Grower stories

Behind the scenes in Rioja

The story behind the cover of January 1874 magazine – celebrating our 150th year with a wine made specially for the occasion by a producer changing the face of Rioja.

Behind the scenes in Rioja
An early start to catch the morning light

Each edition of 1874 magazine in our anniversary year will feature a special range of wines put together by our buyers in collaboration with our winemakers to pay homage to a 50-year period in our past. We launch the Generation Series of wines with a collection created to reflect the wines and styles that were prevalent in the early days of The Wine Society, from 1874 to 1924.

Every bottle tells our story

We decided to choose one producer from the range to represent that era and feature them on the cover of our 1874 magazine. For January, we chose Hacienda López de Haro, a relatively new supplier for us, in Rioja. The company was only set up in 2003, but the families of manager Richi Arambarri and winemaker Raul Acha have been growing grapes in the region for generations. Their roots here are well established but they represent an exciting new chapter for this traditional fine wine region. They are also the people behind The Society’s White Rioja, a wine which, from a standing start, has become a firm favourite with members.

Gen series Rioja
The Generation Series: Rioja

Buyer for Spain and Director of Wine Pierre Mansour’s pitch for this feature on the cover of our magazine was a compelling one: ‘I was so impressed with how the team at López de Haro responded to the challenge I set them. I asked them to come up with a wine which would reflect the period 1874-1924 in Rioja. They went away and did lots of research into what red Rioja was like at that time. What they came back with was fascinating and was a revelation to them too.’ 

Turning the tables back, and forward, on Rioja 

Raul and Richi discovered that rather than tempranillo, usually the leading grape in red Rioja, it was garnacha which tended to dominate blends at that time. Fortuitously, they have lots of old bush-vine garnacha in their collection of vineyards, so had the perfect blending material to play with. They also discovered that the ageing criteria, so firmly associated with Rioja, with terms like ‘crianza’ and ‘reserva’, wasn’t yet in place. Bottles were simply marked with the number of years’ ageing that the wine had undergone. So our Generation Series wine, from the 2020 vintage, is labelled 'terce año', meaning 'third year', having had several years’ ageing before bottling in 2023. 

Play Video
Pierre Mansour talks to winemaker Raul Acha about the development of our special Generation Series red Rioja

Several prototype blends were put together for Pierre to sample, and he was thrilled with the results. Winemaker Raul Acha has extensive experience of blending wines from across the region and had selected some excellent parcels with which to make our special blend. While retaining Rioja’s distinctive character, the wines showed brilliant up-front fresh fruit, in a bright, lively style - just the type of wines Pierre has been championing as the reds of the future. 

Experimental vats in the cellars at Hacienda López de Haro where they’re serious about winemaking but have fun with wine marketing
Experimental vats in the cellars at Hacienda López de Haro where they’re serious about winemaking but have fun with wine marketing

Needless to say, we were delighted with the final blend bottled especially for members for release in our 150th year. We love how it references the past but has an eye on the future too – just what the team at Hacienda López de Haro are all about and why they were chosen as our cover story.

As Pierre told us, ‘What I like about these guys is that they are serious about wine but know how to have fun with it too – they are really transforming the way Rioja is marketed with the youthful energy they bring to their marketing.’ 

Waiting for the sun to come up in San Vicente de la Sonsierra
Waiting for the sun to come up in San Vicente de la Sonsierra

Capturing the joy of wine – a dynamic photographer for a dynamic wine! 

Nowhere is the brio of the winery’s marketing wizardry more visible than on the company website. The fun they had photographing the team positively leaps out of the screen. So, when we came up with the idea of a cover shot of Pierre with Raul and Richi in the vineyard for our anniversary feature, we asked whether we could commission the same photographer.

We’d assumed (not quite correctly as it turns out) that the photographer was local. But Gilbert Bages is a Catalonian now living in Bordeaux. He too is from a wine family – his parents grow grapes for Cava. A trained oenologist himself, Gil had worked with Raul some years ago and they remained good friends. When Gil decided the role of winemaker was not for him, he retrained in design and photography, expressing his love for the product in a new and different way. 

One of his first commissions was for his friends Raul and Richi at López de Haro and proved a great springboard for his new career. His business (like some of his photos) took off explosively, based purely on posts on social media which you can find on Instagram where he posts as @drinkinmoderation. Now with thousands of followers worldwide, he has picked up work at many A-list wineries in both hemispheres, with his favourite place to film being in the Cape winelands, ‘because of the amazing light’.

Playing with wine

His dynamic style is not only playful, it attempts to puncture some of the pomposity that can surround wine. He says he finds getting out in the vines and ‘playing with wine’ cathartic and a way of reconnecting to his roots but now on his own terms. While he is not tempted to go back to the family business right now, he admits that photographing wine has reignited his love for the product. 

That’s a wrap! A full day’s filming done – Gilbert Bages with Senior Editor Jo Goodman and Campaign Manager Vicki Markham
That’s a wrap! A full day’s filming done – Gilbert Bages with Senior Editor Jo Goodman and Campaign Manager Vicki Markham

And because of his background Gil has an appreciation for everything that goes into making wine, not just the amount of hard work involved! His connection with Raul and Richi meant that he was able to bring out the best in his subjects too. But as well as having fun, he too puts his heart and soul into his work as we witnessed, going above and beyond to capture everything we asked him to. 

Gil’s background in graphic design also paid dividends as he understood perfectly the technical aspects of the commission. During the day together we chatted about lots of different subjects and exchanged thoughts on the future and challenges for the creative world. His attitude to AI, for example, was really inspiring. Rather than fearing it, Gil is excited about the possibilities it offers and is already playing with it. 

¡Salud! to the future of wine

We look forward to further collaborations with the team at López de Haro and charting Gilbert Bages’ meteoric rise as a specialist wine photographer. Here’s to the future of wine and building on the foundation stones of the rich past we have inherited!

>Discover our Generation Series wines 

>Read more about our 150th anniversary year

Joanna Goodman

Senior Editor

Joanna Goodman

Part of our Marketing Team for over 30 years, Jo has been editor of Society News for much of that time as well as contributing to our many other communications.

The Generation Series

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