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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Bordeauxing Rioja: The Origin Stories of Manuel Quintano & Luciano de Murrieta

December is A Very Rioja Christmas on!

Marqués de Murrieta

For my article this month I really didn't just want to do a "history of Rioja" or some expansive long read like that. I wanted a story. I wanted to write about a specific person or event with focus. 

I found many interesting stories about Rioja and the people in its history while searching for a subject. But the origin stories of the two guys that brought Bordeaux influence and oak barrel aging to the region caught my eye and sucked me in. One of them had a short success before pricing laws and war eliminated his efforts. Decades later, the other would make it stick.

They've been producing wine in Rioja since the Phoenicians. So about three-thousand years, give or take. The region doesn't have a great geographic position for exporting its wines elsewhere, but it does have a great geographic position to grow vines and make wine. Starting in the the middle ages, Rioja found itself in the path of a popular religious pilgrimage. It's called el Camino de Santiago, known as The Way of Saint James in English, and it takes believers to the city of Santiago de Compostela where, supposedly, the body of Saint James resides. Pilgrims would drink the local wine while passing through Rioja and end up spreading the word of its excellence. Rioja was built on a word-of-mouth reputation instead of export power.

But before Manuel Quintano came along in the 1700's, the wine was still stored underground in clay vessels. Like the vast majority of wine in the entire history of wine, it turned vinegary relatively quick and did not travel well. Much of it spoiled completely and had to be dumped. Rioja needed an upgrade.


Manuel Quintano
In northeastern Spain there is the territory of Basque Country, and within that is the province of Álava, and within that is the town of Labastida. This is also within the Riojo subregion of Rioja Alavesa. And this is where Don Manuel Esteban Quintano Quintano (yes, two Quintano's) was born on January 2nd, 1756. The family business was agriculture, and that included a heavy dose of viticulture. So Manuel was raised on vineyards and around the production of wine.

His father died when he was only two years old, leaving his mother to be a single parent to their large family. Manuel had a famous uncle, however. It was his namesake; archbishop and general inquisitor Manuel Quintano Bonifaz. As a teenager, lil' Manny lived with big Manny in Madrid for a bit while lil' Manny pursued a career with the Catholic Church, until big Manny died in late 1774. Lil' Manny stuck around Madrid for a time and then moved on, his hopes of a big-time position in the church crushed with the loss of his connection.

In 1782, at the age of twenty-six, Manuel completed his religious studies at the commune of Bayonne in France and was now a Catholic priest. He returned to his homeland of Spain to became a canon at the Cathedral of Burgos, and eventually would become the Dean in 1800.

In 1783, Manuel and his brothers had a revelation that more local wine was being produced and wasted than being bought and consumed, and something must be done about it. What about the great wine that was coming out of the French region of Bordeaux? It was excellent quality. It shipped and aged well. You can let it sit for years and it will actually get better. What the heck? That is exactly what Spain needed for itself. Like good wineos, they sprung into action in the name of wine.

Chateau Margaux
So, using Manuel's position in the church, he took a trip to Bordeaux in 1785 specifically to learn how they were producing such phenomenal fermented grape juice. He returned again to Bordeaux in 1786. In two visits he toured Chateau Haut Brion, Chateau Lafite, Chateau Latour, and Chateau Margaux. The icons of the Medoc, among others. He learned about destemming, soft pressing, cleaning of fermentation vats, proper sulfuring, aging in 225 liter barriques, transfer and clarification methods, etc.

When he returned, himself and his brothers started using those techniques in their vineyards and the wines they made in their hometown of Labastida, most importantly and most obviously the oak aging. Manuel even wrote a book about those techniques titled "El método de hacer vino en Burdeos" ("The Method of making wine in Bordeaux"). He tweaked a few things here and there for his own wines, seeing what worked best with the climate and grapes of Rioja.

His first vintage in the new style was small and flawed. His second vintage was sold in Madrid, Bilbao, Vitoria, and a few ports in the north. He kept it up, producing wine, getting better, getting stronger. The Bascongada Society awarded him with a silver medal and published "Recipes to make Bordeaux wine" for others to follow his template. Then in 1890, with the permission of King Carlos IV, he sold ten barrels of his wine to clients in Cuba, Mexico, and Veracruz. He received positive responses, one of them saying that the wines arrived in the best condition they'd ever seen from Rioja. More business to the Americas followed.

Bodegas y Viñedos Labastida Rioja Manuel Quintano Reserva 2001

Only a small group in Rioja followed Manuel's lead with these Bordeaux techniques, which they called the "Quintano Method". Most of his neighbors and colleagues frowned upon it and some, triggered by the breaking of traditions passed down through generations, fought it by trying to prevent him from continuing. They succeeded temporarily in 1801 by pushing and successfully passing an ordinance for a wine lottery system that leveled out the prices of all of the wines in the region. With the Bordeaux style wines having a higher cost to produce, it became impossible without pissing your money away into bankruptcy.

But that would not be his undoing. Manuel went to the mat for his wines, and in 1803 he won the day through the Royal Council. Because of the higher cost and superior quality, the Bordeaux style wines of Rioja were exempt from the draw. His undoing would come three years later in 1806. The same people were relentless this whole time, and they succeeded in reinstating the 1801 ordinance. The final nail in the coffin was when that French guy they call Napoleon invaded Spain in 1808. That was it. It was over. After that, French style Spanish wine was forgotten... for now.

