Gonzalo Iturriaga de Juan, the Soul of Vega Sicilia
150 years of wine-producing history look down on him. Gonzalo Iturriaga de Juan takes on the technical management of the emblematic Tempos Vega Sicilia winery with the aim of embarking this brand on a new phase, with the maxim of moving forward without revolutionizing.
Text: Mayte Díez / Club de Gourmets magazine
Gonzalo Iturriaga de Juan is a agronomical engineer, oenologist –vintage 77–, whose curriculum began in the family-run winery Alonso del Yerro in Ribera del Duero, continued in Bodegas Habla in Extremadura and the company Lamothe-Abioet, before he took over the technical management of Vega Sicilia, one of the Spain's most prestigious wineries, in September 2015.
What did it mean for you to join Vega Sicilia?
For me it was a spectacular stroke of good luck and the most important challenge of my career, without a doubt. In the end, Pablo (he refers to Pablo Álvarez, CEO of Tempos Vega Sicilia) opted for the least known person, and I'm really grateful for that trust. What's more, I' had a wonderful welcome, better than I could ever have imagined. Enrique Macías, the vineyard manager, is the best in the world and I'm learning a lot from him; Begoña, my right hand, my eyes...; Horacio, a towering support, a wine expert with a special sensibility and an exceptional taster; David... All in all, everyone in the team, without exception, gave me a warm welcome.
Your first two years on balance?
Very positive and really intense; a school of magisterial classes every day, in which I've learned as much as if I'd been studying a masters degree for six years. And then, as you can imagine, I've been lucky enough to sample wines from 1915...
Vega Sicilia, that's a big deal. 150 years of history and an emblematic wine. What can you do or renew in that sanctum?
Everything, because you have to continue moving forward, making tests... In my case, what I found most impressive were those long aging periods, which has ended up being the most exciting part of the work. Knowing why you do things until you finally understand them. We're moving one step at a time, doing tests, correcting minor errors... It's true that we're continuing along the same path, as we have to remember at all times that this is a flagship, but there are always areas where you can continue evolving, such as for example in the matter of aging.
Do you have the freedom to make changes in the production methodology?
I've had total freedom and all the support in the world from the word go, from a very close-knit team. Here I should point out that I'm a very demanding person at work because I like things to be done very, very, very well. But I'm also a very good-humored person. I like to work in a team and in a good atmosphere; I want everyone to express their opinion –even though we may not always agree–, and I want people to take part and get involved. That's the way I am and that's my character. I wouldn't be able to work if I weren't free and couldn't make my team a part of that work.
The oenologist, as the person behind it all, gives the wine its typical characteristics. Do you already notice his influence?
To a certain extent you can notice it already, yes, in small details, although the changes are very subtle here, because this is a daily task that consists of moving forward one step at a time. We're doing tests in every part of the winery, and little by little we're changing the aging process, the type of barrels we used previously. You must remember that for all of us who work at Vega the priority is to express the terroir, to be utterly faithful to it to ensure the wine has the maximum elegance.
You have the trump card of a great terroir
I once heard Paul Pontallier, one of the great producers of Bordeau, say that great terroirs are far more important than great oenologists. And of course I agree with that opinion.
Which vintages of Vega Sicilia have surprised you?
The latest, the 96 Valbuena. And the 70 is excellent. And the 39... What's really amazing about Vega Sicilia is the consistency. That is, in the case of the wines I've been lucky enough to try –wines from 1915, over a hundred years old!–, the fact is that out of all of them only one was unfortunately corked, and two others were a little substandard, which is an incredibly low average. These wines are extremely consistent... And 50 or 100 years ago things were done differently, but the terroir is there, and that's what matters.
An 89 or 90 Valbuena. Should you leave it in the bottle or drink it?
It always depends on the conservation.
In the best possible conditions.
But little by little, the 1990s are going to continue improving, but since you're asking me, I'd drink them now, certainly.
And the 2000s?
They can last very well. These are wines that can easily be aged for about 30 years. There's been a change for the better in Valbuena; 2010 and also 2012 were great years... Well, although wine is made to be drunk, I think those wines should be kept because they're wines that are going to age very well.
What wine would you open for a special celebration?
The thing is I like them all... But probably two of my favorites. A 97 Pintia and Valbuena, which was a very good year. And if I could choose and I had the chance, a 1970 Valbuena, certainly.
It's relatively easy for you.
Yes, ha ha. The problem is we don't have that many bottles!
Article originally published in the Club de Gourmets magazine (Spanish). Translation by Lionbridge /@ICEX.