María Barúa, Oenologist at LAN: “Rioja Is Constantly Evolving”
She's one of the most renowned oenologists in the industry and she's especially passionate about Rioja wines. That's María Barúa, the technical director of a winery that's well-established internationally: it operates in more than 42 countries. In this interview, she tells us how she got started and the important role that LAN has played in her professional career.
When and why did you decide you wanted to be an oenologist? When you started out, there weren't very many women in this field. Did that make it more challenging for you?
I entered the field mainly because my father was, and is, a major wine aficionado and he taught me how to appreciate classic Rioja wines. On the weekend, it was a big to-do at our house when it came to choosing which wine we would drink with our meal.
At that time, there was no authorized oenology degree in Spain, so I received my first degree in chemistry, knowing full well that I would later focus on oenology, which was my main passion.
When I finished my degree in oenology, I started out at 23 with an internship studying enological chemistry at a research center run by the Riojan government. I remember going to conferences and courses, many of which are organized at the end of the year in Rioja. Most of the attendees where older, serious-looking men, and then there were the interns, all of which were young women. We looked like a bunch of schoolgirls. There was also the odd female oenologist working at the winery, but mostly doing lab work.
This scenario has changed considerably in the last decade. There is an increasing presence of women in all areas of the winery, and especially working as oenologists. I believe this change reflects society at the moment: if there are more women than men at universities, it stands to reason that more women will take on more senior roles than men.
I see it as a logical development. In my case, as a young woman, it's true that you probably have to prove yourself more at first, but once they know you and see how you work, everything just flows. I've never experienced any discrimination.
What are the three most appealing aspects of your job?
It's an exciting profession and not at all monotonous, because nowadays we're not confined to the lab like oenologists used to be. We spend a lot of time in the vineyard because it's very clear to us that oenology begins with viticulture. We provide support to our sales team, attend fairs, meet with distributors, organize tastings with clients, create pairings...
It's a job you really get hooked on because each year is different, every plot, every tank... We always have a new challenge, and our goal is to make a product that people enjoy.
At the same time, it's a job that challenges you and inspires you to improve every day. My main goal is to bring out the best of every vineyard, checking on the vines and collecting data on the grapes, knowing at what time I have to harvest each plot and how I have to organize production to extract their maximum oenological potential while preserving their essence, their identity.
You have the opportunity to lead very large volume projects as well as other, more personal projects that are more closely tied to the estate. Do you think this is a competitive advantage for LAN?
At LAN, every wine is special; each one has its own story and personality. This is the result of LAN's track record: it has been a pioneer for over 45 years in La Rioja and we are wholeheartedly loyal to our roots and our basic principle that winemaking begins with viticulture.
As a result, the LAN family (LAN Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva) is a prime example of wines committed to their place of provenance, made with grapes from around 400 hectares from historical suppliers in Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa.
The wines from our Viña Lanciano estate come from a special and privileged place, protected from the elements by the Cantabrian mountains and with a very unique climate: poor soil, plagued by river stones that favor balanced ripening for the grapes. These are the ingredients comprising our estate wines: Viña Lanciano, LAN A Mano and Culmen, each with its own character and personality...
As we are committed to the idea that "oenology starts with viticulture," at LAN we're focused on sustainable practices that are respectful of the vineyard, as evidenced by LAN Xtrème, our first organic wine, produced at the Viña Lanciano estate.
The union and relationship between all of the wines in our family, each of them with their own personality is, indubitably, a competitive advantage for us.
What do Riojan wines need to focus on if they want to continue to be the most well known "brand" of wines in international markets?
Rioja will always be evolving, and we know for certain that the key to success is to make quality wines. Our region has always been the standard bearer for Spanish wine beyond our borders, and it has paved the way for Spain's rich winemaking scene to develop such a strong presence.
Text: Rodrigo García Fernández/ @ICEX.