From Valdepeñas to Ribera de Duero and Rioja: wine cellars engage in family and political wars

Félix Solís and García Carrión star in an accusation that has ended in court.

A bunch of grapes.

There are three reasons why a winery or an appellation of origin in Spain can blow up: a family war based on inheritance, rivalries between enemy wineries and political nationalisms. All of them have as a common denominator passion for wine and ambition, two qualities that taken to the extreme become the evils that plague some vineyards in Spain, and whose reflection we see now in the DO Valdepeñas, Ribera de Duero or Rioja.

In La Mancha, specifically in Valdepeñas, two giants of Spanish wine, Félix Solís and García Carrión, they wage a battle that every day raises more of tone. The origin of the dispute is in the investigation that the Ministry of Agriculture of Castilla-La Mancha initiated among the wineries of this DO by commercialize as crianza, reserva and gran reserva wines that had not been in the barrel or that they do not have the corresponding aging.

It was the agrarian organizations that appeared at the Ciudad Real Prosecutor’s Office to report, without personalizing in any winery, the alleged fraud with the Valdepeñas wines. Later, García Carrión joined, pointing out Félix Solís as the cause of this fraud, although the prosecution acknowledges that the complainant García Carrión also incurs in these irregularities.

Félix Solís, on the left, and García Carrión, on the right.

Félix Solís, on the left, and García Carrión, on the right.

So Félix Solís fought back and denounced the owner of Don Simón for unfair competition. From the winery they assure that García Carrión has undertaken a smear campaign against Félix Solís trying to “distract” from the well-founded suspicions about the traceability of the aging of its wines when García Carrión is also accused of these irregularities.

The last chapter is the one starring García Carrión, the only one of the wineries of the Valdepeñas Denomination of Origin in opposing the agreement to submit the wines of the DO to an external audit. But surely the story between these two wine companies does not end here.

Ribera de Duero

In Ribera de Duero another conflict arises between two wineries that ended up being prosecuted. We are talking about Emilio Moro (Pesquera del Duero) and Matarromera (Valbuena de Duero), owned by Carlos Moro.

It is precisely the last name that they share the source of all evil. Carlos Moro began using the surname in his wines with the creation of the Carlos Moro Winery in La Rioja. Something that for Emilio Moro created confusion and he decided to file a first lawsuit against him. And here began a crossing of complaints between the two with different sentences that seems to have no end.

And from rivalry to family disputes. The war that drags the most tradition is that of Bodegas Vega Sicilia (Valbuena de Duero), that started ten years ago and that has divided the family in two: on the one hand, María José, the older sister (who controls Eulen); on the other, the five little brothers, Emilio, Juan Carlos, Pablo, Marta and Elvira (who control the winery).

This family fight that escalated with the death in 2005 of the founder David Álvarez and that has not yet closed the succession. Some of what is pending in the winery since, if there is no “clear” succession, the owners could sell Vega Sicilia, as announced in an interview in The country.

From Rioja Alavesa to Euskadi

But it is not only family wars or wars against rivals that are behind the problems in some denominations of origin. Politics also threatened to end Rioja Alavesa wines.

Marqués de Riscal Winery in Elciego (Rioja Alavesa).

Marqués de Riscal Winery in Elciego (Rioja Alavesa).

Last year, the Rioja Alavesa Winery Association (ABRA) was renamed the Basque Country Winery Association (ABE) with the aim of seeking, among other things, a greater international projection. A decision with little quorum that unleashed an internal war.

Why? Many wineries understood that this decision broke with the geographical identity of the area and meant the loss of the strength and weight of the Rioja Alavesa surname. So they threatened to leave by disagreeing with a a decision that political groups such as Bildu defended.

What finally happened? Fifty-four members of ABRA voted in favor of keeping the surname of the region and forced the board to back down and stop the change of name to the Basque Wine Association.

But it did not stop there. In early 2020, ABRA promoted the constitution of Viñedos de Álava, becoming registered in the BOE. In January a period of two months was opened so that allegations can be presented, after which the new denomination must be approved by the Ministry of Agriculture. The Regulatory Council of the Rioja Denomination of Origin (DOC) announced an appeal for ABRA to justify its disruptive proposal. Then the Covid arrived and paralyzed everything.

Apparently, behind these initiatives hides a nationalist sentiment that seeks the division of DOC Rioja. A few years ago, some of these wineries asked the Basque government to create their own PDO called Viñedos de Álava. However, the idea did not come to fruition.

And as in the previous cases, this story is not over and promises new deliveries.