Sad news this week. Pedro Lopez de Heredia, grandson of founder Rafael Lopez de Heredia y Landeta, passed away on this past weekend at the age of 85. I never met Pedro, though I feel like through stories I hear from his daughter María José, those of others, and drinking lots (LOTS) of bottles of his Riojas over the years, I can and should piece something together.
Lopez de Heredia wines, as I'm sure anyone who knows them will attest, are unapologetically old school. Their style has never changed with the times. Even at the height of the trend towards rich, extracted, purple colored new fancy cooperage French oak influenced wines in Spain, Lopez de Heredia carried on making the same wines as only they knew how: using estate grown fruit, very old oak fermentation vats, and well used barrels. No "vinos de autor," no modern cuvees, no new product launches. Despite the multiple veiled critiques from colleagues accusing traditional Riojas such as theirs as lacking color, complexity, a sense of place, Lopez de Heredia stuck to their guns and continued on their path. This was before the gushing New York Times reviews, pieces on NPR, and mandatory placements on wine lists of dozens of American Michelin starred restaurants that have all brought so much acclaim to this winery over the past decade or so. If nothing else, it proves that in wine as in fashion, pop culture and the arts, all things do eventually come back around. I would be hard pressed to think of a Spanish winery that is more deserving of their recent success than Lopez de Heredia.
Of the current generation at Lopez de Heredia (Mercedes, Julio and María José), it is María José, the incredibly energetic, tireless spokesperson and public face of the winery, who I have come to know over the past several years. And this is where the story gets a little personal. My last visit to the winery, my wife, another couple and I joined María José for a walk through Viña Tondonia and an impromptu picnic in the center of this beautiful place, framed as it is by a centuries old village, mountains, a winding river in the distance. Pedro had recently suffered a stroke, and María José was going to be the primary caretaker, making frequent trips to Madrid (at least four hours from her home base of Haro) in order to be with her father and insure that he receive the best care possible. She was in a talking mood, so we let her talk and listened. To hear María José speak about her father, about her love as well as the huge amount of respect and love that others in the industry had for Pedro, it reminded me not only of the strength of family and community, but also brought to mind a very similar situation I had experienced not even a year earlier. Another very well respected, strongly opinionated older man, someone who had set up a successful family business, and who had given back as best he could to the community that fostered his success, was ailing. That man was my grandfather, and his primary caretaker was my dad.
I cannot overstate the influence my grandfather has had on me, and I cannot think of a single winery in Spain or anywhere else for that matter, that I feel as personally connected to as Lopez de Heredia. Pedro Lopez de Heredia, rest in peace. I hope you all will join me in toasting the man this weekend with your favorite bottle of wine from the winery he helped to usher into the modern era -- without losing sight of history and tradition.