Talking dirty: Rioja soil map

Mosel winemakers love to talk about the blue slate of their soils. A discussion of Chablis couldn’t be had without mentioning Kimmeridgian. Coonawarra has its terra rossa and Rutherford has its dust. But what about the soil in Rioja?

rioja soil terroirAs Telmo Rodriguez recently discussed at length, to his lament, the Rioja winemaking process favors process over place. So as a companion to that post, here is a relatively little-known soil map that Don Manuel Ruiz Hernandez put together. (In a funny contrast to how some New World vineyard owners are obsessed with mapping vineyard soils, this one is from 1972, the blink of an eye geologically speaking, I guess.) It shows three types of soil: chalky clay soil (yellow); ferrous (or ferruginous) clay soil (maroon); and alluvial, silty soil. Describing the differences, he writes “the ones with the most moderate of yields, the Calcareous-Clay ones, are, thus, the lands from which the most special qualities is achieved.”

It’s hard to generalize since other factors, such as elevation and sun exposure, play a part in grape characteristics and the overall wine quality. But many of the structured, most age-worthy wines from Rioja come from vineyards in the calcereous soils.

It is worth noting that the official subzones (map below) don’t match the soil types. Instead, they map the regional boundaries: the swath of La Rioja administrative region that lies on the northern banks of the Ebro River is classified as Rioja Alta; lands in the the Basque province of Alava are in the subzone of Rioja Alavesa even though the soil map shows continuity. Here’s a link to a map that includes elevation, which lies to the north of the river with some vineyards planted at 2,600 feet (800m) altitude. Here’s a more detailed version of Manuel Ruiz Hernandez’ map above.

rioja wine map

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5 Responses to “Talking dirty: Rioja soil map”

  1. Thanks for sharing this map!


    I hope this map, gives more light to this. in Rioja there are soils from Precambric to quaternary period.

    Don Manuel Ruiz Hernandez, used to be one of my winemaking teacher 12 years ago and he used to simplify everything to retain some generic ideas. He was also teacher of rioja vignerons and he has this, sometimes, very generic ideas, to make people understand.

    He used to say, Garnacha is not for aging but for rose and young wines. tempranillo for aged wines… Rioja baja is not good for aging wines and so on…

    I was with Telmo yesterday, and he is farming without any doubt, the most consistent and serious viticulture in the region, at remelluri, but also in the tiny 100% biodinamic Las Beatas Vineyard…

    there are microterroirs like everywhere, but old wines were made differently. Mainly following macro terroirs and specially villages. Felipe Nalda, Ezequiel García, winemakers at Riojanas and CVNE, used to know exactly how to make their blends and were to pick the grapes from to make their BDX and their Burgundy bottles!… what changed, is that they weren’t needing to tell everyone, everyday, how unique this places were and how intense their work was, because there was not so many people asking all the time…

    Rioja used to be about Blending, and there is a lot to know about as well. … vintages, areas, villages, grapes…. I like this negoce model, but we need also to allow the purity of winemakers like Telmo…

  3. For those who don’t know, Don Manuel is one of the most knowledgeable folks in Rioja and has worked in the Haro station wine lab for over four decades. The Haro station lab checks the quality of the wines from Rioja wineries. Don Manuel has kept records on soils, weather, and other relevant data from Rioja during his time at the lab and has also consulted for some wineries.


    Do you know if Don Manuel has ever written a book on Rioja?

    Do you know where to find a similar detailed map for the soils of Alavesa region?


    PS Wow!!! Have not heard the name of “El Brujo De La Rioja” (Ezequiel García) on any blog before. One of the unsung heroes of the region.

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