The Alvear Family has its origins in the old neighbourhood of Trasmiera in the mountains of Burgos. In the early 16th century the family uprooted from its modest ancestral home in San Miguel de Aras, and settled in Nájera (La Rioja) subsequently relocating, some years later, to the province of Córdoba in Andalucía.
Juan Bautista García de Alvear y Garnica was born in Nájera on 18th July 1657. This prominent individual was Mayor of the ‘Noble Kingdom of Nájera’ and while performing his duties was posted to Córdoba in the role of ‘Royal Tax Collector’. Once in his new destination, and having being married before, he remarried a Cordobese noblewoman; a matrimony which gave rise to the birth of Diego de Alvear y Escalera, the first of the family wine saga.
In due course, Diego moved to Montilla where, as a result of being in such close contact with the elements of sea and sky, the seeds for his passion for the land were sown; a passion which would steer him towards the world of vineyards and wine and culminate with the construction of the Alvear bodega in 1729. The bodega was regarded as somewhat small and obscured at the time in what was then the close-knit labyrinth of Montilla, yet this reduced space, given over to wine butts and amphorae, was to become Diego’s most intimate universe.
Over time, Diego began to acquire large extensions of land in the region, becoming one of the most important land-owners in the city. Together with his son, Santiago, he took the bodega to unprecedented heights, never before imagined in Montilla, when he won a contract to ship wine to England in the late 18th century.
One of Diego’s most famous heirs was Diego de Alvear y Ponce de León who, during his lifetime from 1749 to 1830, combined his winemaking vocation with his eventful military and political career, having captained the frigate ‘Mercedes’, which was sunk in the Battle of Cape St Mary by the British, and has recently been brought to light again thanks to the shipwreck recovery firm, Odyssey.
Also from that period, and famous in his own right, is the assistant who Diego de Alvear y Ponce de León brought with him from Argentina, Carlos Billanueva, who would eventually become his right-hand-man. From its beginnings Bodegas Alvear has always maintained a close relationship between Spain and Argentina, a bond which still remains strong today.
Carlos Billanueva (C.B.) used to mark the barrels containing the best wines from the sierra with his initials, giving rise to the ‘Alvear style’ that brought together the characteristic modernity and homogeneity that distinguished the bodega’s wines; characteristics that are still present today in ‘Fino C.B.’, a centuries-old wine and the company’s most well-known brand.
Throughout its 284-year long history, Bodegas Alvear has managed to hold on to its family traits, passing ownership from parent to child so that currently the business is in the hands of the eighth generation.
Over the years, each one of the family’s successive generations has contributed its very own grain of sand to the business; both in the bodega’s strive towards state-of-the-art technology, as well as in its determination to preserve its architectural heritage.
This historic bodega has successfully managed to combine and put into practice the extensive experience of a privileged land and a dedicated family in order to produce exceptional wines.
Throughout its history, the Alvear bodega has retained its family character by firmly sticking to its roots. The current generation of the Alvear family is very large; more than 50 members own the business, some of whom also participate in the running of the business.
Alvear distributes its products all over Spain, its main market being the Mediterranean region from Catalonia to Algeciras. The bodega also sells 40 per cent of its production abroad to more than 25 countries including the UK, Holland, Japan, Canada and Australia.
Alvear is one of the most prestigious and internationally renowned bodegas in Andalucía, boasting extensive vineyards that are located in the most famous estates in the Sierra de Montilla y Moriles (Córdoba). This privileged land’s star grape variety is Pedro Ximénez, which is thought to have originated in the Rhine region, and is used by the bodega as the unique base wine for its sweet, Fino, Oloroso and Amontillado wines.
The Pedro Ximénez grape variety is not only the star of DO Montilla-Moriles but also of the wines and vineyards owned by Bodegas Alvear. Legend has it that it was brought from the Rhine by a solider serving in the Spanish army in Flanders, who consequently gave it his name.
In general, the bodega’s vineyards are cultivated on exceptionally chalky soils. The region boasts two very distinct soil types: white ‘albariza or albero’ soils which are very chalky, porous, poor in organic material and produce low yields, and where the grapes are subject to a longer and more balanced ripening process; and ‘ruedo’ soils that are red in colour due to the presence of iron oxides, and which, in contrast, accelerate the ripening process.
After the initial vinification process the wines are subject to the miracle known as ‘ageing under a velo de flor’; a natural biological process whereby a cream-coloured cap or ‘velo de flor’ of yeast, indigenous to the region, develops on the top of the wine. The action of the yeast bestows extraordinary aroma and flavour to the wine, which is quite distinct from when it is first produced as a base wine. In order to encourage the development of the native yeast strain optimum temperature and humidity conditions are maintained in the bodega and the wine casks or butts are filled to about five-sixths, leaving enough free space at the top for the ‘velo de flor’ to develop. Wines subject to a longer ageing process, usually until the nutritional capacity of the ‘flor’ has been exhausted, are called Amontillado wines, which acquire a deep golden colour.
In the Oloroso winemaking process, in contrast to Fino wines, the ‘flor’ is not allowed to develop and the process is stopped by fortifying the wine to an ABV of 18 per cent (‘flor’ needs around 15 per cent to grow) and by completely filling the wine casks to the top. As a result, the effects of ageing in these wines can be appreciated via the distinctive mark left by oak and time.
Pedro Ximénez is a sweet, smooth wine made by exposing the grapes to the sun once harvested. Grape clusters are spread over plaited esparto grass mats and the grapes are slowly sun-dried until becoming raisins. A dense must is then obtained from the crushed raisins to produce an authentic ‘raisin juice’. The subsequent winemaking and ageing processes give rise to the region’s classic sweet Pedro Ximénez wines.
The barrels used to age Fino wines are called ‘botas’ in Spanish (wine butts) and usually have a capacity of around 500 litres. The preferred wood used to make wine butts is American oak due to its porosity. However, new wood should never be used. In the bodega wine butts are stacked row upon row to varying heights; the stacks are called ‘cachones’. The walkway between two ‘cachones’ is called an ‘andana’ and each row of butts is called a ‘criadera’. The ‘criadera’ closest to the floor is called the ‘solera’; the row above is called the ‘first criadera’; the next the ‘second criadera’ and so on and so forth. Each ‘criadera’ or row contains wine which has been aged for the same amount of time; the ‘solera’, contains the oldest wine, the ‘first criadera’ the next oldest wine etc. until reaching the top where the youngest wine is stored.
Bodegas Alvear has the capacity to age 5 million litres of wine in oak wine butts that are distributed around various bodegas: La Sacristía and El Liceo, where the oldest wines are stored; Las Mercedes, known widely as C.B., and Las Higueras and Buganvillas, where the Pedro Ximénez wines are aged. The bodega called ‘de la Casa’, Alvear’s first property, which is located in the old town centre, is regarded as a site of Historic and Artistic Interest. This 18th century former manor house hosts the region’s oldest ‘soleras’ which contain 200-year old Amontillado wines.