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Geothermic energy: is this the future?

Bodegas Regalía de Ollauri has become the first winery in the world to exploit geothermic energy for production of its wine. James Graham reports

Drive up the steep road to the newly-built €9 million Bodegas Regalía de Ollauri and you could easily be arriving at a Hollywood Hills mansion, waterside Miami hacienda or a private residence of an international footballer in Dubai. Its architecture reflects without hesitation the 21st century in its lines and design details while its location, astride the summit of a 100m hill, makes the visitor draw in breath simply in taking in the views across the Rioja countryside.
The trick that this five-year old bodega has played with its architecture is that this is not a sterile model of modern architecture and living; it is a working winery, building on ancient Riojan traditions and committed to make wines for the modern palette.
I was visiting the site as construction was finishing and escorted by Julia Sanchez, export manager who was proud to point out that the design was not only striking on the eye but a physical demonstration of the green philosophy behind the label’s thinking.
Ms Sanchez said: “Our thinking in making this winery carbon neutral is not only about our use of geothermal energy for heating purposes. Our grapes are delivered at the very top of the production process and travel from reception to bottling by gravity. Our architect planned our location to hollow out the hillside to allow our barrels to rest at the best natural temperatures without heating or air conditioning.”
The winery was founded just five years ago by brothers Manuel and José Azpilicueta. They come from one of the most illustrious wine families in Rioja; they are great-grandchildren of Félix Azpilicueta, founder of AGE Winery in the 19th century.
The wineyard is located in Ollauri and deliberately combines tradition and modernity in one of the areas of highest quality grapes in La Rioja. The company own over 50 hectares of vineyards, half of which are located conveniently close to the bodega. Julia pointed out those that are visible from the top of the hill. The vineyard only produces red wines: Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva.
At present, production is planned for 500.000 bottles per year, though Ms Sanchez spoke of how easy it will be to double that to one million bottles; however, quality will never be compromised and production would not increase if quality cannot be guaranteed.
Stainless steel tanks with a capacity of 793.000 litres have been installed as well as concrete tanks with a capacity of 165.000 litres. There are1,850 barrels of French and American oak used in maturing at the bodega.

Design to a new level

There can be few places in Rioja with a better view of the region. The bodega, which welcomes wine tourists and visitors to a programme of visits from €5 to €10 per person, is situated on a low hill in the highest part of the small town. It could be described as a balcony affording the multiple views of the Ebro valley, Sierra de Cantabria, Sierra de la Demanda and Ollauri.
Ms Sanchez was keen to point out how the striking, state-of-the-art architecture complemented the winemaker’s ideas of modern wine manufacturing.
“A considerable part of the plant is embedded in the hill taking advantage of the desired isolation and applying the gravity system for minimal manipulation of the grapes from their reception down to the vinification deposits, barrels and bottling and packaging facilities,” she said.
The architect, Javier Arizcuren, worked in close collaboration with the engineering firm of Olarte & Uriz, who were responsible for producing the avant-garde lines of the bodega’s design. Designer Marta Oretga was responsible for the interior decoration; the finish of the offices and visitor’s centre would not be out of place in the most exclusive and chi-chi boutique hotel.
The design of the winery, not surprisingly, has excited as much interest in the design and architecture fields as the wine industry. In 2007, the design picked up the Aluminier Technal award as an acknowledgement to its special architecture.
The jury distinguished “skill to work over different scales and, mostly, dialogue with landscape by means of shape, material of choice and delicacy in carpentry and lighting.”
The business is also one of the Rioja vineyards taking part in a two-year project to develop wines with the highest possible levels of naturally occuring resveratrol.
The company has created a new wine to take full advantage of the new heating system: Versum, which takes its name from Latin “volver, girar, cambiar”( return, turn, change). It is made from that most typical Rioja variety, Tempranillo. This wine has been aged for 10 months in new French oak barrels before being bottled without cold stabilising nor clarifying, where it remains for a minimum of six months.

On departure

Driving back down the hill, there is no escaping the confidence that the client passed to the architect to make a statement bodega: this is a company that is investing for a future where Rioja wines are in strong demand both at home and abroad.
The payback from the green initiatives is a cutting edge production unit that is carbon neutral in production and is ideally suited to expand when demand rises but is sufficient to meet current demands. As much of the Old World industry suffers from over-production, tired facilities and a loss of direction, spending €9 million on a hilltop bodega can only be a statement of confidence in the product.


1 November 2009 - Felicity Murray