I found myself standing out in the sleet, about zero degrees with the wind blowing the stuff in my eyes. Where is the bloody buzzer? RODA in 6ft tall letters told me I was in the right spot, but a very sturdy looking gate and a rock wall was between me and a couple of hours of wine geek heaven. I’d heard the stories, seen the photos. I knew that this was one bodega in Spain I had to visit. “Diga me!” blurted out from a little speaker on the wall. 5 minutes later I parked next to the big brown building on top of the small hill in Haro.
Up in the warmth of the office, we meet Sara Fernandez, our host for the morning. On to the tour. This isn’t your ordinary bodega tour. The place is a maze at first, little hallways and doors going off here and there leading to all sorts of fascinating stuff. To be honest, many of the bodegas that I’ve been through are utilitarian, big squat warehouse type buildings in the typical Spanish style. Rooms full of tanks, barrels and bottles. Nothing wrong with that, some of my favourite wines come from places like this. But the bodega at Roda is purpose built and very modern, everything has a place and purpose, from the windows in the barrel room to having the fermenters on the top floor to allow gravity to move the juice around.
On the way down to the fermentation room we had a good chat about the source of grapes. Roda has a couple of sources for its grapes, from all over Rioja. When the bodgeda was established, a number of vineyards where bought. Most of these are quite young and only a single vineyard of graciano is in use at the moment. Long term contracts for older vines around the three sub-regions of Rioja have been taken out and are the main source of grapes at this stage. 15 staff manage these plots along Bio-Dynamic lines, however the vineyards are not fully bio-dynamic at this stage. Only the traditional goblet vines are used, even in the new plantings. There is also a fascination with clonal material. Up to 10 tempranillo clones are used in each vineyard.
We arrive in the Fermination Room to the sight of 17 big French oak fermenters, one for each of the vineyards used for Roda and Roda I. The vineyards are different sizes, so are the fermenters, ranging from 12,000 litres to 20,000. The grapes come in to a platform above the foundres, onto the sorting tables then into their respective fermenter. Precise temperature control is in place and the must gets a cold soak prior to wild yeast fermentation. Sara explained that they don’t use pumps, hence this room is on the top floor. Once fermentation is completed, the wine is gravity fed into barrels on the next floor down.
Now, oak is not a new thing in Rioja, but French oak, and lots of it new, is something Roda copped a lot of criticism for in the past. The oak treatment has been toned down a lot from 100% new wood for the first few vintages at Roda, it now sits around 50% for Roda and Roda I. Cirson is the only wine that still sees 100% new oak. While we had a rummage around, Sara explained how and why Roda was started in the first place. Reading between the lines, the owners were already successful in their import business and wanted something else to show off to world. But it had to be modern and as close to perfect as possible. This drives the operation to try to make the best possible wines every vintage, if its not up to scratch, don’t put it out as a Roda wine (the 2003 Roda is in this boat, too hot for the style required). The two owners, Mario Rottlant and Carmen Daurella, both have apartments that over look the barrel room, who doesn’t like to sleep over their barrels when in town?
The next room is called the Malo Lounge, sounds like a bar you’d find off Flinders Lane in Melbourne doesn’t it? One of its main features is the temperature control of the room and its 1,200 odd barrels. The floor is heated to 20 degrees to get malo going, then dropped down to 5 degrees from December to February by opening the windows at the top of the room. Humidity is also controlled with an automatic water spray when required. From here the barrels are move to one of three areas for further barrel aging. Each area is very different, one in some old caves under the building that leads to a little terrace overlooking the river Ebro, a showy barrel room under the Malo lounge (complete with a back-lit Roda symbol), and a temperature controlled area to the side of the Malo Lounge. Each has its own climatic conditions and is believed to impart a different character to the wine in barrel. Once the wine has spent 12-16 months, barrels are selected for each style by a committee of staff and the owners. A simplified view would be red fruit notes and more of a food style for Roda and dark fruit tones for Roda I. Roda also gets some garnarcha and graciano in the mix, where as Roda I is all Tempranillo. Once the blend for each wine has been finalised, the wine is blended and goes back up stairs to be fed into the bottling line via gravity. The bottles sit in metal racks until its time to be packaged up and shipped out.
Finally the tasting. We had a good range of wines, for some reason I was expecting see one wine and then off. But we looked at a number of vintages of Roda (2000 and 2002) and Roda I (1999 and 2001), with a cheeky look at the 2004 Cirsion that was hidden off behind a load of other stuff in the tasting room. This was my first look at a high end, barrel aged wine from this vintage and I was very impressed. A hugely expressive nose, mouth coating flavours and about a week of flavour and length. A memory of high quality old vine Shiraz popped into my mind as the wine rolled over my tongue. Mulberry fruit, length and depth, sure but there was just something that I can’t define that sparked that memory. Luckily, this wasn’t taken the wrong way. It turns out that Cirsion is made from very old (around 80 years old) anyway.
|Owner||Mario Rottlant and Carmen Daurella,|
|Wines Produced||Roda, Roda I, Cirsion|
|Wines Available in Australia||Roda, Roda I, Cirsion|
|Top Vintages||2005, 2004, 2001, 1998, 1996, 1995, 1994|
|Production:||Roda and Roda I: 300,000 Bottles
Cirsion: Around 8,000 Bottles
|Australian Importer:||The Spanish Acquisition|