is the next thing to discover. We don’t know Rioja. If you think you know Champagne and you only drink Moet et Chandon or Veuve Clicquot, you don’t know Champagne! You need to know the specific vineyards.”

Andre Tamers, who imports Rodriguez’ Remelluri wine, agrees: “This is the way that Spain has to move forward: away from brands and toward the land.”

Starting with the 2010 vintage, Rodriguez returned to make the wines at Remelluri, the 375-acre estate (with 250 acres planted to vines) that his father, Jaime, purchased in 1967. Although Telmo had been making the white, a field blend of nine varieties, he took over the estate’s tempranillo-based red too.

He told me the Rioja system of crianza, reserva and gran reserva was outdated and one that “dilutes the character of Rioja.” The system denotes how long the wine has been aged as opposed to identifying vineyards where the wines come from. Rodriguez says that when his father came to the region the growers were required to have 500 barrels to bottle their own wine. “In Burgundy, nobody has that! Small growers couldn’t exist!” he exclaimed, noting how capital-intensive this is. “The appellation was protecting the big producers and pushing the growers to sell their wines to the big companies. So we don’t know the taste and profile of the different villages. People still ask you if the oak is American or French and how much time it was in oak.” He noted that the origin of the winery is given only by where their cellar is located, adding “But the grapes could come from 100 kilometers away!” He adds that Haro, the town where many cellars are located, is of no viticultural interest, calling it “a railroad stop.”

“Success has pushed producers to make more and more and more,” he said. “In Rioja, you don’t have any limits, you produce as much as you sell. If you are successful, you open door of the cellar, and let in 100,000 kilos of grapes or even buy wine. That’s why we have industrial Rioja. We should discus much more what is industrial and what is artisanal, not oak or aging.”

Since the winemaking happens at Remelluri at the estate in Rioja Alavesa, as opposed to in Haro, Remelluri was widely considered a chateau in the region. But during that time, they were buying grapes, a situation that Rodriguez describes as “shit!” adding, “Let’s be honest and try to make the real Remelluri. I think it is a pity not to show the real Remelluri. It has never had a fertilizer. When my parents bought it, the mules were working the vineyard.” He intends to reduce the total production of Remelluri by a third to 25,000 cases, mostly by bottling suppliers’ wines separately and identifying each of the towns where they come from.

Rodriguez said that when he presented the idea of a terroir-based bottling to the 17 or so growers who had provided grapes to Remelluri, they were overjoyed. Starting with the 2010 vintage, the wines called Las Lindes de Remelluri (roughly, “the borders of Remelluri”), will be labeled with the two villages on the label, one from Labastida and one from San Vicente. Both the towns are in the northern limits of the region, but happen to fall one in Rioja Alavesa (Basque Country) and one in Rioja Alta (La Rioja). Rodriguez says that the wine from Labastida is more delicate while the one from San Vicente is more rustic. The Las Lindes wines will sell for about a third less than the Remelluri and some in his family think he is “crazy” for backing this wine out of Remelluri and selling it for less. But he wants Remelluri to be “very real and very pure” to highlight the estate’s character.

Rodriguez recently presented the Las Lindes project for such site-specific labeling to the Rioja authorities, and after some delay, they have allowed it starting with the 2010 vintage.

Rodriguez is pleased. “You have to give the possibility to a small percentage to talk about place; it’s not to denigrate the rest. It’s the chance to do something real, something honest.”

Related: “Talking dirty: Rioja soil map

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20 Responses to “Telmo Rodriguez uncorks terroir in Rioja”

  1. Cheers to that Telmo!!!

  2. More power to him! Fighting the good old boy system is not easy. Crazy wine laws are not the sole province of the US. If he can keep at it consumers should benefit from knowing better what they will be getting.

  3. I love Spanish wines. This sounded so interesting, I ordered a bottle of Remelluri Reserve 2007.

  4. Great show man and very good at marketing. Though I wouldn’t agree with everything that he has said.

  5. it’s really nice to hear this, at last, from Rioja

  6. Funny how he didn’t mention Contino, certainly one of Rioja’s great single estate bodegas.

  7. If you only drink Moet or Vewuve, you don’t KNOW CHAMPAGNE! Great line!

    So glad I found this.

