Jim Clarke: After the Franco years much of Spanish winemaking lagged behind international standards. What did Chivite do to bring its wines and winemaking up to speed?
Fernando Chivite: Our company has always been very much oriented toward quality wines, since we started our export to the southern regions of France (Bayonne and Bordeaux principally) at the oidium crisis (around 1860), prior to Phylloxera. Since then we have always been producing high quality wines. In the ancient times our wines were much more based on a grape variety very well adapted to our region: the Garnacha Tinta (red Grenache). From the late eighties til the present we have been developing an ambitious project to reach 100% self-supply of grapes for our top-range wines. In order to achieve that we have planted more than 400 hectares of vineyard in a very well located region in the north of Navarra. We have also built a new winery designed by Rafael Moneo (Harvard U. Professor) there, with the highest standards of quality and technology. We have recuperated the Tempranillo grapes in our region and we are also using (only as a complement) some French varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc.
JC: As a Navarrese wine producer, how do you insure that your wines do not get hidden in the shadow of your neighbor, Rioja?
FC: Making different wine than they do. We make wine that has the “seal” of our vineyards: of their soil, of their climate, of our careful handling…we make a strong technical effort to produce wines with their own personality.
I also have to point out that we own a winery in Rioja Alavesa, called Viña Salceda in where we try to apply the same principle and make very personal Rioja wines.
JC: For most Americans, Navarra does not yet evoke a particular style of wine. Is there a typicity to the appellation, and how conscious of it are you in your own winemaking?
FC: To summarize, in the ancient times red wines from Navarra had the image of being deep in body and color and a high degree of alcohol. Now Navarra is in many cases making very fine and fruity medium to medium-high alcohol wines; in a certain way we had years ago what some new producers look for very intently: color and high-alcohol.
The case of the rosé wine deserves a different answer because they represent a wine with a very clear and specific profile. Made by the “saignée” (free-run juice) method with a single variety (Red Grenache), medium alcohol - 12% to 13% - and very fresh and fruity, but with character. I mean not artificial at all - real fine wine taste. Not a soft drink.
JC: Is there some other profession you would aspire to if you had not inherited winemaking?
FC: Yes, of course: millionaire.
Now seriously, perhaps I could have been biologist or chemist. I always say that a decision like that (being an enologist, or winemaker, if you wish) at the age I made it, can only be half-voluntary. However, I have to admit that I am really very pleased to have taken it. I have had the opportunity of developing very thrilling projects.
JC: I can’t imagine working together in a business with my brother. Do you and your siblings work well together?
FC: I think there are two secrets to achieve that (working well together) without arriving at a “home war”. One is to agree very much in what everyone wants from the business, and how. And the second is to have the areas of each one’s responsibilities very well delimited. The rest is – as usual - only motivation.
JC: What are the Bodega’s plans for the future? Are there any new wines for us to look forward to?
FC: We are positioning and consolidating the new wine and the new structure of our product range. We are introducing some new products in our various markets during the next two three years. More than just growing we want to improve and set up some new premium and super-premium wines from our vineyards in the different D.O. we produce: Rioja, Navarra (Señorío de Arínzano) and Ribera del Duero. And, of course, one of our main targets is to have the significant presence in the U.S. market that we think our wines deserve.