Bodega Arzabro Txakolina is a small family-run winery hidden away in the small town Delika in Álava, Basque Country. Several centuries ago the area was covered in vines, but when the phylloxera struck in the late 19th century most of the vineyards were uprooted and made into grazing pastures for farm animals. It was only a century later that the population started opening their eyes to wine production again, and it was thanks to the work of only five enthusiasts that the denominación de origen Txakoli de Álava was created in 1989, at a time when there was only 5 hectares under txakoli cultivation.
Bodega Arzabros story starts at a much later point in time. When Maria Ángeles Villates father died she had the idea of turning part of his land back into vineyards. The first 4 1/2 hectares were planted with Hondarrabi Zuri in 2000 with the help of her sister-in-law – an oenologist working mainly out of Rioja. The first years the grapes were sold on to other wineries, but in 2009 they decided to bottle their production themselves. In 2003-2004 another plot was planted with tzpiriotza txikia (better known as petit manseng). This vineyard has a higher elevation than the first, which necessitates manual harvest.
The production method is simple. Outside of the winery (which is a rebuilt stable on the ground floor of the family home) pneumatic pressing is followed by temperature-controlled fermentation at 16-18 degrees in steel tanks with cultivated yeast. The wines are then left to rest for two months without any racking or pump-over, and are then fined with bentonite and chilled to get rid of any sediments. When asked about yeast Maria Angeles explained that the grapes have natural yeast, but that it’s very weak and can’t overcome the other yeast strains in and around the winery.
The production averages around 35000-40000 bottles a year. The biggest problems for Bodega Arzabro are oidium and frost. In the oldest vineyard, which lies adjacent to the beginning of the Nervión river which runs down to and through Bilbao, the plants are regularly sprayed with water to combat the frost. The coming month is going to be very precarious, with the vines starting to bud but the temperatures still low…
These past few years the summers have become warmer ( day time temperature rising from 25-26 degrees to 30 degrees). But not only that – the winters have gotten so warm that snow is now an exotic occurrence and insects survive from one season to the next.
We started with trying the entry level wine 2015 Harria (Harria meaning stone). The wine is light yellow in the glass with a green hue and aromas of nashi pear and green melon. A bit fizzy with lovely fresh acidity, medium length and a tart finish. It’s simple but revitalizing and exactly what most people look for in a txakoli.
2014 Ametza (named after the oak trees that can be found around Delika) is the richer, bolder cuvée that also contains a bit of petit manseng. It’s denser, with a short to medium length and aromas of nettles and yellow plums. A good wine, but the charm of the Harria.
In the future Maria Angela wants to plant more vines and work with a bigger focus on organic farming. But in a landscape like Álava with it’s cool but rich climate every step is a strenuous and risk-filled investment, and even small changes will take time.
Time and investment it seems that the new generation of Txakoli di Álava are willing and happy to make.