The history goes back to 1874 when the old winery (still standing and now home to a swish visitor centre / tasting room) was first established in the village of Fuenmayor by the Navajas family.
Today’s large, modern, ultra-clean winery is situated some 10 minutes away within site of the spectacular Cantabrian mountains. Now owned by the famous Osborne family company, a decision was taken 10 years ago to put the winery back on the map and key to this was the appointment of brilliant winemaker Mercedes Garcia Rupérez.
High on Mercedes’ list of priorities was to eradicate as quickly as possible the dreaded Brett (Brettanomyces), a strain of wild yeast that produces large amounts of acetic acid and can give wines a distinctly ‘not right’ aroma. For some, this taint is part of the charm of ‘old school’ Rioja, and it is still remarkably common, but it’s not for us. Every single one of the 20,000 barrels in the underground cellars of Montecillo was replaced. Bravo!
One of Mercedes’ key colleagues in the vineyard team is the talented young Carmelo Espinosa Muga. This guy is amazing. He is in charge of managing over 1,100 hectares of vines owned by no fewer than 118 separate growers in a manner that ensures everything from pruning to harvesting is carried out to the most exacting standards, thanks to a sophisticated online system developed by the winery. His lab is in the boot of his 4 x 4 and he appears to spend every waking minute running around in the vines observing, amending, improving. The growers themselves are not paid purely in terms of the volume of fruit, but its quality. In fact, a bonus of 30% is paid if the winery’s high standards are met and this encourages only the most conscientious to join the scheme. Very clever.