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Wineries to Watch: Vivanco Wines

For most, wine is a delicious drink. But for Rioja’s rapidly rising Vivanco Wines, it’s much more. Vivanco’s philosophy is that wine is a culture, art, and way of life — and they’ve made it their mission to share this with the world. In this spotlight, we’ll not only review Vivanco’s newest vintages, but also reveal an exclusive look at the story behind the wines.

We sat down with owners Rafael and Santiago Vivanco to understand how they’re working to change the way we view wine, and how this passion for wine culture was born. Together, the brothers have built not only a collection of Wine Spectator-rated wines, but also an entire Museum of Wine Culture, in Rioja, Spain. In an age of increased winery consolidation, their independence and strong family operations are a refreshing inspiration.

Vivanco was born in Rioja over a century ago, long before the world knew it as a wine region. “Our family’s relationship with wine began in 1915, when our great-grandfather cultivated a small vineyard,” says Santiago. “This was the beginning of four generations of dedication and effort for winemaking.”

The next generation saw the family running a small wine shop in Logroño. Says Rafael, “My father started delivering wine by bicycle at the age of 12, helping our grandparents with the business. He fell in love with wine, and went to study enology in Requena, Valencia. After graduating top of his class, he returned to Rioja to create a brand of wine that would bear the family name.”

Pedro Vivanco Paracuellos’ vision for wine extended far beyond a business. It was a desire to “give back to wine what wine has given to us.” As Santiago puts it, “my father wanted everyone to understand wine in all its facets, from the most humanist to the most artistic.” By 2004, after his sons Rafael and Santiago had been drawn into this vision, Vivanco Wines was born.

Photo courtesy of Vivanco Wines

With Rafael Vivanco at the helm as head winemaker, Vivanco is now an example to the world of the diverse varietals and terroirs in Rioja.

  • Only the top 20-30% of Vivanco vineyards are harvested for wine. “The parcels that we select each year are different,” says Rafael. “Our priority is always quality.” The team works hard to understand the terroir, and how it impacts the characteristics of the native varietals grown.
  • Vivanco is sustainably farmed. “We don’t use herbicides, and we use pheromones to battle again some insect plagues,” says Rafael. “Nearly all of our vineyards are dry farmed.” The team also has 25 hectares certified as ecological, and is working to expand that quantity.
  • Vivanco is sustainably produced. “Our winery tries to look to the past to take on the future,” says Rafael. The production process employs a mix of modern and centuries-old techniques that are environmentally-friendly. Harvest and selection is all done traditionally, by hand. Conversely, the winemaking is a modern, gravity-led process that eliminates the need for pumps, conveyors, and excessive machinery. It is a lower-intervention approach that costs more, but lets the true nature of the grapes express themselves. The Colección Vivanco tier also is entirely unfiltered.

We tried three of the newest vintages of Vivanco: the 2013 Crianza, the 2016 Tempranillo Garnacha, and the 2016 Tempranillo Blanco. All were excellent expressions of the Rioja terroir as manifested through different varietals.

2013 Crianza ($16)
This is Tempranillo is filled with juicy red berry, tempered by wisps of black tea, vanilla, and spice. As a crianza, this tempranillo was only aged in oak for 16 months, so the tannins are lighter than what they would be in a Reserva or Gran Reserva. While it will age well over the next 5-10 years, it will also make an excellent companion to meatballs with spicy tomato sauce, or chorizo sautéed in red wine. It’s no wonder this wine received 89 points from Wine Spectator.

2016 Rioja Blanco ($13)
This refreshing, crisp white is a blend of 50% Viura, 35% Tempranillo Blanco, and 15% Maturana Blanca. The bouquet is redolent of citrus and blossoms, with peach aromas likely coming from the Tempranillo Blanco. The fresh acidity of this white begs for shrimp ceviche or fresh octopus seasoned with spicy paprika.

2016 Tempranillo Garnacha
The tartness of this pink and violet hued rosé make it a perfect companion for a fresh tomato salad or slices of manchego. Lovely strawberry, raspberry, and floral aromas with the Tempranillo lending a body that is fuller and a bit smoother than your typical light, crisp, Provence rosé.

“For me there has always been more to wine than the taste and the terroirs,” says Santiago. “Our goal is to pass on the knowledge and the culture of wine to as many as possible, and most importantly the next generation. Vivanco’s Culture of Wine Museum was designed to educate, teach, spread and interact with wine as a civilising element.”

Even the wines are an opportunity to spread this knowledge. “All our red wine labels show works of art that can be seen in our museum in Briones,” says Santiago. For example, the Vivanco Crianza label shows a Joan Miró original, Le Troubadour, and the Colección Vivanco 4 Varietales shows the sculpture of a bacchante. “Each artwork is not chosen at random. It reflects the most unique characteristics of the wine,” says Santiago. “Vivanco is wine culture, and the philosophy of our brand is to share it.”

It’s only fitting that Santiago turns to one facet of wine culture, poetry, to express his vision. Drawing from Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda’s Oda al Vino (Ode to Wine), he quotes: “‘Wine, spiralling, swirling (…) never has a glass been able to hold you, nor man.’ Wine is always more. That is why I have devoted and will devote my whole life to tell it and pass it on.”

We have no doubt that this is just the beginning for Vivanco, and they’ll be making waves in the wine world for years to come. Learn more at


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