Tech Informed By Tradition In Ribera del Duero

How the 3rd generation of Bodegas Emilio Moro uses digital information to monitor its vineyards and "listen" to its terroir.
It's all in the clone: Emilio Moro's tinto fino, courtesy of the vineyard

It’s all in the clone: Emilio Moro’s tinto fino, courtesy of the vineyard

Emilio Moro winery rests along the Ribera del Duero (Duero River) region’s “golden mile” the 15 kilometers or so of the Pesquera de Duero subregion along the river that rejoices in the area’s most beneficial growing conditions. At one of the highest altitudes in Spain (at 750 – 1000 m above sea level), wine grapes, particularly the star of the region, tinto fino (tempranillo) are happy here – with optimal measures of wet to dry and warm to cool rewarding farmers and winemakers with wines exhibiting balanced fruit, tannins and acidity. It is also here that winemakers strive for another kind of balance – that of tradition vs. technology. Moving into the 21st century, Bodegas Emilio Moro is constantly working to achieve that balance.

The winery was founded in the 1930s by Emilio Moro Sr. and passed on to his son Emilio Moro, Jr. The 3rd generation of the family led by José Moro along with siblings Rubi, Javier and Fabiola have made it their passion to update the winery, being mindful of its past but using the most up to date modern technology to work with the conditions surrounding the environment. No artificial irrigation or chemical pesticides are used on the grapes. Wines are fermented in digitally programmed vats using the pump over method for optimal use of naturally occurring CO2.

Helicopter parenting?

courtesy Emilio Moro

courtesy Emilio Moro

However, one of the most important innovations comes in the form of a state-of-the-art viticultural app, which works as a geo-localization tool of its plots and the plots of other viticulturists they work with. It provides real time updates on vineyard productivity, current weather conditions and logs field notebooks about the work being done in each vineyard. Using satellite drone technology, it can provide an overview of the vineyards to assess which areas are growing the most prosperously and which ones might need more human nurturing. This cuts down on unnecessary trips to areas which are thriving and addresses the more immediate concerns to the ones that need more love. Bonus: if traveling, José Moro can review the app from wherever he happens to be and get in touch with the vineyard if he notices something needs attention.

José Moro, courtesy Emilio Moro

José Moro, courtesy Emilio Moro

One of the other ways Emilio Moro has advanced into modern day is to eschew the traditional Spanish wine age designations crianza, riserva and gran riserva. Instead, the various labels within the winery represent different styles and maturation levels from its various vineyards (there is also a separate sister winery in a cooler climate location known as Cepa 21):

  • Finca Resala – These are the most youthful and vibrant wines from the youngest vineyards.
  • Emilio Moro – named for the founder, representing wines blended from grapes grown in three regional soil types (chalk, clay and stone) from vineyards that are 15 to 25 years old. The Clon de Familia expression under this label is their top level wine with the most limited production, with only 1,000 bottles produced.
  • Malleolus – the label founded by José Moro that marks the “turning point” of innovation in the 3rd generation of the winery, from vines up to 25 years old. Some wines under this label are subdivided with specific vineyard designations that incorporate grapes from even older vines.

The pride of Emilio Moro is its own distinctive clone of tinto fino, with larger grapes than the typical tempranillo varietal, and their proprietary yeast strain. Tasting through these some of these wines, one can truly taste how the grape expresses itself through the individual soil types, the age of the vines and location of the vineyards. The wines are matured in a combination of American and French oak.

photo by Amanda Schuster

photo by Amanda Schuster

Some to try

Finca Resalsa 2016: Spending 4 months in French oak, the wine manages to taste fresh and jammy without the underripe greenness that can characterize such a youthful expression. For around $12, this is a good value for casual sipping.

Emilio Moro 2015: At a recent lunch at Balvanera restaurant where this wine was tasted, José Moro declared this the “best ever” vintage of recent memory for growing tinto fino. Attractive white and purple flower scents rose from the glass with rich vanilla and dark fruits on the palate. It could benefit with a year or two in bottle to mellow it out even further, but the wine still manages to stick the finish with a good balance of fruit and tannins.

Malleolus Tinto Fino 2014: This modern wine pays homage to its roots with a 1972 image of Emilio Moro n its label. It has a dusty, earthy nose with funky bass line flavors of black olive, dark chocolate, dark berries and roasted nuts.

Malleolus Tinto Fino 2011: This full, dark, meaty wine is ready to rock! Lilac aromatics tickle the nose while dark plum, cherry and prunes wash over the tongue with a touch of clove in the long finish. Though it’s 100% tinto fino, this wine is very reminiscent of a Cornas from the Rhône, which is all sun-drenched syrah.

photo by Amanda Schuster

photo by Amanda Schuster

2011 Malleolus de Valderramiro: grapes for this wine hail from the Valderramiro vineyard, which was planted in 1924. The label bears an image of its elder founder pruning grapes in 1996. Though this wine is the product of one of the winery’s oldest vineyards it, manages to taste very ripe, bright and romantic. Plush, elegant notes of red fruits, cola and baking spice accents add to its rounded complexity.

Listening to the grapes

It’s fascinating to taste how a single grape varietal can display such diverse results within a relatively small parcel of land. These wines are prime examples of what happens when winemakers allow the individual characteristics of terroir to contribute a different voice to each wine. Think you know tempranillo? Wines can always surprise us.

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