From endless stretches of rolling vineyards to a vibrant and widely-respected gastronomic culture, wine has long been a way of life for the residents of Spain’s pastoral La Rioja province. And of the region’s nearly 700 official wineries, few rival Campo Viejo in terms of international reach, acclaim, and esteem. As the number one-selling Rioja producer in the world, the 61-year-old icon has evolved into an ambassador for the booming category, singing its praises in major markets around the world with the same understated confidence, vibrant versatility, and subtle elegance the style has always embodied. So it only makes sense that the trio of winemakers behind Campo Viejo’s celebrated fleet are themselves daughters of La Rioja.
“I’ve always liked watching plants grow and my grandfather was actually a grape grower, so I decided to become an agricultural engineer,” says chief winemaker Elena Adell. A Campo Viejo employee since 1998, the Logroño native is an expert in all things tempranillo and views her deep connection to the wine industry as something of a birthright. “A technician in agriculture born in Rioja seems to be predestined to devote their life to viticulture, so that’s what I specialized in and when I had the grapes in my hands, I decided to take the next step and turn them into wine. It’s like an extension of our home we are sharing with others.”
Speaking for the group, senior winemaker Irene Pérez concurs. “All three of us are born and raised in Logroño—there are vineyards all around us so wine is just a part of our families’ lives,” she explains. “Our days are now spent fully immersed in every aspect of winemaking from harvest to production, blending, fermentation, and experimenting. It’s fairly common to get into an industry that’s part of your home.”
The hands-on approach is central to Campo Viejo’s core philosophy and, ultimately, its success as a champion of the region. The esteemed winemakers rarely find themselves holed up in a glass tasting room for days on end, swirling and spitting as crews of rubber-booted laborers handle the dirty work below. Instead, they’re intimately involved in the process all year long.
“Approaching harvest, we’re constantly in the vineyards tasting grapes, seeing how the fruit is ripening, planning when to pick,” Adell says. “During harvest, we’re taking in the fruit through our gravity-fed winery, beginning the vinification and fermentation process, and monitoring the tanks. Toward the winter months we’re blending, so there’s a tremendous amount of tasting going on.”
Junior winemaker Elena Suarez, the group’s newest addition, mirrors that lifelong enthusiasm for the landscape that nurtured her. “This is my first harvest as a winemaker and I've had the chance to work closely across the winery and the vineyards,” says the 2017 University of La Rioja graduate. “I believe sustainability will be a big part of my role here, not only adapting new practices but also maintaining those we already have in place. It’s of the utmost importance that we preserve biodiversity and our soils.”
Though she only joined the company permanently in 2019, Suarez’s vision aligns crisply with her more tenured colleagues. “The environment [is] at the heart of what we do, both in the vineyards and in the winery,” Adell affirms. “We were practicing sustainability before it was even a common phrase.”
And she’s right—Campo Viejo became Spain’s first certified carbon neutral winery back in 2012. Since then, they’ve racked up countless more environmental accolades by repurposing or eliminating waste, practicing organic and conscious farming, enacting wildlife protection methods, and even reducing the weight of their bottles to ameliorate the impact of shipping and production. This ethos further transcends to the winery’s strikingly modern architecture. “Campo Viejo has always been committed to ethical winemaking from vine to bottle,” adds Suarez. “Our production facility is buried 20 meters underground, protecting the land for generations of winemakers to come.”
“When we designed it, we wanted to be as much one with the landscape and the surroundings as possible,” Adell said via a translator during an early October virtual Zoom tasting. “Since the winery is semi-buried our energy consumption is really minimal. For example we don’t need to control the temperature because it’s naturally controlled and our water consumption is reduced as well. We’ve been working like that for many years and it just comes natural to us.”
Aside from eco-friendly pursuits, one of Campo Viejo’s crowning achievements this year has been the development of their 2019 Red Blend, a richly perfumed palate-pleaser carefully crafted to embody both the team’s powerfully woven synergy as well as Spain’s complex topography.
“When we learned of the opportunity to craft a new wine and someone mentioned the word blend, we all got very excited because ‘blend’ is the essence of Campo Viejo and represents very well the style of the house,” Adell explained over Zoom. “We wanted the blend to be really surprising, a surprising aroma but also a nice body, to be balanced, to have a silky mouthfeel. We all wanted to transmit the Spanish essence, the liveliness and beauty of the Mediterranean. We wanted the wine to be really jovial and bright, just as Spain is.”
The final product is composed of three distinctly Spanish grape varietals: tempranillo, garnacha, and bobal, each hailing from a different corner of the country’s vast winemaking map before coming together to form something wholly indicative of La Rioja. And it’s no coincidence that the team settled on this particular combination—each winemaker has her own special connection to the grapes, from Adell’s extensive experience working with tempranillo to Suarez’s bubbly boban-esque personality.
“Why did we choose these three varieties?” continued Adell. “Tempranillo, of course, represents [me]. The tempranillo contributes a lot of red fruits, strawberries, some black fruits as well, a lot of structure and a really beautiful bright color. The garnacha, the second variety, we associate with Irene. Before Campo Viejo, Irene worked for a winery in Navarra, a classic region for garnacha. Garnacha contributes a lot of raspberry, strawberry, watermelon, and also has great acidity. Boban is a very new variety for Campo Viejo as we have never worked with it before. It’s really fresh, has a lot of cherry, and a beautiful acidity that makes us think of Elena Suarez, as lively as boban.”
Working together in a tight knit team of three isn’t always this harmonious, of course, but the winemakers strive to play off each other’s strengths while encouraging one another to push the limits of creativity. They’ve even instituted an experimental winery onsite where they can feed their ravenous curiosities and the results have been nothing short of groundbreaking.
“We spend a lot of time experimenting, researching, and developing different variants and techniques to make the most of what’s grown in this remarkable region,” says Pérez. “Something we've been playing around with over the last few years is creating white wines. In accordance with local regulations, we've planted select white grape varietals including the recently-discovered tempranillo blanco across three different geographic areas. Similar to artists, you start with a blank canvas and each year create something unique.”
Between reverence for their homeland, broad viticultural knowledge, sharp winemaking instincts, and an unparalleled dedication to innovation, Campo Veijo’s winemakers possess more than their fair share of commonalities. In light of all that, the fact that they also share a gender, even one with a long history of professional underrepresentation, can be easily overlooked.
“It’s our shared passion for wine and individual perspectives and techniques that drive our winemaking dynamic, not our gender,” Pérez concludes. “However, it is exciting to share this moment in time when women in wine and spirits are really shining in their roles.”