The wine region of Rioja, in northeast Spain, is hidebound by tradition. Winemaking here using the noble grape of Spain, Tempranillo, dates back to Phoenician times, and grapes have been grown and made into wine all through its history. There is written evidence of grape-growing dating back to the 9th century and of winemaking in the 11th century. Winemaking techniques from Bordeaux, France, another region with a strictly enforced set of regulations, were brought to Rioja in the 1850s. The Consejo Regulador DOCA Rioja maintains an exacting set of standards that must be met in order for a bottle to be labeled as wine from Rioja. Although one would think that such a conventional culture would be dominated by men, there are many women making wine and leading the way in bringing the wines of this time-honored region to all of Spain and the rest of the world. The next time you open a bottle of wine from Rioja, remember that behind every good bottle there may be a great woman.
Maria Larrea, CVNE
Only the 4th winemaker since the founding of CVNE (Compañia Vinicola del Norte de España) in 1879, Maria Larrea is responsible for the wines of CVNE, Viña Real and Contino. This includes all aspects of the process, from grapes in the vineyard to bottles of wine. After graduating from the University of Pharmacy in Montpelier, France, in 1986 Maria worked in Bordeaux before returning to Spain, where her family has made wine for many years. She has worked at CVNE for more than 20 years and became the technical director in 2006.
Ana Fernandez Bengoa, Bodegas Paco Garcia
Working as an au pair for the family of a wine merchant in Berlin led Ana Fernandez Bengoa into a career in wine. After stints as a tour guide and as a translator for the Consejo Regulador DOCa Rioja, Ana worked in sales, export, and marketing for several wineries in the region. In 2010 she met Juan Garcia, who was taking over his family’s winery. They married shortly thereafter, and while Juan makes the wine, Maria uses her degree in Business and Tourism and her Level 3 Certification from WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) to run the marketing, export sales, and social media for Paco Garcia.
Elena Adell, Campo Viejo
After studying agricultural engineering at the University of Cordoba and obtaining a degree in Viticulture and Enology in Madrid in 1985, Elena Adell worked for the local agricultural authority and then moved into winemaking. She came aboard at Campo Viejo in 1998, using her prior experience making wine and managing vineyards to quickly move up the ladder. In addition to those two areas of expertise, she also heads up quality control here. In her own words, Elena’s goal is to make “unique wines with their own personality that invite you to pour another glass during a meal or a chat with friends."
Maria Barua, Bodegas Lan
A native of Logroño, the capital of Rioja, Maria Barua graduated with a degree in chemistry before returning to the University of La Rioja to pursue an additional degree in enology. Maria joined the technical department at Bodegas Lan in 2002, taking over the lead title in 2007. During her tenure as Technical Director, Maria has implemented a quality control system for selecting grapes from Lan’s own vineyards and from outside suppliers, a research program to test and apply new methods to winemaking, a study on the barrel aging process, and installed a climatic station at Lan’s Viña Lanciano estate to better know the condition of each and every grapevine.
Maria Vargas, Marqués de Murrieta
One of the oldest wineries in the region, Marqués de Murrieta was founded in 1852. Maria Vargas joined the team here as an assistant winemaker in 1995 and took over the top position in 2000. The winery’s 740 acres of grapevines provide Maria with more than enough raw material to create wines under the Marques de Murrieta, Capellania, Castillo Ygay, and Dalmau (named for the current owner) labels. Maria is especially known for her skill as a blender, combining wine from the estate’s various plots and parcels to create the distinctive wines of Marqués de Murrieta.