A theory exists that the Albariño grape was brought in the 12th century to the monastery of Armenteira (in the Salnés valley, Pontevedra) by the French monks of Cluny, and that its cultivation thereafter spread to the rest of Galicia and the north of Portugal. The Umia River is said to be the “father” of the Albariño grape, since vines have been grown along its banks and wine produced there since the Middle Ages. This hypothesis is now considered just a part of wine folklore, since the Albariño grape is widely accepted as an indigenous variety of the south of Galicia.
Another more recent claim was that Albariño might have travelled from central Europe, possibly with the migrations of Germanic peoples (the Suebi and Visigoths) in the 5th century, and then found its home in the north-west of Spain, close to the borders of ancient Gallaecia.
Leaving aside legends, what we can be very sure of is that this grape variety has been grown in the area of Rías Baixas for over 1,000 years, and given its characteristics, it is perfectly adapted to the region’s special climatic features.
Nobody however would deny that the Cistercian monks that arrived in the 12th century (either on their pilgrimage to Santiago, or to accompany the Burgundy dynasty to Galicia for the wedding of Raymond of Burgundy and Queen Urraca), were the people who taught us how to tend our established grape varieties and get the best quality wines from them. White wines, which were more refined, were stored in monasteries up till the 18th century, before Mendizábal’s dissolution of the monasteries (a long historical, economic and social process begun at the end of the 18th century by Godoy, consisting of putting on the market, after forced expropriation and via public auction, the lands and property which hitherto were the inalienable property of the so-called “manos muertas” or religious orders, which had accumulated them as habitual beneficiaries of donations, wills and as “heir intestato”).
It was from these times onwards that Galicia’s wines began to be produced at its country estates or pazos. Only noble families could afford to use their lands for fine wine growing, since these families were better off and were not forced to devote all their land to subsistence farming.
It was not until the middle of the 20th century that Albariño spread to the whole of the region. Vineyards were now changing hands, and a new generation of growers was taking them over; while the region’s wines were becoming better established and gaining renown.
By the 1980s, these grape varieties and the wines produced from them, had achieved widespread recognition, while the newly created Rías Baixas appellation and its Regulating Council, enhanced the prestige of its wines and brought their outstanding quality to the attention of consumers.
The official Rías Baixas appellation therefore began its short history in 1980. In that year, on 11th October, the Denominación Específica Albariño was officially recognised by the Spanish government. On 30th April 1984, the regulations of the Denominación de Origen Específica Albariño and its Regulating Council were approved.
Having to adapt Spanish legislation to that of the European Community’s, the Agricultural Council, following an order of the 17th March 1988, provisionally recognised the Rías Baixas appellation (Denominación de Origen Rías Baixas) and by order of the 4th July in the same year, the regulations of the appellation and its Regulating Council were approved. The ministerial order of 28th July 1988, issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, ratified the appellation.
As the appellation developed, sub-zones were created. In 1988, the Rías Baixas appellation consisted of 3 perfectly distinct sub-zones within the Pontevedra province: Val do Salnés, Condado do Tea and O Rosal. In October 1996, the sub-zone of Soutomaior was incorporated, while in May 2000 Ribeira do Ulla was also included.