All my wine blogs, Rioja

Strict Fernando Remirez de Ganuza and his superstar wine

This was supposed to be a pleasant evening. What else to expect when you’re about to see vineyards and taste some great wines with a significant winemaker? With a small group of fellow salesmen, (lucky enough to earn this trip to Spain), we had been on the second half of our 10 intense days stay.

This amazing trip was put together by Jorge Ordóñez, the most influential and recognized importer of Spanish wines and one of the most important vendors of our company. No, we couldn’t have possibly paid for this trip – we had to earn it through our sales accomplishments.

I didn’t have a problem to meet the requirements to be considered a runner for the award trip. I loved these wines for years – so it was only matter of finding the right wine stores or restaurants that can also appreciate its qualities. And since my work was already done – (I have introduced this portfolio to most of my customers over the years), I just needed to bring in more cases.

Meeting the people who were behind those great wines in Spain was a real treat. Despite the really busy schedule, planned to every little detail by Jorge’s team, we truly enjoyed every minute of our trip.

Arriving in the historical surroundings of Fernando Remirez de Ganuza’s winery in Rioja Alava, we were little tired. It was a third winery that day and the temperature was reaching close to 100F of dry heat. Concerned about how much we drank at each winery?

Let me tell you: if you’re not suicidal, you better spit most of it out. You taste wine as a professional. Obviously, some of these wines would be a sin to spit. Those we enjoyed and then drank plenty of water on the way to next stop.

But back to meeting with Fernando. Actually, we first met his American public relations manager Luis Alberto. He walked us through the vineyards and then winery operations. Everything was in order, beautifully decorated with an owner’s taste and respect to the history of the building. When we finally walked to the tasting room, there was Fernando Remirez de Ganuza.

You can tell he was a very strict man by the way he shook your hand. Firm, respectful. We knew right away who was ruling with an iron hand here. Since we all depended on translation from Spanish, we waited and sensed a little tension in the room, when he started to talk.

He was very welcoming but didn’t smile much.
“Why don’t you sell my wine?” was a first Fernando’s question.

We all froze. You don’t expect question like that from winemaker that is hosting you because you sell his wines the best. We sat there quiet for a long few seconds, looking at each other, figuring out what to say. Fernando was right, his release of 2002 vintage wasn’t selling as fast as his 2001. Being European, I started to explain where is the difference between European and American wine buying habits.

Unlike in Europe, American collectors don’t have such a commitment or loyalty to the house or family name for generations. There are so many wines coming to the market on daily bases, with a huge press and advertising behind them, that the consumer constantly search for new values.
I could see that he was listening to my explanation very carefully .

“Is it the price, you think?” he then asked.

Well, it’s true that his wines are not inexpensive, but the value in the bottle for somebody who knows his wine, it’s not questionable.

“Sure, the price can play some role but I think the main reason is the press,” I replied.

“Well, we had 93 points from Parker for this vintage!”

He was right. High score over 90 points always gains a lot of attention from wine consumers. But his 2001 vintage gained 95 points. And Robert Parker wrote about 2002 vintage that it was generally a terrible year for Rioja. 2001, on the other hand, was one of the best years in this region for decades. I believed that’s what hurts his sale the most.

“But don’t people realize that I only made 1 third of the wine production I had last vintage? That I hand picked only the very best grapes for my wines, even in not so great year? No matter what the price? Don’t they believe that I wouldn’t put my name on anything less of the standard highest quality of Ganuza’s wines?” he couldn’t understand.

We couldn’t answer his last question. How do you deliver this information to the American wine consumer, who is targeted with so much press every day? The market in Europe is different. And the mind set of people involved in wine business as well.

We started to taste his superb wines. Fernando made sure that we tasted his 2001 and compare it with 2002 vintage. There really wasn’t significant difference. The wine was incredible! And it was still young, it will still develop.

That evening and following conversation didn’t go easy. We knew he was right and we had tremendous respect for him and his work. But we also knew what we were dealing with back in United States. How complex the American wine market really is.

What a shame that wines of this quality get sometimes lost in the quantity of other labels… ….. to be continued in Part II.

All my wine blogs, Rioja

II. Strict Fernando Remirez de Ganuza and his superstar wine

…. I am not sure if Fernando Remirez de Ganuza understood my point of view. What I was trying to say was that there isn’t disrespect to his wines by the American wine consumers. It was the overwhelmingly large offer of high quality wines on the market lately that makes the sales tougher. And that sometimes prevail the name recognition over the quality of wines? Unfortunately, that happens too.

How do you explain this to the man, who owns 160 acres of incredible vines (72 acres out of it are old vines) and puts so much labor intensive care to his vineyards? Somebody who recovered an ancient winery and moved it stone by stone to its present location? Winemaker who only produces the highest-quality handmade wines through selection, selection and more selection, with attention to the smallest details? Somebody, whose fanatical selection process results in a fraction of the winery’s total production, that gets the label with Remirez de Ganuza name? I don’t blame the man that it could be hard to understand.

Fernando experiments with “cepillado de las cepas” (brushing of the vines), an old tradition of removing the dried strips of bark from the vines. It drastically reduces infestation of plagues and dramatically decreases the need for pesticides. Even more of hard work, but very rewarding.

He just build a cooling room to make sure the grapes get proper care when harvesting during hot days under Spanish sun. This winemaker knows that only the very best grapes make the very best wine. He never compromises. How does one answer his concerns knowing, that his wines are truly spectacular?

During our wine tasting, the atmosphere in the room eventually warmed up. We spoke about the history, the wine, and he was explaining what exactly makes his wines a top quality in Rioja. But he didn’t have to. We already knew his wines and knew how special they were.

We have tasted 2001 and 2002 of his Fincas de Ganuza Reserva, Rioja D.O.C., wine made from 90% Tempranillo and 5% Graciano, mixed with skins of white (!) varietals Viura and Malvasia, just to smooth it out. This estate only uses old vines grapes. It’s manually harvested, then manually sorted at tables and Fernando only uses the upper part of clusters. Wine is fermented in small stainless steel vats and then ages in French oak. The high quality of his wine and exclusive terroir was definitely in both vintages.
We then continued with 2002 and 2003 Remirez de Ganuza Reserva, very elegant Tempranillo with dark fruit, blueberries notes and minerals from the soil. He told us how they were cooling the grapes from 2003 hot harvest to assure the quality of the wine stays untouched. The last treat of the tasting was his Trasnoccho – wine selection not available in United States so far. We finished long wine tasting with a barrel samples of his 2005 vintage.

When we later followed him in the car for diner, we couldn’t stop talking about him. Fernando invited us to a superior restaurant called Restaurante Asador Alameda. The famous chef Tomas Fernandez and his wife Esther Alvarez welcomed us personally. They run the restaurant for more than 20 years.

Tomas Fernandez from Restaurante Asador Alameda
Tomas Fernandez from Restaurante Asador Alameda

They created a spectacular menu of Spanish flavors for our group. As the only woman of the group, they seated me next to Fernando. I wished I could speak Spanish to assure him how much we appreciated what he did for us – and how much we appreciated his wines and never ending efforts.

Enjoying Ganuza’s wines with each great meal closed this very interesting night in real gourmet style. It was fun watching this chef (by the way he never took his cigarette off his lips – except this picture – the entire night) preparing each course and bringing it personally to our table. It felt very special.

At the end, I hoped that Fernando felt how much we respected and appreciated him. He honestly expressed his dissatisfaction with the sale of his wines, but then he treated us like royals. Truly a very special man. I believe, when he offered really good cigars around the table at the end of the diner, he already knew.