Ostatu: A Basque beauty
BARCELONA, July 21 — There’s something brewing in the Basque Country. The Rioja Alavesa area to be precise. And it has a bright young star called Xabier, the six-year-old son of Mariasun Sáenz de Samaniego of Bodegas Ostatu.
He loves the grape harvest during the months of September and October during which, on the weekends, he heads to the vineyards like the rest of his family and employees, to pick succulent grapes, warmed by the kiss of the benevolent sun. It’s a beloved ritual, a passion that courses through the veins of those who believe in making wines with soul.
Ostatu is a family-run winery which has seen its share of fame. Modest, as well as flamboyant. Years ago, while watching the American romantic comedy Hitch starring Will Smith as a professional “date doctor” who teaches men how to woo women, Mariasun was pleasantly surprised to find Smith invited his onscreen date to a bottle of Ostatu Crianza. That big-screen surprise, and its subsequent consequence, was a beautiful and unforgettable anecdote for the whole family.
Their wines have been featured in fine restaurants and bars mentioned in the Conde Nast Traveller article San Sebastian, food capital of Europe and in similar places. “Try San Sebastián, a Basque beauty with stunning coastline and serious culinary cred: It just happens to have more Michelin stars — 16 and counting — per capita than any other city.” — Christian L. Wright says.
Mariasun explains that there are some places in which their wines are featured, especially in legendary restaurants like Arzak, Akellarre, Mugaritz and also in some pintxos (Basque tapas) bar like Casa Gandarias and more that are not mentioned in the Conde Nast Traveller article.
We recently enjoyed a bottle of the Ostatu Selección 2007 with the in-laws for Sunday lunch. It’s very similar to a Reserva for the international market. And truth be told, although I don’t usually drink, my in-laws do.
Dad-in-law, in his early 80s, has his daily glass or two of wine, is in robust health and plays tennis almost daily. Like many Spaniards, he has grown up with a love and deep respect for good wine. And he loved the Ostatu Selección 2007. We all did.
Mariasun tells me the fundamental and differentiating characteristic of Ostatu wines is a viticulture continuously oriented towards improving the quality of the grapes, in order to achieve in each harvest the best potential of the lands as well as the natural essence of the wines.
As such, there is a continuous rethinking of the wine-growing practices of the vineyard, with a commitment to sustainable agriculture and respect for the environment in all aspects of the wine-making process.
The vineyard is precious, blessed by wonderful climes. And the grapes are happy. The result is very distinctive wines. This is the flowering season, and Spain has high hopes for similar growth in a million hectares under cultivation.
Mariasun adds, “The main focus of our activity is based on viticulture, as ‘wines are not made in the cellar, but in the vineyard.’ Our family owns 34 hectares of vineyards in the medium-high zone of the Rioja Alavesa of which 60 per cent correspond to vineyards of more than 50 years old.
“Our work in the vineyards is totally manual. We use manual thinning and green pruning, for example, to ensure that the right amount of fruit is grown on each tree, making each piece bigger and firmer without detracting from structure or balance. We also practise leaf pulling [which allows for good sun exposure of grape clusters], and of course, harvest by hand.
“The objective of improving the quality and health of the grapes, the terrain of the vineyards, its limited dimensions and advanced age of the vines, require that the use of machinery is limited exclusively to the tillage of the land and its treatments. These land treatments are very respectful with the soil and the environment of our vineyards, avoiding the use of systemic treatments and herbicides which may affect the plants and earth.
“The work in the cellar is based on the use of new technologies with modern facilities but always following our main philosophy: ‘respect for the fruit’. Fundamental is the period of ageing of our wines and so we use exclusively prestigious French oak barrels, after which the wine is bottled to complete their necessary process of maturation until they are ready for consumption.”
The north of Spain, the Basque Country (Euskadi), Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia, account for Ostatu’s principal market, totalling 60 per cent of sales. The remaining 40 per cent, by order of importance, would be the United States, China, Europe, Mexico, Thailand, Singapore and Brazil.
Special mention goes to South-East Asia where Ostatu has begun to introduce its wines. With keen youngsters like Xabier guided by expert hands and a loving family, the future is bright.
Bodegas Ostatu conducts wine tours. Details are as follows:
Monday – Sunday including public holidays.
Please note that you must book in advance for all visits.
6 € per person. This includes the winery tour and a tasting of two wines.
Length of the visit
Approximately 60 minutes.
Spanish, English and Basque.
* Sue is a Malaysian writer based in Barcelona, Spain. She can be reached at [email protected]