Wine Culture Connection
Old Vines & Clones
For those of us not trained in viticulture, talk about vine clones is pretty mysterious stuff. Presumably, you want to use clones of really good vines for new vineyard plantings. While this makes plenty of sense, what is not clear is what exactly makes for a good vine that is worthy of cloning. The tricky part lies once again in the difference between commercial/industrial wine production versus low yield, high quality wine production that expresses character of place.
Vine clones developed in commercial nurseries for the purpose high yields or disease resistance go back to a time when farmers were paid for their grapes by weight, so the more grapes you grew per vine the more cash you would get at harvest. In the late 1960s and into the 1970s when the wines of Rioja started to receive greater international success and demand, there was a big expansion of new plantings to keep up with the demand.
The government helped sponsor new plantings and together with growers and cooperatives many high yield and more disease resistant vine clones were planted, presumably to keep up with expected growth in demand and also for greater profits. Unfortunately, a key element that got lost in much of the shuffle was quality.
Ironically, the success of Rioja wines, which was due in large part to their quality was significantly undermined by the end of the 1970s because of a far too rapid expansion of production. Too often young vines, over-production and high yield vines led to weaker, lower quality wines. And Rioja's reputation went down as a result.
Things have changed in Spain quite a bit since that crisis, although the old thinking still persists, especially in more rural areas. However, for quality focused wineries and top flight producers like Basilio, working with high quality clones is essential. Two propagation techniques to ensure quality clones are Acodadura and Massal Selection.
Old Vines & Low Yields
Acodadura, Marcottage in French or layering in English, is an ancient means of propagating a new vine next to an existing and proven vine. It is typically used for filling empty spaces in an established vineyard when an adjacent vine has died. It is done by training an aerial stem into the ground. Then, eventually separating it from the original vine. This ensures a quality new vine to replace the deceased vine and at the same time helps preserve the character of the plot.
In pre-phylloxera days, Acodadura could be used for replanting a whole vine, rootstock and all. Nowadays, it can only be used for propagating into soil not infested by phylloxera or for planting into those few areas that are naturally resistant to phylloxera. Basilio believes that although this method requires more intense effort than planting a nursery generated vine, it is definitely worth the effort to preserve the character of the vineyard.
These diverse cuttings can be used for grafting onto existing rootstocks. This selection method ensures high quality new vines that are both well adapted to the area and offer complexity from diversity of source vines—rather than planting from a single master clone, which can result in sameness in the harvest.
One important caveat here: Massal Selection must take place from a source vineyard that is actually comprised of genetically diverse vines. Massal Selection from a vineyard planted with a single nursery created clone, or a few high yield nursery clones will not result in diversity and complexity. It will simply reproduce the nursery clone with its typical focus on high-yields or disease resistance, rather than quality.
This is why Basilio and other high-quality producers insist on working only with vines planted prior to the advent of high-yield, nursery created clones. Or for new plantings only from Massal Selection cuttings from pre-nursery vineyards. Preferably, pre-nursery vineyards that were propagated from Massal Selection themselves, according to criteria previously observed in the vineyard. This gives even greater assurance of quality, diversity and complexity.
Basilio believes Massal Selection allows the winemaker to significantly help determine the future character of the wine from the vineyard. It aids in both recovering and re-inventing the identity of the terroir and place of origin (especially in areas rife with commercial clones), and at the same time also stamps the personality of winemaker on the wine. We certainly find lots of deeply Riojan character and plenty of Basilio's artistry and personality in both "B de Basilio" wines.
Bodegas Basilio Izquierdo
Simply put, Basilio is one of Spain's most brilliant winemakers—and a nice guy too! In 2006 he started a personal project of his own, Bodega Águila Real, in a garage style cooperative winery space in the town of Laguardia within the Rioja Alavesa section of Rioja. His goal: to explore some of the lost art of Rioja winemaking in conjunction with his knowledge of the latest techniques and materials. In that first year his white wine production consisted of one new French oak barrel. Since then he has expanded to an annual production of about 5000 bottles of barrel aged red and 700 bottles of barrel fermented white.
To make his new wine Basilio sought out prime vineyards. All the grapes used in the wines are from vineyards planted prior to 1985, and were planted employing massal selection of the best old vines—at least as far as records go back. The red grape plots are Tempranillo from Rioja Alta (80-100 year old vines) and from Rioja Alavesa (50-70 year old vines), Garnacha from Rioja Baja (33 year old) and Graciano from Rioja Alta (100 year old vines). The white grape plots are Garnacha Blanca and Viura from the 100+ year old Pago Gallocanta in San Vicente de la Sonsierra (Rioja Alta).
With the success of "B de Basilio", Basilio began plans for a second wine named Acodo, to be a more forward, fresher wine than his flagship "B de Basilio". Basilio's goal was to make Acodo less structured than "B de Basilio", with an earlier drinking profile, particularly in comparison to the long-lived "B de Basilio" red. At the same time he strove to maintain a similar roundness, suppleness and purity of fruit on the palate that has become a hallmark of his "B de Basilio" wines.
The grapes for "Acodo" are sourced from the same vineyards as "B de Basilio", contributing to the character similarities between the two. The primary difference between "Acodo" and "B de Basilio," his top wine, is different grape selection, but also tank selection after fermentation and barrel selection to determine the ideal final blends for each wine.
The name "Acodo" refers to a traditional technique used in old vine vineyards. When an old vine becomes weak or damaged from any number of vineyard hazards and is no longer able to produce quality grapes, this technique is employed to maintain the character of the vineyard. Rather than abandoning the problem vine, or pulling it up and planting a new vine from a nursery in the middle of an old vine vineyard, one branch of an immediately adjacent old vine is run to the ground, and looped over to the location of the uprooted problem vine. There with this acodo technique, it will take root and become a grape producing vine. Importantly, this allows an old vineyard to keep producing grapes of similar old vine character, rather than dwindling down significantly in productivity over the years from loss of vines.
WINES FROM BASILIO IZQUIERDO
"Acodo" White 2010, Rioja DOCa SRP $30
"Acodo" Red 2009, Rioja DOCa SRP $30
"B de Basilio" White 2010, Rioja DOCa SRP $56
"B de Basilio" Red 2007, Rioja DOCa SRP $56 –
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