The Control Board, which includes grape growers, winemakers and Administration representatives, is in charged of ensuring compliance with the DO standards in order to protect the type and quality of Rioja wines.

Rioja wines are embraced by the oldest Designation of Origin in Spain, which was officially recognised in 1925. In 1991, it was awarded the highest category, Calificada, making Rioja the first designation to be so honoured. The Designation Specifications define the demarcation of the production area, the grape varieties that can be grown, the maximum allowable yields, winemaking and ageing techniques, and other aspects.

 

The Control Board runs a strict and efficient control system from production to commercialisation, both for the quantity and quality of protected wines. For this, all Rioja wines have to undergo analytical and organoleptic tests to determine if the wine is worthy or not of the Denominación de Origen Calificada. The analyses are carried out in the official laboratories of the three Autonomous Communities and the blind tastings are performed by a panel of grape growers and winemakers.

Viticulture

In order to optimise quality, stricter standards are applied to grape growing and winemaking in Rioja than in other wine regions.

 

Aspects relating to viticulture are ptotected by the Designation Specifications or by standards issued on matters such as planting density, which must range be no less than 2,850 and no more than 10,000 vines per hectare. Each and every one of the vineyards which are registered in the Designation must appear on the Board’s records with the name of the owner, the municipality, plot location, surface area, variety, year of planting and number of vines.

Growing practices must generally aim to optimise quality of production, which is the reason why the Control Board adopts the appropriate measures for each harvest, particularly with regard to pruning, following practices aimed to properly control production  from the vineyard.

Permitted vine training and pruning systems are as follows:

  • Traditional bush or gobelet and its variants.
  • Double cordon.
  • Rod and spur.
  • Single or unilateral cordon
  • Double Guyot, exclusively for the white varieties: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo, White Maturana Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco and Turruntés.

 

For the white varieties Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Verdejo, Maturana Blanca, Tempranillo Blanco and Turruntés, the maximum load is 16 buds per vine. Garnacha is allowed 14 buds. All the other varieties are pruned to a maximum 12 buds per vine.

There are also limits on authorised production per hectare, which are below the average for the more prestigious European designations of origin.

For red varieties this limit is 6,500 kg per hectare and for white varieties it is 9,000 kg per hectare. Each vineyard owner has a Grape Grower’s Card which is updated automatically every year with the data in the Register of Vineyards, as well as the maximum yield allowed for these vineyards. It is used to monitor all grape entries at wineries during the harvest.

 

Failure on the part of grape growers to comply with standards could lead to loss of the right to use the name Rioja for the production obtained.

Harvest

The guarantees of quality and origin for Rioja wines are applied from the harvest.

It is one of the key moments when the complete control system established by the Board to guarantee the origin and quality of wines produced in Rioja is applied.

 

During the harvest, the Board Inspection Service monitors the transfer of grapes, controls the borders of the Denominación, verifies the quality of the grapes and coordinates the more than 200 harvest helpers expressly hired by the Board to supervise the weighing-in of all grape production at each of the scales located in all winemaking sites.

In order to process or sell grapes with the right to use the Denominación de Origen Calificada Rioja, Rioja’s almost 15,000 vineyard owners have a Grape Grower’s Card where the registered surface area of the vineyard and the maximum authorised grape output in kg must appear, namely 6,500 kg per hectare for red varieties and 9,000 kg per hectare for white varieties.

 

The right to use the name Rioja for the production obtained by each grape grower is also conditioned by prior compliance with authorised growing practices and the weighing of harvested grapes in the presence of the Board’s weighing supervisor to guarantee the true harvest volume obtained in the DO.

 

In all winemaking wineries, whether they are a winegrower, co-operative or trading company, the relevant weighing ticket is issued for each consignment of grape received and individualised according to the class of grape, red or white, the grape variety and the place of origin of the grape.

Every winemaking winery has to notify the Control Board in advance, indicating the date when they expect to start picking grapes, where this is to take place and the times when the grapes are expected to arrive; as all the grapes have to be weighed in the presence of a Control Board overseer.

 

Once the harvest is finished, winemaking wineries submit a sworn statement of the wines made to the Control Board together with a list of the grape suppliers and the amount of grapes delivered by each. Since all the weighing figures are transmitted electronically by the Control Board, the list of suppliers is made available to the wineries so that they just have to sign it off.

Vintage approval

The approval process is like an entrance exam to determine whether the finished wine is worthy or not of DO protection.

