Ramón Bilbao


Story and photos by Babbie De Derian

Ramon Bilbao Wines in Bowl

The Ramón Bilbao Journey …
Looking at Rioja with Terroir Eyes

Ramón Bilbao has traveled far since its founding in 1924. Originally known for the production of liquors, after it was sold to the Zamora family in 1999, it made an ambitious move into the world of Rioja wines under the terroir trained eyes of winemaker Rodolfo Bastida.

Ramón Bilbao owns 180 hectares of vineyards in Haro, Spain, the most traditional rioja making area… and sources from another 200.  Much has changed since Rodolfo Bastida’s first vintage, 18 years ago. The company has widened their portfolio, moving outside the classic rioja category to define  the Ramón Bilbao label with a new modern  twist,  and in doing so has become  the fastest growing Rioja winery on the Spanish market…   widely considered one of the country’s most innovative  producers.

Ramon Bilbao Group Tasting

On a rainy April in New York, I take the subway to Soho to meet winemaker Rodolfo Bastida who has just arrived from Spain. Once inside, what looked like a non-descript building, the elevator whisked me to a spacious eclectic loft that was the perfect backdrop for Rodolfo’s fascinating and informative presentation. 

Waiters passed delectable Spanish tapas and poured a most unusual sparkling white wine (I would have loved it paired with oysters to round out the flavors). Rodolfo’s  passion and knowledge flowed as we tasted a unique variety of 100% Tempranillo that included:  Casa Reserve 1999, Casa Reserva 2010,  Mirto 1999 (beginning), Mirto 2004 (the perfect one), and a Mirto 2009 (the finest one).

I learn that when the minto bush produces red ripe and sweet fruit, it is an indication that it will be a good harvest.

Some of the fresh and elegant wines we tasted were new to the market; others still in the testing stages. There is a difference in fruits depending on the country, and Rodolfo believes in allowing the fruit to speak for itself.

A short video takes us on a tour of a Ramón Bilbao winery where a high-tech ˝ million dollar Optical Classification Machine is taking pictures of the grapes, sorting and separating the good from the bad.

Ramon Bilbao Rodolfo Bastida

Rodofo, an elegant charismatic man, takes great pride in his family’s long history of making exceptional wines (even his wife is a wine maker). He tells me: “we raise grapes in 180 different places with unique characteristics and altitudes; the style of our wines comes from the soil, and we are proud to be farming our own land. The terroir is our future; we are investing in it, and developing new vineyards; a new factory is in construction, and we are looking for new innovative systems.  Times have changed; there’s more complexity, and we pick our grapes 20 days before my grandfather picked his. It is important to produce intense wines with more body and volume. We keep an inventory of 5,000 bottles for future comparisons”.

In 2015, Bodegas Ramón Bilbao embarked on the next stage of its Rioja journey with the purchase of what winemaker Rodolfo, calls a “dream parcel of vines”, located high in the Yerga Mountains in Rioja Baja. “Over the next five years, we will explore the plot in more detail and perform micro-vinification experiments so we get to know the terroir and vines intimately. This is a truly unique spot, and it will enable us to produce more wines with the personality and expression that we are looking for”.

Rodolfo compares winemaking to painting. “You can use a big brush and a big pot of one color to obtain something that’s pretty bland and uninteresting, or you can use a small brush with lots of small pots of different colors to give character and complexity”.

Ramon Bilbao three Bottles in Presentation Box

Rodolfo Bastida has been pushing boundaries as far back as he can remember, and I have no doubt, that he will continue to pursue his passionate love affair with his beloved terroir, vines and wines. 

To quote Lao Tso ”the longest journey starts with a single step”. Ramón Bilbao is far along the path, having mastered the art of making small and giant steps since its inception.

Lunch, an amazing spread of Spanish specialties, is laid out on a huge stone dining table; I pile my plate; my glass is filled… and refilled.

Muchas gracias Rodolfo for elevating my appreciation of Rioja




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