Vega Sicilia

Vega Sicilia is an estate that has been built up in stages and under different names by different families into the company it is today. Its history tells the story of many people. Among them that of Eloy Lecanda y Chaves, who inherits the estate and decides to make wine there too. The reason is simple: the man is a winemaker by birth. Until the 20th century, the estate was called Bodegas Lecanda.

History: the populartity of the property
Eloy's father, Toribio Lecanda y del Campo, buys the land in 1848 after a period of massive land expropriation by the Catholic Church in Spain and the loss of financial resources of the noble families in the region.The plot he buys, along with the plot of wine estate Dehesa de los Canonigos that his brother inherits, is released from the estate of Juan de Dios Álvarez Mendizábal. Juan played a major role in turbulent Spanish politics at the time, but was forced to flee to France in 1843, never to return, and his estates were confiscated.

Eloy had vines shipped from France in 1864. They included several grape varieties: Malbec, Carmenère, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Very successful is the planting of Tempranillo. Tempranillo likes altitude and warmth, adapting perfectly with the estate's location warm location and vineyards at an altitude of 700 metres.

This makes growing wine in the Duero sound very easy, but the short growing season, big differences between day and night and high risk of night frosts are all challenges for a good harvest. They are factors that mean not all plantings of the time, were optimal. Nowadays, more and more attention is being paid to this and some planted varieties are being replaced by others.
After a period of financial difficulties, the estate comes into the hands of the Herrero family who do not make wine themselves. The family finds a tenant in Cosme Palacio, a winemaker from Rioja. He does not make the wine himself either: the Rioja and Duero are some 200 kilometres apart and the tenant appoints a winemaker who manages the vineyard on his behalf and makes wine according to his instructions.

Cosme sells his Rioja as a priority and the wine from the Duero subsequently. Both the Duero and Rioja share a history of hundreds of years of winemaking, but the Rioja had a considerably bigger market at the time. As a result, most of the region's grapes disappear to be blended with Rioja. Wine from the Duero is only bottled after sale and is in barrel for a long time.    

Winemaker, Dominga Garramiola (1878-1933), with knowledge of making Bordeaux, shows considerable craftsmanship. When the lease expires, the winemaker is asked to stay and is allowed to make his wine as he pleases and bottle it under his own name. And so in 1915, according to tradition, the first Unicas and Valbuena appear even though there are indications that older vintages exist.

In Austria (1873) and the USA (1876), the estate participates in world exhibitions. The awards are for brandy for which the domain was court supplier.

The breakthrough for the wine came at the World Fair in Spain, held in Barcelona in 1929, after which many more awards would follow. The Herrero family uses the wine as a business gift. This gives the wine the status of a virtual wine: a wine that is hardly available on the market, if at all, resulting in high prices.

Garramiola's successor is Martiniano Renedo, his right-hand man. When the estate changed hands in 1952, Jesús Anadón became director in 1956. He is committed to achieving DO (Denominación de Origen) status for Ribera del Duero. This succeeds in 1982 and is a tremendous recognition of the region's wines.

Renedo remained Vega Sicilia's winemaker until 1968 to be succeeded by Mariano García. When, in 1982, the estate passed into the hands of the Alvarez family as an investment, with the ambition to continue making top wines, Anadón and García provide wine continuity, and followed later by Xavier Ausàs and García.

If you do it, do it right
Perhaps less well known is that, despite making top wines, the estate had fallen into decline before its takeover in 1982.The number of vineyards had dwindled from 300 in 1864 to 80 hectares in 1982. For some time, the family had to buy additional grapes to reach the desired production volume.

With the arrival of the Alvarez family, led by Pablo Álvarez Mezquiriz, the company professionalised and became more sustainable. Every step in the process of making wine is looked at. Thus, chemicals disappear from the vineyard, the estate plants its own cork and oak trees and partly provides its own wooden barrels. The domain does not yet have its own corks: it takes decades for a cork tree to produce a good quality cork. The new plantings come from a culture to its own instruction.

Unico and Valbuena
To make the Unico, the Alvarez family uses vines aged 60 - 65 years. Unico consists mainly of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, among others. For Valbuena, the estate uses younger vines. Valbuena 5 also contains Merlot, in addition to the grape varieties used in Unico. The "5" in Valbuena's name is an indication of the number of years of ageing. Until 1998, there was also a Valbuena 3.

Unico is by far the company's flagship wine and is widely regarded as Spain's greatest. 

As the winemakers themselves write about Unico:

"After its fermentation, its goes through what is probably the world's longest ageing of a red wine, almost 10 years between wood and bottle. The different stages take place in different types of barrel: American and French wood, new and used 225-litre barrels, 20,000-litre vats, each batch is what determines the type of wood and the time spent in each container. normally spend 6 years in wood and 4 in the bottle."

At auction
The auction features wines from Vega Sicilia in lots 4205 -4234: Valbuena 3, Valbuena 5, Pintia, Alion and Unico. And in lot 4272 the Rioja Macan, a co-production of Benjamin de Rothschild and Vega Sicilia.

Very exclusive is the Unico Reserva Especial '03 04 06', a Unico blend, with a 2017 release

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