 

The vintage approval process takes place between 1 December and 31 March. More than 4,000 samples, representing all wines made in the DOCa Rioja, are taken by Control Board inspectors from the same tanks where the wines have fermented. The samples are tested in one of the three official laboratories of the Designation of Origin (the Oenological Stations at Haro, Laguardia and Olite. There, it is determined whether the wine’s components comply with the requirements of the Designation Specifications.

 

Subsequently, the Board Classification Committees carry out the sensory examination of the samples to assess tipicity, colour, clarity, aroma, flavour and wine quality. This is the decisive stage in the approval process, which is carried out individually and without prior comments so that tasters do not influence one other, since tasting is the best way of deciding on wine quality as well as whether it has that distinct, unmistakable Rioja personality.

 

About 140 experts participate in the Classification Committees, working under the supervision of a Control Board technician. Each committee consists of five tasters from three sectors, the wine-growing sector, the winemaking sector and independent technicians, who assess the wine, independently and according to strict professional criteria, and determine whether it meets requirements. If it is found to be suitable, it will be granted the right to use the name Rioja.

Control in the winery

The wineries that make and sell Rioja wines must be registered with the Control Board.

 

In addition, they have to fulfil a series of requirements, such as being located within the territory of the Designation of Origin, and being separated by a public road from any other place which is intended for non-protected wines, as exclusive dedication to Rioja wine is a prerequisite. The facilities must also meet winemaking, ageing and bottling requirements.

 

The wineries are classified into four distinct categories: Winegrowers, cooperatives, wine keepers and agers.

 

For a winery to be an ageing winery, it must have a minimum of fifty 225-litre oak barrels and 22,500 litres of wine in stock. The period of time during which a wine is aged, which will allow the right to use one or another type of back label, is supervised using control forms containing all the movements within the winery of each wine from each harvest until it leaves to be sold (tank, barrel, bottle, labelling, etc.). These control forms are submitted to the Control Board every month for processing.

 

The Board’s Technical Service carries out frequent inspections to check stock volumes by wine type, number of barrels and bottles, back labels, etc., and so verify the accuracy of the statements made by the wineries.

 

They also control wine movements between different wineries (mainly sales from winegrowers and cooperatives to ageing bodegas) which require the relevant authorisation, and they take samples of the finished product for testing and tasting both in the wineries and at sales outlets in domestic and foreign markets.

 

All the labels used by the wineries to sell their wines must have prior authorisation from the Board, which also issues Certificates of Origin for exports to other countries, although this is not a compulsory requirement, as each bottle bears an individual guarantee.

Guarantee labels

The Control Board de the DOCa Rioja employs a security system, a first in the world of wine, in order to guarantee the authenticity of Rioja wine back labels and seals.

 

This system involves an optically variable device (Rioja Trustseal) which consists of a small (7×22 mm) metallic-looking strip depicting parts of the logo and the word Rioja. Its exclusive design, glossy sheen, sharply-defined edges and optical effects enable consumers to identify the label as genuine, even under poor lighting conditions.

 

The system, which is widely used on European banknotes, has been developed by a world leader in security systems. It makes Rioja back labels and seals virtually impossible to forge.

Rioja pioneered the guarantee of origin seal in 1926 and brought out the first ageing-specific back labels in 1974. Since 2000, this guarantee of authenticity provides yet another guarantee for consumers worldwide, together with those of quality, origin, vintage and ageing category, which are reflected on each back label and seal.

Market controls

Rioja is probably one of the world’s designations of origin that offers the most reliable guarantees to consumers about the origin, vintage, category and quality of each bottle bearing one of four types of labels or seals issued by the Control Board (generic, Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva).

 

To achieve this goal of maximum assurance, as befits its status as a Spanish Calificada Designation of Origin, in addition to applying rigorous standards to grape production and winemaking, control is extended to the marketing stage as well.

 

Generally, the control systems established by most designations of origin are limited to the grape growers and wineries located within their territory, without regular controls of the market outside their borders with respect to possible illegal actions by external agents. One of Rioja’s exclusive control measures consists of taking monthly samples of Rioja wines at point of sale, both in the Spanish market and abroad. The samples are examined by the Control Board Technical Service, which checks both the product characteristics and the authenticity of the back labels or seals on the bottles.

 

State-of-the-art technologies allow the Control Board to check the authenticity of guarantee back labels with security features, like the Rioja Trustseal, that make it easy to prevent and identify any illegal use of the Rioja brand, making such practices very unlikely.

 

With a systematic monitoring of wine in end markets, unique in our country, the DOCa Rioja continues to occupy its traditional pioneering position in offering consumers the utmost guarantees regarding the quality, source and ageing of protected wines.

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