As for Manuel, the rest of his life wouldn't be easy. He was the dude pushing French style wines, remember? And the French were the bad guys. Of course he was despised in his own community. He was even forced out of his Dean position at Burgos in 1815, and moved to the Álava town of Llodio.

Manuel Quintano died on June 16th of 1818 at the age of sixty-two, a man ahead of his time.


Luciano de Murrieta
Four years after the passing of Manuel Quintano, Luciano Murrieta y García-Ortiz de Lemoine was born on September 1st of 1822 in Arequipa, Peru. Luciano's father was from the Spanish territory of Basque Country and deeply involved in the financial market and banking industry of London, while his mother was from Bolivia. The family lived in Peru when Luciano was born because it was a big part of shipping goods and supplies in the marine commerce industry, and a big investment for daddy's business.

The Peruvian War of Independence had been going on for years, but the Peruvians won two huge battles against the Spanish in 1824 that all but guaranteed victory. So that year, when Luciano was two or three years old, the family high-tailed it out of there and moved to London.

As a young man Luciano joined the Spanish military, where he would become a colonel of the cavalry. The First Carlist War, a civil war between Spaniards loyal to Isabella II and Carlists loyal to Carlos María Isidro de Borbón, had already begun in 1833 and would end in 1840. It was in that last year of the war that Luciano met and became the personal assistant to General Baldomero Espartero, the Duque de Vitoria, and they created a friendship that would change both of their paths and last a lifetime.

Friendship. Best buds don't let best buds get exiled alone. Yep, Espartero was exiled to London in 1843 and he took Luciano with him. Espartero had become a temporary regent in 1841, waiting for Isabella II to be old enough to be queen, after the previous regent was exiled for conspiracy. Well, he was rather heavy handed and eventually a rebellion against him marched on Madrid, declared Isabella II of age, and gave Espartero an ultimatum. He chose the one that didn't involve dying or going to prison. Off to London it was!

General Baldomero Espartero
It was during this time in exile that Luciano grew an appreciation for the wines of Bordeaux, France and Jerez, Spain. With Espartero being a native of Rioja and owning vineyards there, Luciano noted that the wines of Rioja weren't quite as prestigious as these other prestigious wines. When he and Espartero were reinstated by Isabella II in 1848, Luciano followed Espartero to Logroño. Where is Logroño? You guessed it! RIOJA! After a quick visit to this place where he decided he would be making wine, Luciano went to Bordeaux to learn how to make it the way they do there.

Learning all the same practices that Manuel Quintano took away from his visits to Bordeaux, Luciano returned to Rioja ready to make French style Spanish wine using the traditional varietals of Rioja. In 1842, he purchased hundreds of small 72 liter oak barrels to age his wine and ship to buyers. Clients in Cuba and Mexico were very pleased. He upped his game by aging his wine longer, as much as four years, and started using American oak instead of French.

Rather than being shunned and considered a threat to tradition like his predecessor, Luciano's wines were praised and admired. They inspired others to follow. Granted this had something to do with the powdery mildew plaguing the French vineyards at the time, making the new French style wines of Rioja in demand for export. And Luciano never stopped trying to make it better. He went to Paris for two months in 1871 "to study whatever is related to the advances of agriculture". Skipping ahead of the timeline for a just a second, he spent four months between England and Germany in 1880 "to be able to study the definitive cultivation of the most valuable plant called hops". It appears that Luciano had some interest in beer as well!

In 1872 he was made a Marquis by King Amadeo of Savoy because of his invaluable part in raising the quality and prestige of Rioja wines. Just so you know, because I had no freakin' clue either, a Marquis is a nobleman that ranks higher than a count but lower than a duke. And so, Luciano de Murrieta was the very first Marquis de Murrieta. There have been five in the line since him. Luciano was never married and never had children, so his heir was the son of his cousin. Today it's a woman who holds the title; Cristina Serra y de Olivares.

Marquis de Murrieta became the name of his first bodega and the first commercial bodega in Riojo, using Espartero's cellars. They claim their founding year is 1852, ten years after Luciano purchased those first barrels. In 1872, the same year he became a Marquis, he bought Castillo Ygay. He not only cultivated vines here but also grains and oil. These bodegas made the premier wines of Rioja, leading the way to Bordeauxing Rioja forever, and they are still considered among the very best producers of the region.

Espartero spent the rest of his days quietly on his property in Logroño, recognized as a liberal hero to the poor and downtrodden, until he passed in 1879. Luciano had always officially lived in Madrid since returning to Spain from exile in 1848, frequently traveling to Logroño to tend to his vineyards and bodegas, as well as traveling all over the world, until he retired and moved to Logroño full time in 1891.

Luciano de Murrieta died on November 22nd of 1911 at the age of eighty-nine, leaving a legacy of inspiring Rioja to be what it is today. But what is Rioja today? I'm afraid you'll have to explore further, past the origins of these inspiring pioneers.

- Joey Casco, CSW/CSS

English Wikipedia
Spanish Wikipedia
The Wine Bible
The Top 10 Untold Stories of Rioja Wine
Manuel Quintano, un riojano que quiso adelantarse a su tiempo
Gotas de Historia: Manuel Quintano
Historia Vino Manuel Quintano
La aventura empresarial de Luciano Murrieta, Marqués de Murrieta
BermeMar - Luciano Murrieta García Biography
BermeMar - Don Luciano, Marquis of Murrieta
Marqués de Murrieta. Back to its glory days
Valvenera - Luciano Murrieta García-Lemoine
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