25 years of white from Rueda, which changed everything

25 years of white from Rueda, which changed everything

“Mom, don’t say that!” Martina Prieto Pariente approaches her mother and gently reprimands her before a new confession. The one who smiles with her face as if she hadn’t broken a plate is María Victoria Pariente, Mariví, the woman who, for more than two decades, has revolutionized Rueda wines by imprinting personality, structure and a value that Diversity was not common in the Verdejo. Today, it’s the most popular among white consumers, according to the latest report from consulting firm Nielsen, which puts its market share at 41.8%.

There is a name behind it: José Pariente. “It was a tribute to my father, who died of a massive heart attack a year before starting this adventure,” says the winemaker, who founded the company in 1998.

The wines of this family were already known in the 1980s, when the main road that connected Madrid to the north of the peninsula passed through Rueda (Valladolid province). There was the Spain bar, run by José. “It was a very popular place where even politicians like Manuel Fraga, Alfonso Guerra or Felipe González stopped by,” says Mariví.

Concrete tanks for special winemaking.Concrete tanks for special winemaking.Jordi Adrià

There, José sold jars of Verdejo without a label. “My father had a few vineyards and every year when October 12 fell, the whole family would help him with the harvest. It was something very simple, but he was very excited,” says Mariví, the only one of six siblings to carry on this family tradition. “I had studied chemistry and in 1987 I got a job as an analyst at the newly opened oenological station in Rueda. He gave me a few things to taste, but my father’s wine had a lot of personality,” he says of a time when he was also doing a Masters in Oenology and Viticulture.

The Verdejo was a mistreated grape, although it gave birth to the first Denomination of Origin of Castilla y León. It was in the early 1980s that Marqués de Riscal, the great Rioja winery, settled in Rueda and began producing white wine. At that moment, the DO begins to work. “With them, production begins to improve,” recalls José Peñín, dean of wine criticism in our country. “After them comes a new generation of winemakers who manage to produce high-quality white wines. Mariví dressed some wines in a tuxedo that matched a beret and corduroy pants. They were and still are fragrant, floral, fruity, with hints of aniseed and fennel, which the bottle aging goes very well with. “This type of production marked a new style in Spanish white wines. They were fashionable in the 1990s and later in the 2000s,” says Fernando Gurucharri, President of the Union of Tasters.

Martina Prieto controls the vines.Martina Prieto controls the vines. Jordy Adria

Peñín and Gurucharri don’t have to try very hard to remember the figure of this petite Mariví, very dark, with brown hair and dark eyes. Also that of Victoria Benavides, another female presence, so unusual in the wine world of those years. “The two were very well known in the industry. They had a winery called Dos Victorias, but it was in Toro,” the first points out. “He met Benavides at the Oenological Station,” explains Mariví’s daughter Martina. “The two founded two wines, José Pariente in Rueda and Elías Mora in Toro. Until 2007. At that time the projects will be separated and distributed”.

On that day, José Pariente began his expansion. “We started building the building we have now, in the middle of the plateau between Rueda and La Seca. Before that we made the wines in a rented cellar. It had nothing to do with how my father made it, it was the same grape but a different processing. More technological, more professional,” adds Mariví. From this garage wine with a stainless steel tank of just over 15,000 liters – from which the 15,000 bottles of José Pariente’s first vintage come – to the current million units have passed 25 years. “It was a project that started from scratch, with very organic growth,” says Martina, who has continued her mother’s oenological training, visiting Madrid, Palencia and Bordeaux along the way. “The management and the capital are family, there is no investment group.”

Along with them, the consumption of white has increased. “The Rueda and Verdejo thing is a phenomenon,” points out José Luis Benítez, Director General of the Spanish Wine Confederation, who points out that the value of white wine has increased by 6.1% since 2010. “It’s an increasingly visible trend in all circles. It’s something that enriches us and expresses the consumer’s knowledge of white wines with different nuances”. For Benitez, who started in the industry a quarter of a century ago, José Pariente is a modernist icon.

Maria Victoria Pariente and her daughter Martina Prieto.María Victoria Pariente and her daughter Martina Prieto.Jordi Adrià

Today the company has 90 hectares of vineyards, 60 of which are their own organic vineyards and the remaining 30 are owned by winemakers from whom they buy the grapes and with whom they have worked since the beginning. It is a relationship of mutual understanding. Hand to hand. Or almost. “Throughout the years I have a thousand and one anecdotes. But the most complicated thing was working with some wine growers, especially the older ones. In the past, when they saw a woman, they didn’t take advice on what to do with the vineyards and the land,” says Mariví.

Martina stumbles over the gravel floor, a large boulder typical of the region. “This area, which includes Rueda, La Seca and Serrada, was historically called the Golden Mile,” he warns. The vines planted in glass, a modality aimed at obtaining a higher quality of the grape, date back to 1910. With them they make their most personal and unique plot wine: Finca Las Comas. “But we also have a lot of vines in the eastern part of the DO, a country full of pine forests, between the Adaja and Eresma rivers. They are pure sand that looks like beach sand.”

His barrel-fermented wine, for example, combines vineyards with sand and pebbles. “We found the perfect balance. The song gives you more temperature so the wines have a higher concentration. It’s a profile with more fruit. We counteract this with the sand wines, which mature later and give them more herbal notes,” says Martina, who is most connected to the terroir of the two brothers. “Ignacio is responsible for the management and the commercial part,” he explains.

A vineyard in the facilities of José Pariente.A vineyard in the facilities of José Pariente.Jordi Adrià

Mariví’s eyes light up when she talks about travel, contacts with dealers and wine events. “That’s what I miss the most,” he says. “She did everything. He took his Citroën AX and traveled all over Spain. I’ve also been to trade fairs like ProWein in Düsseldorf,” adds the daughter.

The matriarch has passed some control of the company to her two sons. Now the work she has been doing is more shared, Ignacio and Martina share their main activities at the head of a company that directly employs 33 people, plus winemakers and temps involved in the harvest. “For us it was a privilege that our parents gave us the baton and that they took it for granted,” says Martina, who signed a family protocol in 2013 to give the winery a more organized future. And at the end, he utters a mantra that flies through the entire conversation: “We must maintain the philosophy of the wines that my mother made and must not deviate from our path.”