When one thinks about Rioja Alavesa, we think about red Rioja wine. And indeed this was true until recently. The Rioja region is one of the oldest and best known for wine in Spain. The earliest known record dates back to 873 A.D. In decades past, wines were designed to age long term 15 to 20 years before they were released. Today most are released after 4 to 8 years.
Just as winemaking has become transformed in Spain so has olive oil production. Spain is the number one producer of Olive Oil in the world. Like wine, olive oil production in Spain may be designated a range of classifications. The primary one is Denominación de Origen. This recognizes the superior quality of a product, its identifiable characteristics and specific ingredients that are derived from an identifiable and verifiable source. (Wikipedia)
The olive has been a Spanish staple both for its fruit and oil. The wine boom in the Rioja region shifted production from olive oil to vineyards. This trend was reversed by the younger generation from Moreta who realized that they could not leave the ancient trees to die and be replaced by vineyards. Some of the trees are over 500 years old. This began the reversal of the trend. Today olive tree plantations are growing and now cover 300 hectares of the land. This is a far cry from the 1000 hectares there were only a few decades ago.
There are 13 varieties of olives grown in the region including Empeltre, Arbequina and Redobdilla The Rioja Alavesa olive didn’t even have a name a few years ago. After a tasting in the South of Spain, the olive from this variety began to gain more respect to the name Arroniz was chosen.
The Arroniz variety is a distinct olive to the Rioja region named after the town in the middle of Navarra. Currently, about 85,000 liters of oil are produced yearly in this region. Rivo de Moreta is a well-known brand of very high quality extra virgin olive oil that is sustainably produced.
The Basque model of olive oil production is through cooperatives which is distinctive to this region. There are four olive mills in the whole region that produce all the oil. Each member of the mill is also an owner, who, under specific internal regulations, can use the mill for producing oil. Rivo de Moreta and La Equidad is produced in the cooperative mill of Moreta.
Today there has been much progress for rejuvenating the olive oil industry in the Rioja region. With the commitment of the younger generations new trees are being planted, the older trees are being nurtured back to produce higher and higher yields. Most production is small, coming from artisan producers with a commitment to the highest quality of locally produced products.
To help promote the region, one can visit the mills and see the process first hand. The best thing to do is to book a tour in advance. San Sebastian Urban Adventures can help you with a custom trip that will work perfectly for you.