Settling the Score: A Wine List Tribute to the Late Pedro López de Heredia

Pepe Franco

That’s class for you.

In today’s world, influence is everything, and for a winemaker, there is still no other influence stronger nor a greater predictor of sales than a great score from The Wine Advocate.  But what if a ratings system that began benignly, serving as a useful tool for the novice consumer to make informed purchase decisions, ultimately had an adverse effect on the supply side?  Over time, this has been the trend, where producers no longer focus on what makes their wines unique and instead make wines people think they should like, with bottom line top of mind.

Disturbing as that may sound, there is hope and promise in quality over quantity, baby steps vs. knee jerk reactions, long term vs. short term — an approach to which we hold ourselves at The Genuine Hospitality Group — evidenced by the conviction of a small but mighty few, and wine director Eric Larkee does his best to make sure that you try their wines.  He is paying tribute to one such producer this week on the wine list at Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Pedro López de Heredia, who passed away recently. 

“Perhaps no winery in the world guards its traditions as proudly and steadfastly as López de Heredia does,” wrote Eric Asimov of The New York Times in 2009.  “It is paradoxically a winery in the vanguard, its viticulture and wine-making a shining, visionary example for young, forward-thinking producers all over the world… At López de Heredia, there is serenity that comes with adherence to core principles.”

López de Heredia is the last great traditional producer in Rioja. In the middle of the nineteenth century French negociants, wine merchants, visited the Rioja region to find alternative sources of quality grapes to transform into wine, since the phylloxera epidemic had decimated their vineyards and the regions were closely connected by rail. Their founder, Don Rafael López de Heredia y Landeta, a knowledgeable and enthusiastic student in the art of wine making, followed closely in their footsteps.

Don Rafael fell in love with the region and especially the area around Haro, the mythical capital of the Rioja Alta region. He observed that there was a magical combination of soil and climate that would offer the perfect environment for producing wine that would eventually become world famous. Around 1877 he began the design and construction of the complex that is today known as the López de Heredia bodega (winery), the oldest in Haro and one of the first three bodegas in the Rioja region.

“I’m always drawn to evocative wines, ones that remind me of the time, place, food, and most importantly the people I shared the wine with,” Larkee explains. These wines, especially the whites do this for me almost everytime. I remember finding my first bottle at Chambers Street Wines in New York, being gently warned of the pleasure I would find in the bottle. I remember pulling the cork on the bottle to wash down the first legal $100/lb pata negra I ever had. I remember pulling the bottle of 1991 Grand Reserva Blanco to share with Abe Schoener of Scholium Project at 1:00 a.m. I remember the day that the wines arrived back in Florida, and we put the Crianza Blanco on by-the-glass.”

Bodegas López de Heredia stands out as one of the few family-run bodegas regulated by the Denominación de Origen Calificada Rioja – DOC. For this bodega, tradition and conviction, professionalism and ethics, are life-long attitudes. There are few wineries in Spain – in the world – whose name conjures the heritage and prestige evoked by R. López de Heredia. Little about this winery has changed in the 135 years since it’s founding by Don Rafael López de Heredia. The family adheres to a winemaking doctrine blueprinted in the 1880’s – to make wine only from their own vineyards.

For over a century our emotions have been rooted in our love and passion for this land and its harvest. We cherish our heritage, and this combination of love and the rigorous quality standards we apply, have become our trademarks and remain our maxim for today and the future. Our winemaking process has been passed on from generation to generation, and our daily tasks are rooted in tradition, yet at the same time based on our deep belief in the validity and modernity of our methods. By ‘tradition’, we do not mean immobility and opposition to change; rather a dynamic and aesthetic concept in maintaining eternal principles and criteria. We are perfectly aware of the rhythm of change, and for this reason, our openness to change, our flexibility, our non-conformism and our self-criticism enable us to face the future. What we have inherited from our ancestors is what converts our idiosyncrasies into positive qualities and attitudes.

Fermentation takes place in their 72 large oak vats, some of which are 139 years old. After fermentation, the wines are ready to be aged, in 14,000 hand made American oak barrels. The wines will remain at R. López de Heredias’ underground cellars, stored at perfect temperature and tranquility, for a minimum of 3 to 10 years. Wines acquire their smoothness and bouquet during the bottle aging that follows, a minimum of 3 years for Crianzas to 10 years for Gran Reserva wines.

fdibujomeandroPedro López de Heredia was the 3rd generation and grandson to Rafael López de Heredia the founder in 1877, he was born in Zarautz, in 1928. He wanted to study to be a chemist but his father told him, “do as you wish, but if you want to work at the winery I do not suggest for you to do those studies. Because if you study chemistry you will be tempted to tinker with the wines.” This comment was the incentive for Pedro to study Law in Madrid, he finished in 1953. He talked about himself as being a Vine Grower not a winemaker. This reflects the spirit and soul of this winery to transmit generation after generation the classic, natural and authentic way to produce wines. Respect to nature and follow your own path.

Maria Jose López de heredia said about his father: ”Our father was a fantastic man and now he is resting like his vines in winter. Only sleeping but always alive.”

And so it continues… Let’s all raise a glass to that.

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