  8. My website is, but Telmo is noble wine!

  9. […] really want to commend Tyler (aka Dr. Vino) for offering Telmo a spot to spread his gospel and I hope that all wine drinkers take a minute to […]

  10. […] Telmo Rodriguez recently discussed at length, to his lament, the Rioja winemaking process favors process over place. So as a companion to that […]

  11. Great article! I love a Rioja

  12. Ok it’s great that Telmo comes back to the Rioja and takes over his family’s winery and that he express his point about the Rioja and Terrior. The problem I think he has done it more like a raging angry teenager (a lot of passion) then explaining it well, though he is a great show man and is good at getting peoples attention and he has done well highlighting the D.O.C.a Rioja anti Terrior attitude.

    I am going to try to explain the RIOJA in a clearer way for people to understand. Though it’s pretty complicated.

    First of all the Rioja has several basic problems to it.

    1) The D.O.C.a Rioja explaining the structure.

    The D.O.C.a Rioja has 3 sub regions.
    Rioja Alta (cool climate vineyards and produces high quality wines in general)

    Rioja Alavesa (Basque) (cool climate vineyards produces high quality wine in general. Also the vineyards are the most expensive in Spain and are very small plots)
    Rioja Baja (Warmer climate vineyards lower quality wines but some good producers) Mass and cheap produced wines in general.

    There are 597 wineries at the moment about 300 of those wineries are in the Rioja Alavesa.

    Now the voting for the D.O.C.a Rioja works on how much the winery produces. So the more the winery produce the more votes you have. That is why the presidents of the D.O.C.a are from the very big wineries some owned by multinationals.

    Rioja Alavesa & D.O.C.a Rioja

    Now as I mentioned there are 597 wineries in the D.O.C.a Rioja and 300 of them are in the Rioja Alavesa, if it came down to a vote per winery the Rioja Alavesa could be controlling the D.O.C.a Rioja and politically that would be unacceptable to certain people.

    Now the D.O.C.a Rioja has the Rioja Alavesa (Which is Basque) basically abandoned as they do not promote it and if possible and whenever there are any tours or visits from professional groups such as buyers or journalist the D.O.C.a Rioja have brought over they do not bring the touring parties to the Rioja Alavesa and if they do it is to Marques de Riscal famous hotel and funnily enough a big producer.

    Luckily enough for the Rioja Alavesa the Basque government has a very well organized and financed Chamber of Commerce and heavily promotes it and has to organize that trips to visit the Rioja Alavesa as the D.O.C.a Rioja has the Rioja Alavesa crossed off.

    The Rioja Alavesa in the past wanted to seperate from the D.O.C.a Rioja but was not allowed if it went on its own to use the word Rioja for it’s wines.

    B) D.O.C.a
    The main problem is that it is run by the big wineries due to the voting system so the are anti terrior and pro selling the Rioja brand.

    I think it is ridiculous that the premium wine producing area D.O.C.a Rioja does not have some type of growth/quality ranking like in Bordeaux or in other premium wine regions of the world, I mean even Languedoc has now a growth/quality ranking.

    This is going to be close to impossible that this happens in the RIOJA due to the political strength that the big wineries have and they would be completely anti this as there wines of course in general would be with the lowest rank.

    C)Rioja Brand and the Public.
    Huge problem here as the general public doesn’t understand why there are such price differences between a Rioja wines. An example is the a Rioja Crianza prices can vary in Spain for example from 3€ to 15€. In some market such as the UK the RIOJA brand is massive and people don’t ask for a certain wine brand they ask for a RIOJA. This is perfect for the big wineries and the multinationals as they usually have the lower end pricing and have a very good distribution thus having market control.

    My point of view and what should be done.

