One of the most famous estates in Spain, Vega Sicilia produces one of the country’s most iconic wines, Unico. Founded in 1864 when Eloy Lacanda y Chaves planted vines he had brought from Bordeaux alongside a local variant of tempranillo called tinta del pais, the estate and its reputation for excellence predates the establishment of the Ribera del Duero D.O. in the 1980s by more than a century.
The estate has passed through a number of hands over its history but has been taken to new levels of consistency and quality since its purchase by current owners, the Alvarez family, in 1982. Three wines are made from the fruit of the estate - Vega Sicilia Unico, a tempranillo-cabernet sauvignon blend which is only produced in the best years; a rare multi-vintage Reserva Especial, and Valbuena, which is matured in American oak before release after five years. The Alvarez family also make Bodegas Alión from a nearby estate, as well as Pintia from their property in Toro to the west.
The total vineyard area of Vega Sicilia as it stands is 240 hectares distributed in 55 viticultural management plots, divided into 19 different soil types planted to five varieties. All vines are planted on hillsides some 800m above sea level and benefit from a northern exposition. The best are on chalkier soils on the middle to high slopes.
Grapes for Alión are grown on the lower, more gravelly soils. There has been a considerable investment in the fermentation facilities at Vega over the past few years. A new facility was completed in 2010. This allows for each variety from each plot to be fermented separately and has meant expanding from 23 to 81 vats, allowing much more selective vinification and more careful, precise blending. The new facility will allow Vega to make Unico even in the more difficult vintages.
All the parcels for Unico are currently fermented in 80hl Radoux oak fermenters whilst Valbuena and Alión are fermented in stainless steel. In addition to the 240 ha of vines, Vega Sicilia owns a further 760 ha dedicated to self-sufficiency in oak for barrels and corks, and work with 40 different coopers when choosing oak for elevage and use a mixture of French, American, Hungarian and Russian oak.
A by-product of this land use is better biodiversity in the environment locally. Under winemaker Javier Ausás there has also been huge geological study to identify the soil types in the vineyards with the aim of improving their understanding of the terroirs and how to best blend them as intelligently as possible.