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Juan Antonio Leza shares his recipe and technique for revitalizing the Gómez Cruzado winery at the Basque Culinary Center

Leza portrayed this model of wine-making as a way of life, reclaiming wine’s cultural value, typicity and connection with the land

22 of February of 2019

Vintner and oenologist Juan Antonio Leza, at the helm of GÓMEZ CRUZADO, spoke in the classrooms of the Faculty of Gastronomic Sciences at the BASQUE CULINARY CENTER (BCC) in San Sebastian – an institution of international acclaim – about the revitalization of GÓMEZ CRUZADO, the century-old winery in Haro’s Barrio de la Estación. He promotes a model of wine that embodies a way of life and advocates for constructing a narrative around wine. All this to reclaim wine’s cultural value, connection with the land and role as an expression of people’s lives, transmitted with integrity in the value chain, and surpassing "the simple defining of organoleptic characteristics".

Leza’s audience was comprised by students from the Master’s degree program in Sommelier Studies and Enomarketing at the BCC (agricultural engineer and winemaker Pilar García-Granero is the program coordinator). This course of studies offers multi-disciplinary and comprehensive training for the wine world including sommelier knowledge, gastronomy, marketing, and technical field visits to wine production sites. Prominent figures from the wine-making and hospitality sectors also contribute to the students’ education.

Such as Leza, vintner and enologist, who recently unpacked for BCC students exactly how GÓMEZ CRUZADO has redefined its approach to viticulture, enology and marketing, while remaining faithful to its origins and history. "Just like the comtemporary cuisine, we started with the traditional Rioja wine recipe, in which time is a key ingredient because it instills wine with finesse and complexity, while also implementing modern techniques based on scientific knowledge".

Placing the spotlight on this winery with over 130 years of history, Leza explained how the GÓMEZ CRUZADO winemaking model involves understanding wine as a way of life. Their business model, Leza noted, is based on efficiency, a meticulous work ethic, honesty, and connection with origins: "To be able to produce and market higher-priced wine, transmitting the added value to the market, obtaining market recognition so that your product is purchased, and always approaching brand building as an essential asset to creating demand for a high-end winery".

Juan Antonio Leza took his audience on a journey, starting in the vineyard that led him to create a business project. In 2008, Leza and David González joined the GÓMEZ CRUZADO winery as technical advisers, and by 2013 they had rolled up their sleeves and taken on leading roles: changing and strengthening the direction in this century-old winery, founded in 1886. 

Advocating for a high-quality model in Rioja, Leza started out his presentation by observing that "this denomination of origin, with over 65,000 hectares, has grown too big and not all the wine it produces can be sold at a high price. Rioja’s sheer size is indisputable.” He called for "a solution that works for everyone, so that a volume-production model focused on efficiency can coexist with a niche-market model for premium wines that also prioritizes efficiency”.

Typicity vs Trends

Addressing the debate around varieties, Leza remarked that "history and the market have led varieties to be concentrated in different enclaves. If the market had not influenced distribution, driving varieties to consolidate in those areas most favorable to their cultivation, we would be talking about typicity. But sometimes, typicity is also impacted by the market and, when the market has too much sway, it/typicity turns into a trend". Thus, Leza insisted "let us be clear about what happens naturally in an area, without distorting its essence, so that the consumer can enjoy a wine that would be expected from a certain place, meaning that wines reveal their origin".

He recognized that "Tempranillo has its own trademark, and this has been the main reason for its predominance, which has led to the disappearance of hectares of other red and white varieties." Leza observed that "an overly strong bond with Tempranillo" can be dangerous, and referred to the wood mushrooms, to which Tempranillo is especially sensitive, as an example.

Leza also pointed to the loss of genetic potential and declining diversity of varieties, both of which serve to enrich the old vineyards of Rioja: "We are becoming monotonous, losing complexity, when complexity is a vital ingredient in terms of the nuanced nature of the world’s great wines. Having various varieties is a good thing, as long as we keep in mind the traditional genetic heritage of the region.

In the context of Spain, which ranks number three in the world in wine production, while its levels of annual consumption per capita fall far behind numerous other producing countries, Leza calls for Spanish wine "to reclaim the cultural value that it has lost. In neighboring France, wine is a much more established part of everyday life. When you drink wine you are also experiencing land, culture, and an understanding of the people who live there. We must aim for Spain to reach the level of consumption of neighboring-wine producing countries".

 

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