Terroir trailblazers: Bodegas LAN at 50

As Bodegas LAN of Rioja celebrates its 50th anniversary, its head winemaker explains how the key to its success lies in its old vine plot, Viña Lanciano

Words by Fintan Kerr In partnership with Bodegas LAN

The striking Viña Lanciano has been central to the success of Bodegas LAN since it was founded in Rioja 50 years ago

This year, one of the true greats of Rioja celebrates its 50th anniversary. Bodegas LAN first produced Rioja in 1974, during a decade of much change in the region. Fifty years ago, a group of Basque businessmen had the vision and courage to build a project around a singular point: an incredible vineyard that would go on to form the backbone of their wines and lay the foundation for what was to come. Today, the wines of Bodegas LAN are testament to the original idea: the focus on a sense of place.

As the River Ebro gently meanders through Rioja, it creates pockets of land with gentle slopes and differing aspects. When the founders of Bodegas LAN first laid eyes on a peaceful sea of vineyards surrounded by a full curve of the river, not far from the town of Fuenmayor, they knew they had come across something special. This was the famed vineyard of Viña Lanciano. Ranging from 450m to 550m above sea level, and ringed by the rolling River Ebro, it is a unique and eye-catching stretch of land: 72ha (178 acres) across 22 parcels with their own microclimates and personalities. ‘We’re very lucky that 50 years ago, our founders had the bravery to invest so much into this space. It was a courageous decision,’ says Maria Barúa, head winemaker and technical director at Bodegas LAN. ‘Viña Lanciano remains our most precious asset. It is the symbol of our identity, and it has been since the winery was first created.’

Viña Lanciano remains our most precious asset. It is the symbol of our identity, and it has been since the winery was first created

– Maria Barúa

Investment and innovation have always been key to the progress of Bodegas LAN. ‘We joke that Bodegas LAN should be called Bodegas LaNASA,’ says Barúa, laughing. ‘The amount of time, effort and money that goes into understanding our land and our production is enormous. I believe we’re the most research-focused winery in Rioja,’ she adds. Bodegas LAN was the first winery to experiment with barrels of mixed origin, rather than relying, as per tradition, on the exclusive use of American oak, and the focus has always been on pushing boundaries. It’s a traditional winery at heart, yet it’s always looking to the future. From the grape reception area, to the magnificent barrel room and state-of-the-art bottling line, no expense has been spared in ensuring the winemakers of Bodegas LAN have every resource at their fingertips.

Bodegas LAN

The wines themselves have changed a great deal in the past 50 years. While the range still covers the more traditional, age-designated crianza, reserva and gran reserva bottlings, the focus is on bringing out the best of the grapes. ‘The wines now are so much more about freshness, transparency and elegance,’ says Barúa. ‘It’s no good having this incredible terroir if we can’t show it through our wines,’ she adds. The flagship bottlings of the winery show this perfectly: Viña Lanciano, LAN A Mano and Culmen are all superb, vibrant wines that show the evolution of this historic winery.

‘In the past, like other wineries in Rioja, we were perhaps too focused on the traditional range, whereas now we are looking to what makes us unique,’ Barúa says. That difference is found in the old vines of Viña Lanciano, which produces all three of these magnificent wines. Viña Lanciano is heavily focused on Tempranillo, with a smattering of old-vine Graciano for extra freshness and perfume; LAN A Mano showcases the singularity of the El Rincón parcel and combines the sappy freshness of Tempranillo with a larger portion of both Graciano and Mazuelo; Culmen – the jewel in the crown – is produced from the oldest vines in the El Rincón parcel. All three wines are different yet share a stylistic similarity: depth of fruit, natural freshness and effortless persistence. They capture the majesty of this old, incredible vineyard in a way that truly brings it to life and shows a way forward for the wines of Rioja.

Old-vine fruit has brought vibrant life to the estate’s Culmen, LAN A Mano and Viña Lanciano bottlings

‘It’s important to us that we walk the walk, which is why we are in the process of switching the vineyard to organic viticulture,’ says Barúa. ‘We consider this the kick-off point for a whole new era of LAN, so our main focus stays here, in the land.’ In a region dominated by multiregion blends and labels that emphasise time in oak, this new direction is a brave one. A focus on terroir – or terruño, as it’s known in Spain – plays to the natural strengths of Bodegas LAN, supported by an incredible team and, increasingly, by a market that is searching for honesty and transparency in wines. ‘We can’t predict the future,’ Barúa says, ‘but there is one thing I am certain of: the best is yet to come.’