Seasons of the Vine in La Rioja

A single wine estate, such as Finca La Emperatriz, is beautiful, especially when the clouds roll in. The colors of nature naturally come forward and create this beautiful contrast.  We are currently in the time of year, while unpredictable lately, goes the saying, “April showers, bring May flowers!”

In this case, the month of April, in La Rioja brought the much needed rain, especially important at this period of time for the growth of the vine. At the end of January to the end of February, the pruning was done and the old branches/canes were removed. This was done to optimize the production potential of the grape vine. As Finca La Emperatriz is located at the outer most edge of Rioja Baja at an altitude of about 570 meters above sea level, the weather is cooler here and is influenced not only by the Continental but the Atlantic and Mediterranean winds that converge here.  This altitude, weather and rocky soil causes the vines to bud later than the rest of Rioja Alta.

Taking this into consideration, this is also an advantage due to climate change. As the weather throughout Europe and the rest of the world, goes up, locations in higher altitudes and generally cooler climates will benefit from a cooler summer than other wineries located in areas such as Rioja Baja. Right now, you can see the differences in growth states of the vine.

Right now, it is fascinating to see the differences not only in trellis style but in where the vines are located around the estate. We are currently experiencing 4 different stages of growth at the winery as of 25 of April, 2012 and 5 different stages as of May 2, 2012.

Dormant Bud Crying-  Stage 0

Dormant Bud Crying- Stage 0

Stage 0: Dormant

The buds are closed and there is no indication of growth. In this image, we have just pruned it and it is “crying” and the sap has begun to flow through the vine and begins to come out of the cuts where we have pruned it. The buds are almost not apparent.

Swollen Bud and Bud Break- Stage 2

Swollen Bud and Bud Break– Stage 1 and  2

Stage 1: Bud Swelling

The buds on the vines in Goblet or Bush style, a very traditional trellis system in La Rioja, are either dormant or just now starting to swell.Bud Burst/ Bud Break- Stage 2

Stage 2: Bud Break- Bud Burst

This is when the leaves from the buds start to swell and emerge, still maintaining a slightly rounded shape. In the above image you get a chance to see bud swelling and bud break. The Bud Break or bud Burst is on the top right of the image above.

Here in this image, you can clearly see the leaves starting to come forward out of Bud Break/Bud Burst. It is somewhat in Stage 2 and 3.

Leaf Emergence- Stage 3

Stage 3: Leaf Emergence

Leaves are now recognizable and the shoots are starting to photosynthesize. Here you can see they are starting to open up.

Stage 4: Shoot Growth
1 to 3 inch shoots with 1 to 3 small leaves at right angles to the stemMore leaves become apparent as the shoot elongates. At this point, it is very important that the temperature does not fall below freezing. Any frost at this point could potentially jeopardize the crop yield.

The vines furthest from the River Oja are already starting to enter the 4th stage, which is called Shoot Growth.

Stage 5: Flower Cluster Emergence

Shoot Growth- Stage 4

Shoot Growth- Stage 4

–          4 to 8 inch shoots with 3 to 6 leaves there is also flower cluster emergence.

Others in more clay like soils are actually already into Stage 5 where the clusters are starting to show.   I will have to go out into the vineyard one more time so I can upload the picture. Stay tuned!

Written by April Hennig of

Plantation of a Vineyard in La Rioja, Spain

Springtime is finally here, as of today, May 2, 2012, Finca La Emperatriz is a buzz with the sounds of the tractors preparing the land for the next generation of vines that will create future wine for Bodegas La Emperatriz in the years to come.

Today, Bodegas La Emperatriz has planted six hectares (14.82 acres) of new vines in the Finca La Emperatriz Estate located in Rioja Alta. There will be three hectares or 7. 42 acres of Maturana Tinta de Navarrete and another 3 hectares of Tempranillo rootstock. There will be approximately 3,077 vines per hectare planted today. The process of planting a vineyard generally starts in La Rioja in spring. Due to the recent and much needed rain showers, the land was already soft and easy to plough.

At Finca La Emperatriz, the land is ploughed or turned up with a tractor. Once this is completed, the land is ready for the second tractor carrying behind it a 2 seater machine that allows a person to hand place the rootstock into the rotating machine to place it in the ground. Once this is done, then two wheels on each side of the rootstock bring the dirt together and bury the rootstock. The rootstock with the grafted area sticks out of the ground so that the vine can start to take root and grow.

Below you will see the video that shows how it was done today.

Maturana Tinta de Navarrete is a one of the new varieties approved by the Control Board of the Rioja Designation of Origin in May 2009. Maturana Tinta is a native Riojan variety that was rescued from extinction by research done by the University of La Rioja and the Center of Investigation and Agrarian Development (CIDA-Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo Agrario). Maturana Tinta is known for its small compact clusters of small berries. It has a high color intensity and anthocyanin content with high acidity and medium alcohol content. While a common grape used for blending, it can also be made into a mono-varietal wine that is a dark purple color with typical varietal aromas of black berries, green pepper (pyrazines), licorice, balsamic and spice notes. Due to its notable acidity it provides a very well-structured mouth and persistence. It is also this characteristic that makes this an ideal wine to be aged.

Tempranillo is the most widely planted variety in Spain and in la Rioja, where it is used due to its proven ability to age. In La Rioja, It is the wine region’s best known grape. It occupies more than 75% of the region’s vineyards and it is very versatile variety that has a good balance of alcohol content, color and acidity, and an honest, smooth, fruity mouth feel that turns velvety as it ages. Tempranillo is found as the predominant grape variety used in Crianzas and Reservas of La Rioja.