Imagine a town where there is a winery for every eight inhabitants, that town is called Villabuena. In the heart of Rioja, the small town is home to eighty wineries and 350 locals. I was greeted by Carmen, the commercial director at Bodegas Luis Cañas, who led me to the entrance of the winery so I could take in the impressive views of the vineyards in the foreground and the mountains in the distance. The winery itself owns 310 hectares of vines, of which 220 hectares are leased to external producers. Before I began my tour, Carmen reminded me that it is not about having a state-of-the art designed winery, all the devotion at Luis Canas is to the wine.
I was led into the entrance hall which displayed their portfolio, ten wines ranging in styles and age. All the wines have a different character and personality. The wines are heavily based using the traditional grape varieties in Rioja, but with some international varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, are also used for blending. During our discussion, the founder Mr Luis Cañas joined us. At 84 he should be enjoying his retirement, instead he is still the life of the winery, ensuring the staff are happy and everything is looked after. Carmen states ‘he is always the first in and the last to leave’. Luis bids us farewell and apologies for the scorching summer heat.
Next I was taken past the certificate and accolade wall. Stretching the length of the corridor, you cannot help but be impressed by the level of awards the winery has won. The most recent addition was the gold medal from the International Wine Challenge for the 2004 Gran Reserva. Afterwards, I was taken behind the winery and shown more of the vineyards. All the vineyards have an average age of forty years and some are even older. The vines used for the Hiru label, Basque for the number three, are over a hundred years old and are only allowed to produce three bunches of grapes. Carmen points out that the vines closest to us are given different coloured labels. This is because when the vineyards were first planted, they did not know what vines produced which grapes until they came to produce fruit. Instead of removing these old vines, the vineyard manager colour coordinated each of the vines to the respective variety. Simple but yet effective.
Afterwards I was shown the cellars, a vast array of barrels, over 5000 in total, and struck by an overwhelming aroma of oak. Seventy percent of the barrels are French oak and the rest are American oak. Quality is paramount for the wines. All are handpicked and the dedication to quality is reflected by the vast array of awards the winery has won. Walking around, the winery is continuously experimenting, ‘we want to keep improving, to create better wine’ Carmen states, which is good as the key to success is not by resting on your laurels. Finally I am led to the tasting room to sample four wines for their collection.
Luis Cañas White, Fermented in barrel. 90% Viura and 10% Malvasia. On the nose, ripe stonefruits with pear and hints of buttercup. Strong acidity and flavours of creamy butter apples and citrus notes. A fantastic body which provides a lingering creamy finish.
Luis Cañas Reserva ‘04 95% Tempranillo and 5% Graciano. Deep garnet with a watery rim. The aromas jump out of the glass, notes of dark red cherries and violets. On the palette, notes of liquorish, dark chocolate with silky, grippy tannins with a blackforest finish. Lingering notes of black pepper.
Ameran Reserva ‘04 100% Tempranillo. Garnet purple in appearance with a tight nose with overtones of raspberry and plums. Flavours of dark chocolate, dried plums with ripe, silky tannins. A full body with a coffee finish.
Cair ‘08 100% Tempranillo. Garnet in colour. Very fruit driven, plumy with a hint of vanilla and creamy cherry. Hint of spice and white pepper on the palette and dark red fruits. Very supple and slight smoky aftertaste. There is an overwhelming commitment to quality and achieving the best which is contagious as you tour the winery. You cannot leave Luis Cañas with being overawed by the commitment to quality, it is refreshing to see a winery activity looking to engage with the public and looking after the welfare of the staff. If you are ever in Rioja, Bodegas Luis Cañas must be number one on your list of wineries to visit.