With any family winery, particularly one with a history that dates back several generations, one must understand the past in order to appreciate the present. At Bodegas Luis Cañas, the winery’s traditional winemaking style and methods have evolved over time but the focus on constantly finding ways to produce quality wine has never wavered.
In 1928, Luis Cañas was literally born into the wine business. Luis’ father Carlos produced traditional young wines in Rioja which he then transported more than 100km via mule drawn carts across northern Spain to Bilboa and San Sebastian in order to sell it to the larger wine merchants. Luis eventually took over the wine business from his father and quickly built a reputation among the merchants for his attention to detail in the vineyard which made his wines stand out.
Although the Cañas family have made wine for more than a century, the winery as it is known today, was only officially founded in 1970. In 1989, Luis passed on the family business to his son Juan as the winery continues its evolution adding modern techniques, along with two other wineries, while still maintaining its traditional values.
Under Juan’s guidance the focus has been to produce more age-worthy wines which has increased the importance of the methods used to draw the very best from the vineyards and ensure quality control during the winemaking process. For example, the vines used for Luis Cañas wines average 40 years old and all of the grapes harvested are handpicked. Once at the winery, the harvested fruit goes through a double sorting process – a hand sorting procedure separating the clusters, followed by a second process of inspection for each individual berry.
For barrel fermentation, the winery uses a combination of French and American oak casks that are rotated out or sold to ensure an average age of only 3 years. What’s more, they source their barrels from 12 different cooperages with 20 different toasts, with no toast stronger than medium plus.
Sustainability is also a major focus of the winery as they maximize natural resources and mechanisms and forbid the use of herbicides or synthetic fertilizers. In fact, they are the first winery in Spain to obtain the BRC Protocol with AENOR, the ISO 14.000, and the ISO 9.002 quality certification. Today Bodegas Luis Cañas currently owns 118 hectares of vineyards and manages an additional 220 more through private growers.
Juan is also the winemaker for their second winery, Dominio de Cair Bodegas that the Cañas family founded in 2008. It is a much smaller production boutique winery in Ribera del Duero with 85 Hectares of old vines and chalky-clay, sandy and stony soils, ideal for causing the vines to struggle and produce small berries of great intensity. The winery produces 4 red wines where all but three are 100% Tempranillo and the fourth is a blend of 85% Tempranillo and 15% Merlot.
The Cañas family’s third winery project is Bodegas Amaren which was started in 1995 and then incorporated as an independent winery in 2009. A tribute to Juan’s mother Maria Ángeles, the winery is located in Samaniego, a town in the Province of Álava in Basque country. It works with just 52 Hectares of vines, more than half of which are more than 60 years old. It produces one white wine and four red wines in very limited production.
It is clear that Juan’s vision is to ensure that the legacy started by his grandfather Carlos and his father Luis continues to make the Cañas name synonymous with quality for generations to come. Given the amount of effort and passion that has been poured into the family’s three wineries, we were particularly impressed by the exceptional value of the wines when led through a tasting there by Sommelier Oscar Cardenas (see tasting notes below). Samples from each winery were surprisingly inexpensive given the level of quality but we suspect that as this winery gets more of the international recognition it deserves, that will change. We fully intend to get as much as we can and store it away in the back of the cellar knowing it has the structure to last and be enjoyed for years to come.
(85% Viura / 15% Malvasia). 4 months ageing on the lees; barrel fermented in new barrels (75% French /25% American Oak). Medium gold in colour. Notes of pear, green apple and lemon on the nose, with melon and grapefruit also coming through on the palate. This wine has a lovely juicy acidity and is well balanced with a very long finish.
Very Good/Excellent – $12
(85% Tempranillo / 15% Merlot). 9 months in barrel (60% French / 40% American) 1-3 year old barrels (Minimum 6 months in bottle). Dark red in colour. A nice combination of aromas including cherry, jam, and vanilla. A very smooth, well rounded medium bodied wine.
Very Good/Excellent – $13.50
(85% Tempranillo / 15% Graciano). Aged in new barrels for 16 months (50% French / 50% American). Dark red in colour. Very complex featuring cherry, pepper, and earth. A lovely example of a full bodied tempranillo where the tannins are present but not overwhelming. A nice long finish
Excellent – $25
2010 Luis Cañas Reserva
(95% Tempranillo / 5% Graciano). 18 months in barrel (60% French / 40% American). Very complex nose with cherry, wood, coffee and a hint of earth. This is a big balanced Rioja that is both powerful and elegant. Good acidity and a long finish.
Excellent – $30