    I think people like Telmo should set up an organization or club with european funding that gives members a growth/quality ranking that they can put on there bottle so the consumer can see the quality they are paying for. They will probably will need to take the D.O.C.a Rioja to court to be able to do this as the big Rioja producing wineries will completely against this move.Telmo going on a one man battle is not going anywhere for him or other Terrior producers.

    Just to make everything clear I am not Spanish or Basque or have any political or financial interests in writing this, it is my point of view of how I see the situation in the Rioja. I do live in the Rioja and I have work in the wine industry in the Rioja in the past though I do not have anything to do with the Rioja wine industry now apart from drinking the great wines that come from there.

  13. […] from Remelluri spoke out about how people are missing the point when they talk about Rioja ( […]

  14. Interesting post and the comments were especially fun to read. Check Dom’s for some good insight as to Rioja DOC stuff.

    I suspect that some Telmo quotes were either taken out of context or while he was very passionately atop his soapbox, as I know he greatly respects LdH and would not call Haro simply “a railroad stop” given the quality of the terroir around this town.

    Also, while I acknowledge the challenges of creating something exciting, terroir driven and unique in Rioja, as a lover of traditionally made, longer elevage wines (whether it’s LdH, Mayacamas Vineyards, or any other good example) I find that for a while, many of the people espousing their terroir in Rioja were overoaking their wine, using barrels that don’t work well with tempranillo, using yeasts that make their wines taste artificial, etc.

    In other words, yes, vineyard site in Rioja matters. And, the traditional vs modern debate is a bit simplistic; by all means let’s talk about Briones compared to San Vicente, Cenicero, Lasbastida, wherever. But winemakers should taste more wines. If possible, they should travel (not just to BDX, though it is only 4 hrs away and the obvious AOC comparison for a variety of reasons). Most wine professionals in Rioja do not taste broadly and it shows. It shows in their knowledge (or lack thereof) of fine wine, it shows in their choice of cooperage, it shows in their doing so many things by rote. I say this as someone who tastes and drinks loads of Rioja, loves the best wines of this region and thinks that there is loads of potential to further improve here.

    For the wine world to take Rioja more seriously, Rioja needs to engage a bit and take the wine world more seriously.

  15. Sorry to say that finding Telmo’s wine is now hard! What happened?

  16. I mean in Chicago. I used to see Telmo’s wines at the defunct Sam’s and Binny’s. Binny’s only has one bottle of Telmo’s. Since it is finally getting warm in Chicago, I was looking for Basa.. no luck. What is going on?

  17. Dear Al Delgado,

    The main reason is that Telmo like so many other Spanish wineries and winemakers fell out with Jorge Ordoñez and stopped working with him and his distribution like so many other wineries is heavily affected in the USA.

    Dear Joe,

    Good and interesting points and I agree Riojan winemakers do need to look at other areas apart from Bordeaux . I do think you should try and get your hands on Barbarot, which is made by Barbara Palacios who is the niece of Alvaro Palacios. It is made with a right bank varietal and Tempranillo.

    You might change your mind on Bordeaux style in the Rioja. 😉
    I do feel that it is really sad that there are less and less classic Riojas made and it would also be good to see some wineries making at least one classic rioja.

  18. Al Delgado- Don’t know if you’ll see this post since it has been a couple months after the thread, but wanted to help you get your hands on Remelluri, which is available in Chicago. The Chicago distributor for Remelluri and Basa is Heritage Wine Cellars. I recommend asking one of the following local retailers who will gladly order it for you:
    Perman Wine Selections:
    Red and White Wines:

  19. […] “What do we know about Rioja? Just a few brands? Nobody wants to talk about site, or villages. Rioja is the next thing to discover. We don’t know Rioja. If you think you know Champagne and you only drink Moet et Chandon or Veuve Clicquot, you don’t know Champagne! You need to know the specific vineyards” – Telmo Rodriguez, courtesy of Dr. Vino Blog […]

  20. Linked a quote from your post to a post on a similar topic that I am writing after a visit to Remelluri. Hope you don’t mind.

    Brandon Kerne


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