Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Cune's perspective on its Imperial Rioja Gran Reserva 2004 being named WS Wine of the Year

In mid-November 2013, Wine Spectator delighted the hearts of all Spanish wine lovers (as well as the hearts of retailers who had the wine in stock) by naming the Cune Imperial Gran Reserva 2004 as its Wine of the Year. Having just returned from a trip to Rioja -- a trip during which I visited and toured the Cune facilities in Haro -- I was curious as to whether the winery had perceived this wine as extraordinary prior to the acclaim and also wondered about their response to the news. In order to satisfy this curiosity I gained the approval of Maria Urrutia Ybarra to submit a number of questions for her e-mailed response. First, some background on Cune's Imperial.

As noted in a prior post, Imperial is one of many Cune labels but, according to Maria, it "has always been our flagship wine. It is a wine we only produce in vintages which are classified as excellent." The wine was first introduced in the 1920s and got its name after a special production for the English market in a bottle called the Imperial pint (approximately 1/2 liter). Grapes for the wine are sourced from Cune's 28-ha Villaba vineyard in Rioja Alta as well as selected vineyards in the neighboring communes of Briones and Montalvo. The Villaba vineyard is planted to 85% Tempranillo plus Graciano and Mazuelo. The rootstock is Richter-110 and the vines are hung on wires in rows that run northeast to southwest. The layout (i) maximizes the vines' exposure to sunlight, (ii) enables manual access to each vine, and (iii) positions the vines favorably vis a vis the strong, frequent north winds. Average vine age is 25+ years and average yield is 5000 kg/ha. Imperial wines are aged in American and French (30% today) oak barrels of approximately two years of age for a period of between 2 and 3 years. The Imperial blend is traditionally 85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, and 5% Mazuelo.

Following are the questions to, and responses from, Maria. The material has been edited for clarity and flow.

From Cune's perspective, what are the outstanding characteristics of the Imperial Gran Reserva 2004?

Really the 2004 is as unique as the rest of Gran Reserva vintages. From generation to generation we have striven to make the best wine possible in each and every harvest.

What was special about 2004 as a vintage year?

The year 2004 was excellent with rain, cold and a hot summer. Let us say that it had all of the key factors to give birth to excellent quality grapes and, therefore, excellent wine.

How did the team feel about the Gran Reserva 2004 at the time of bottling? Was there any inkling at the time that the wine would attain these heights?

With all the wines we produce we always strive for the best quality and bet for an excellent result.

Was there any special processing or aging of this wine as opposed to previous or following vintages?


How and when did you first know that the wine had been so honored?

We heard the news on Friday around 5 o'clock Spanish time. We were thrilled. We could not believe it. A friend from the U.S. called to inform us. He had seen it on TV.

What was your initial reaction?

Shock. Happiness. Joy. Amazement. Thrilled. Really no words can explain.

How was the information shared with staff and what was their reaction?

The information was shared straight away. This award is not only for a wine but for a whole tradition of producing wine where everyone has a hand in it. The reaction was joy.

Did your group celebrate? How?

It was Friday afternoon and most people had gone for the day. I did celebrate with my family, my dad, actual Chairman of CVNE, and my brothers. Our winemaking team was having lunch together to celebrate the end of harvest and they did a double celebration.

What was your perception of the worldwide response?

Amazing. In a few hours we had responses from everywhere. It was amazing how quickly this good news had spread.

Has things changed for the company since the announcement? How so?

Things have not changed. Now we have to focus on the fact that the award is not only great news for CVNE but for all the wines of Rioja. We have to try to communicate our history and our brand and make our wines known worldwide.

What do you see as the going-forward impact of this award on CVNE? On Rioja as a whole?

As I said before, from one generation to another, we have always worried about producing the best wine. The new generation added another concern to this (very short) list; to make our wines known across the world.

This is the first time that a Spanish winery has received this award. It is very unique. I think this recognition puts Spanish wines at a very top level worldwide.

CVNEs crest is, essentially, Spain's flag. Not an aristocrat's shield. Or a single person's signature. We are Spain's ambassador. And Imperial is the wine from Spain.

How did your fellow Rioja wine companies react to the announcement?

If I were in their place I would be proud of a Rioja wine being top wine. I think that they feel that way. This award helps Rioja, not just a winery.

Is CVNE going to be doing anything differently after receiving this award?

Different? Not really. We cannot relax. Now we have to continue producing excellent wines. We are a family business. My great grandparents left us a great legacy and we have to keep it and pass it on to the new generation.


Summarizing, Maria feels that the 2004 Imperial Gran Reserva is just as good as every Reserva they have ever made because their creed is to make the best wines possible every time. As a matter of fact,  this recognition is really just the world catching up with what has been going on in Rioja for a very long time. She views the recognition as reflecting positively on Cune, of course, but also placing Rioja and Spain in the world's spotlight. While thrilled with the recognition of the great job that they have been doing, they will continue to function in the way that they always have, with the additional goal of making Cune wines known the world over.

I would like to express my gratitude to Maria and the Cune organization for being responsive to my request -- and in such a timely fashion -- especially given the end of harvest conditions as well as the hubbub around the Wine of the Year recognition.

I have solicited responses from selected Haro producers as to the meaning of the award from their perspectives and hope to report on that in the near future.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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