Viñedos Hermanos Hernáiz: heading north

The Hernáiz family reinvents the historic Finca La Emperatriz estate, with a new range of wines that combines the terroir and classicism of Rioja Alta in the largest Viñedo Singular of the region.

Finca la Emperatriz (Baños de Rioja) is a historic estate named after Eugenia de Montijo, former owner, wife of Napoleon III and Empress of France. This legacy, closely associated with Bordeaux since the 19th century, is something that the Hernáiz brothers, Eduardo and Víctor, kept in mind when they sought to redefine the essence of the winery. The Hernáiz family acquired the estate in 1996, although their first wine was not made until the 2000 vintage.

After years of recovering old vineyards, replanting others and, above all, parcelling the land and understanding an unusual terroir in Rioja, influenced by the gravelly soils and cold temperatures, the brothers launched a collection of wines based on the traditional Rioja classification (Crianza and Reserva) and a series of single vineyard cuvées from selected sites in the estate.

The Hernáiz brothers have turned this first stage around this year to focus on two unique brands, Jardín de La Emperatriz and Finca La Emperatriz, both red and white. In the process, great wines such as Viura Cepas Viejas, Terruño, Parcela nº1, or Garnacha Cepas Viejas, whose grapes now form part of their two new brands, have disappeared: "We had been doing trials since 2014 and the change came about with the 2016 vintage for Finca La Emperatriz and with the 2017 for Jardín de la Emperatriz”.

Finca La Emperatriz looks to the North, to Bordeaux and to the model of the legendary châteaux, but also to the past and to the very roots of the Baños de Rioja terroir. "La Emperatriz is a 100-hectare estate, known as La Viña in the land registry drafted in the mid-18th century by Marqués de la Ensenada and acquired in the 19th century by Eugenia de Montijo, the last Empress of France,” explains Eduardo Hernáiz. "In other words, our background is French, but what really matters is our terroir, which is both unusual and unique, featuring very poor gravel and sandy soils, with very cold climate and particularly cool, Atlantic vintages. These conditions are ideal to produce long-lasting wines with excellent ageing potential, which is precisely what has historically characterised this area of Rioja Alta.”

The red Jardín de la Emperatriz is one of the most highly rated Crianzas in Rioja, while the white shows the extraordinary potential and freshness of the area for this type of wines. Finca La Emperatriz red and white wines are released with the new Vino de Viñedo Singular designation in the 2017 vintage. Both are a selection of the oldest vineyards in the estate and combine Tempranillo with Garnacha and a small amount of Viura in the case of the red, and Viura grapes over 60 years old in the case of the white. Two great wines, elegant and complex, labelled as Reserva.

Viñedos Hernáiz also makes Las Cenizas, a bold red selected from the oldest vineyards in Cenicero, which faithfully captures the village's terroir, as well as El Pedal, a range of fresh wines sourced from Cenicero, the family's home village, and other villages in this part of Rioja Alta.