The Rías Baixas appellation (La Denominación de Origen Rías Baixas) is a small wine-growing area in north-west Spain, in the region of Galicia. While Rías Baixas has long had a strong wine-growing tradition, passed down from generation to generation, it was only in 1988, with the setting up of the Rías Baixas Wine Regulating Council, that the wine-growing sector began to play a fundamental part in the development of the region’s economy. One of the key factors in its success has been the decision to continue growing the region’s indigenous grape varieties, in particular Albariño, which cope so well with the challenging local climate and impart genuine quality and a sense of place to wines that have a distinctly Atlantic character.
Largely made up of a patchwork of micro-plots of vines, typical of Galicia, the appellation currently covers a surface area of 4,061 hectares (10,030 acres), divided up into more than 21,825 plots of vines. With the benefit of the manual skills and expertise of the area’s 5,500 and more vine growers, traditional Galician vine-growing has been maintained, so that vines are still trained on pergolas, a growing system which requires pruning and harvesting work to be done totally by hand.
The Rías Baixas appellation is mostly located in the province of Pontevedra, plus a small part in that of La Coruña. It is also divided into five sub-zones: Val do Salnés, O Rosal, Ribeira do Ulla, Soutomaior and Condado do Tea. The Val do Salnés area stretches over the parishes of Caldas de Reis, Cambados, O Grove, Meaño, Meis, Ribadumia, Sanxenxo, Vilanova de Arousa and Vilagarcía de Arousa, all of which are within the province of Pontevedra. O Rosal is made up of the O Rosal and Tomiño parishes (both in Pontevedra province). Condado do Tea includes those of Salvaterra de Miño, As Neves, Arbo, Salceda de Caselas and A Cañiza, which are also in Pontevedra province, as is the sub-zone of Soutomaior which includes the eponymous parish; while the Ribeira do Ulla sub-zone is situated around the parish of Vedra, and is the only sub-zone in the province of La Coruña.
The Rías Baixas wine-growing sector generates in the area a total of 7,600 full-time jobs as well as 5,200 temporary posts during busy times of the year. Thus, the Rías Baixas appellation provides 7% of the area’s employment, a percentage which rises to 12% during the harvesting period. Its impact is especially significant in the Salnés valley sub-zone, where over 60% of the annual Rías Baixas grape production is concentrated and almost 70% of the wineries are located.
The headquarters of the Regulating Council are at the Pazo de Mugartegui in Pontevedra in the Plaza de La Pedreira (so-called because of the stone-carving activities once performed there by stonemasons from the town of Lérez). Built during the 17th and 18th centuries, Pazo de Mugartegui is a fine example of Baroque urban architecture. It was the work of the master-stonemason Pedro Antonio Ferreiro, from the village of Muimenta, who finished construction (except for the gable with the shield) in 1771.
The Pazo de Mugartegui’s façade displays the shields of the Figueroa, Araújo, Miranda and Quirós families, while its upper section bears a magnificent sundial. It is currently owned by the Pontevedra Town Hall, which commissioned the architect Jesús Aser Fole to refurbish and restore it, and ceded the building to the Rías Baixas Wine Regulating Council. The headquarters include a wine museum on the ground floor, while the rooms are also used for formal, cultural and social acts by the Town Hall. When restoration work was completed, it was inaugurated for these new functions in March 2001.