In the historic town of Haro in Spain’s Rioja region, you will find the Railway Station District which is home to one of the biggest concentrations of high quality wine in the world. Heralded wineries Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia and La Rioja Alta are among several wineries within a 2km radius that have been making wine there for more than a century. Roda is the youngest winery in this district and while more modern in style and facilities in comparison to its traditional counterparts, it has already proven itself as a reputable producer that belongs among its distinguished neighbours.
We were lucky enough to visit Roda on a recent trip to Spain with Iberian Wine Tours. Founded in 1987 by Mario Rotllan and Carmen Daurella, the name of the winery is derived from the first two letters of each surname. They chose this particular spot in Rioja because they wanted to make wine in what they consider a special area in Spain. It is rich in winemaking history, the Ebro River runs through it, and the Sierra de Cantabria mountains surround it. The latter two elements provide for unique and varied climactic conditions where the cool Atlantic air comes in from the north, the warmer Mediterranean air comes off the Ebro River, and the Continental air comes from Madrid in central Spain.
When we refer to Roda as being more modern in style it needs to be understood that separating the traditional style from the modern style is simply a useful tool in explaining the variety of wines from within the region, it is not a wide chasm that exists between producers on one side or the other. Every traditionalist wants to benefit from modern advancements and every modernist is respectful of tradition. In this regard, Roda is no different—they are highly innovative, but are borne out of tradition.
They choose to grow their grapes in the traditional way preferring bush vines over trellises, and all grapes are harvested by hand. Rioja is Tempranillo country and while Roda doesn’t make any single variety wines, their blends are made up largely of that grape variety. They also blend in Graciano and Garnacha (Spanish for Grenache) for the purposes of added complexity, sweetness, aromas, or freshness, depending on the wine.
Their fruit comes from 120 hectares of which 70 hectares are estate. The fruit that Roda grows that doesn’t meet their quality standards is usually sold to other wineries and the balance are purchased from different growers depending on the year and yield. “This has been working for us since the beginning,” says Roda’s Export Area Manager Maria Santolaya. “The [growers] we work with grow their vines in the same style as Roda with respect to bush vines, cover crop, not using chemicals, and maintaining biodiversity in their vineyards.”
When brought to the winery, the grapes are placed into 16 kilo crates and then refrigerated for two days to chill them down to 10 degrees Celsius. This is Roda’s desired temperature to do press fermented maceration in order to minimize over-extraction and keep the tannins in check. There is very little intervention in Roda’s winemaking and the prime objective is to always make their wines express the fruit in its purest form, aiming for elegance over power.
Once the grapes are chilled, they are taken to the sorting table. A conveyer belt moves them to the de-stemmer and then to the crusher where they end up in one of the 17 Vats to ferment for 10-15 days. In Rioja, many wineries have traditionally used American oak barrels but Roda does not. Instead they use exclusively neutral French oak so as not to impart any flavours on the wine other than what comes from the fruit.
As Maria toured us through the winery, we were led through the barrel room to the centuries old underground cellar, eventually ending up at the edge of the Ebro river. The cellar was designed this way with purpose. Long before the days of trucks, they would roll the barrels from the cellar down ramps to the river and loaded straight into boats that were waiting to transport their wine.
On the way to the private tasting room we also viewed the winery’s small art gallery “Maridajes” which is a collaboration with the Foto Colectania Foundation based in Barcelona. It runs a series of exhibitions featuring the work of Spanish and Portuguese photographers taken between 1950 to present.
Once in the tasting room, we sat down to a small lineup of Roda wines largely because they only make 4 labels: Sela, Roda, Roda 1, and Cirsion. We tasted the first 3 wines along with the two extra virgin olive oils that they also produce: L’Amo and Aubocassa. Both the wines and the olive oils were of excellent quality (see tasting notes below).
Sela is their youngest wine and though it is meant to be drank young, its quality and structure tells us it still has the potential to age well. It is a blend made up of 82% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha and 8% Graciano and is largely exported. Maria explains how this wine came about, “Our wines are made from old vineyards that are more than 30 years old. But we have two vineyards that are between 15-30 years old where we sell the fruit to other wineries. We decided we could make a different style of wine that was a little bit fresher, younger, and fruitier. This is Sela.”
Where Roda really differentiates itself is with its Roda and Roda 1 wines. The Roda showcases the red fruit profile of Tempranillo, whereas the Roda 1 highlights the black fruit profile of the same grape. We have never seen this done at any other winery and it affords a wonderful opportunity (particularly when tasting side by side) to get a true sense of the specific characteristics in each. Both wines use new French oak barrels and the fruit for both is harvested separately and then blended.
What became clear to us very quickly is that the innovation Roda is implementing isn’t simply a means to individualize, they are passionate about doing whatever is necessary to get the best quality fruit from their vineyards. The results easily speak for themselves as their wines are wonderful examples of the high quality coming out of Spain that is raising the bar throughout the region.
A blend of 82% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha and 8% Graciano, this medium/dark red wine showed lots of dark red fruit character on the nose and palate: raspberry and blackberry come across with ripeness that is well balanced by the juicy acidity. There is structure enough for medium term ageing (10 years?). Notes of tobacco leaf add complexity. The body is medium and the finish is long. 2015 was a warm, ripe vintage, more Mediterranean than Atlantic, as they say in Northern Spain.
Medium red in colour. There is an almost sweet perfume on the nose; a beguiling mix of herbs and macerated cherries. The palate shows medium+ body. We pick up flavours of red cherry, baking spices, raspberry, vanilla and hints of cherry cola. Already lots going on but will no doubt develop even more complexity as it evolves over the coming decade and potentially longer.
2011 Roda I
This wine is very dark red, darker than Roda. There is a gorgeous perfume of black raspberry and spice that tends towards being exotic. On the medium/full body we get flavours of blackberry with notes of anise and dark spices. This is a powerful that will evolve over the next 15 to 20 years. There is still plenty of structure showing and probably deserves a few more years in the cellar to really shine. Powerful complex and sophisticated, this wine was the stand out of the tasting.
De Vizcaya 5 Neighborhood of LaEstación
26200 Haro (La Rioja)
+34 941 30 30 01