To step back inside the López de Heredia winery is to step back in time. Founded in 1877, and little changed since, López de Heredia might not be quite the oldest winery in Rioja, but they are certainly the most tradition bound and least changed.
Their bodega in Barrio del Estacion in Haro is located close to the train station, chosen at the time chosen for practical reasons; useful for transportation of both grapes and wines, but also physically close to to the ideas of Bordeaux. The winery is a living museum - cobwebbed Miss Havisham barrel rooms, black furry mould everywhere, little old men doing the same job that their father did decades before.
You read a lot of marketing fluff about ‘family winemaking tradition’, but at López de Heredia, it’s real. Maria José López de Heredia and her winemaker sister, Mercedes, couldn’t care less about wine fashions. They've been producing wines in the style their great grandfather did, and a million miles away from the flashy, Lexus-driving modern Rioja with its weaponised primary fruit and curds of sickly new oak. Alcohol volumes tend to be relatively low, whereas acidity is notably high, and new oak is shunned at the winery, with Mercedes and Maria opting for a mix of old American oak, Bordeaux barrels, and large format for fermentation and maturation.
And yes, maturation - all their wines undergo significantly longer ageing than you commonly find in the region, both in barrel and after bottling, with the reservas having an average of 6 years in barrel, and bottle. The quest for perfection is of utmost importance, and no wine is released until it is ready. In an oh so Spanish fashion of, "mañana, mañana" no wine is ever rushed, or hurried. And the proof is in the pudding.... the wines are quite remarkable. Stylistically, it's all about how the endlessly complex secondary and tertiary notes meld with the fruit. The textures are special. These wines have that paradoxical lightness and depth, with huge cellaring potential.
Such outstanding, consistent quality has bestowed upon them the title of “Spain’s first growth." It is rightly deserved.