Rioja wine is created by maintaining traditions and, at the same time, incorporating avant-garde ideas.


Wine-making in ten steps

Each step is carried out with meticulous care.
That is the only way to achieve top quality.

Click on a point in the list to open the corresponding section.

1. Harvesting

The moment chosen for initiating the harvest, dictated by the level of grape maturity, determines wine characteristics and quality. It's not a decision taken at whim; harvesting begins when the sugar content in the grape reaches its highest point, while the acidity drops simultaneously.

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2. Grape crushing

Crushing consists of squashing or pressing the grape, being careful not to break the seeds and stems. This step takes place before barrelling. During de-stemming, the stems are separated from the grapes.

If white wine is to be made, de-stemming is not essential. The process is included in preparing red wines to prevent the wine from having excess tannin.

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3. 3. Barrelling and sulfiting

Following the crushing and de-stemming processes, the resulting paste goes to the fermentation vats. These can be made of wood, cement, steel or other materials. At any rate, the vats should be filled only up to three-fourths of their capacity, because the paste expands during fermentation.

The must is then collected for the sulfiting step. During this process, sulpher dioxide is added to the must to prevent harmful bacteria from growing.

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4. Fermentation

Alcoholic fermentation, a crucial step in wine-making, transforms grape sugar into ethyl alcohol, releasing carbon dioxide at the same time. The initial fermentation is called "spontaneous or tumultuous fermentation". It is produced with the help of the natural yeasts and ferments of the grape itself, or by means of selected artificial yeasts.

Next, the second fermentation, called "slow" or "malolactic", occurs. This is produced by bacteria that transform the malic acid of the wine into lactic acid and carbond dioxide.

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5. Devatting

Once the alcoholic fermentation has finished (or a few days earlier if we don't want a very tannic wine), the wine is devatted to separate it from the pomace. That is, the must and the solid residues from the harvest are separated, being decanted by gravity.

This unpressed wine, called free-run wine, is transferred to a cask or barrel. Here, under rigorous temperature control, the malolactic fermentation that gives the wine a softer character and a more harmonious finish takes place.

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6. Pressing

The pomace or solid pulp that is left behind following the separation of the free-run wine is pressed to extract the wine saturated in it. This pressed wine can be mixed with the free-run wine in the desired proportion. Pressed wine is rougher and sourer than unpressed wine.

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7. Transfer

The transfers carried out in a winery are of vital importance, as they free the wine from the impurities it still contains. In the first transfer after fermentation, free-run wine passes to a new container. In December, the wine is transferred again, decanting it to separate the sediments.

This process frees the wine from deposits and waste material, giving it greater stability and purity.

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8. Fining

If the wine doesn't present the desired purity level, in spite of the transfers, it must be fined and possibly filtered.

Albumin fining This process is applied to fine red wines. Because of its high albumin content, egg white is ideal for this purpose, as it sticks the rough, sour tannins together more easily than the softer tannins.

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9. Ageing and maturing

If all we want is a wine for rapid consumption, to be enjoyed within approximately a year after harvesting, we can transfer it to barrels or even to bottles after the processes described above. In fact, our wine would be ready for drinking. Only the wines having the following characteristics are submitted to the ageing processes:

  1. Minimum alcohol content of 11.5º
  2. A good fixed acidity level
  3. Relatively high tannin and colouring material content

Wines with these properties survive ageing and maturing with no deterioration in quality from the processes or oxidation or micro-organic activity. The wine slowly develops its best characteristics throughout its stay in barrels and bottels.

With this process, some of the qualities of the young wine are lost, while those defined as "bouquet" are acquired. Bouquet varies, depending on whether it ages in wood or glass.

For the most complete bouquet, the combination of both materials is ideal, given that it facilitates double ageing: In a first phase, oxidation in the oak vats or barrels; in the second, reduction in wine bottles.

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10. Bottling

Cleanliness is as vital in this step as it is during the entire process of wine-making. Achieving a good wine is possible only if strict sanitary conditions are maintained. However, other factors also play an important role, such as the colour of the wine bottles.

Various colours are used in bottles, although the most common bottles are green (either light or dark) or transparent. Bottle colour influences the finishing of the wine inside, due to the action of light, which varies with the colour of the glass. Wine in clear bottles ages more rapidly. That's why white wine (which is not stored for a long time) is usually bottled in clear bottles, while red wine is bottled in dark green ones (which improve the bouquet and protect the wine from chemical alterations).

At any rate, the wine warehouses to store the bottles must be dark and quiet. In La Rioja, these warehouses are called calados, or wine cellars. The importance of the corks should not be forgotten, either. This small object is much more significant that it first appears.

The corks are obtained from the trunk of the cork oak tree. For the time being, it is still the number one choice for sealing bottles of high-quality wine. A good cork should be made from high quality raw material and processed in such a way that hermetic bottle sealing can be guaranteed. The feared cork taste must never be transferred to the wine.

Next, the completely prepared bottles are placed in the racks in the wine cellars. They are stored in a horizontal position, with the wine in contact with the cork. The wine can thus rest and recover from the commotion of the bottling process. The temperature should be cool, but not excessively low (between 12 and 20ºC).

Humidity should also be in the average range. How long the wine reposes in the cellar depends on whether the wine is suitable for lengthy ageing or not. The grape grower controls this process by uncorking a bottle about every six months to see if the wine is still developing in quality.

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bodegas altona, S.L.

c/ Sobrevilla, 21

26311 Cordovín (La Rioja)

Tel./fax +34 941 367 369




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