The Rías Baixas Designation of Origin lies wholly within Galicia’s vast Atlantic zone, the borders of which are traced by the Wagner line (Wagner P., 1976). It is for this reason that the wines of Rías Baixas are described as ‘Atlantic’ wines.
Winters in the Rías Baixas Designation of Origin are characterised by Atlantic squalls driving in from the west and the south-west, as well as warm fronts which are frequently tropical in character. These bring heavy rainfall and produce mild, even warm weather with very little variation in temperature between day and night. Only the arrival of cold Arctic air or periods in which anticyclones push squalls northwards can cause a sufficient drop in night-time temperatures to produce frosts.
As an indication of the mildness of Rías Baixas winters, the average temperature in January, the coldest month of the year, varies between 10°C in the O Rosal sub-zone and 9°C in Ribeira do Ulla. However, winter is a very rainy season with 600mm of the annual average of 1,600mm falling during the winter months.
Spring comes early in this appellation, but there’s plenty of rain, too. These particular climatic aspects carry with them the risk of frost damage to the vines and fruit set failure. Frost damage is however rare.
At the beginning of summer, the Azores anticyclone settles over the western Atlantic, preventing the passage of bad weather. Even in extreme weather conditions, bad weather is diverted over the northern coast of Galicia.
WARM SUMMERS AND BLUSTERY AUTUMNS
There is little rain in summer, but when it does rain, it falls heavily. Temperatures remain moderate thanks to the cool air, while summer storms are rare. Marked drought conditions set in during this season, on account of the low rainfall, high temperatures and fast-draining sandy soils.
During the months of autumn, blustery wet weather gradually arrives, making autumn a particularly rainy season.
O SALNÉS, THE COASTAL PLAIN
Landscape-type has great influence on such vine-growing aspects as soil erosion, moisture content in the soils and drainage. From a topographical point of view, the most significant aspect of the Val do Salnés sub-zone is the predominance of low-lying land. This zone contains the most coastal plains in all Galicia. Only on small residual reliefs or towards the periphery of the area can you find altitudes of over 100m.
CONDADO DO TEA AND O ROSAL, A BLURRED BORDER
In Condado do Tea and O Rosal, two sub-zones between which a clear distinction is difficult to determine, the topography is characterised by the morphological opening of the Miño river valley, especially from the municipality of As Neves onwards. But perhaps the most unusual feature is the alternation of inter-river areas or horsts and their successive tributaries, such as the Deva, Termes, Tea, Louro and Tamuxe rivers. These are generally short, small rivers, whose sources are mainly situated in high Galician ridges and which drain, from north to south, small depressions caused by severe terrain fractures. They have in common flat river beds and, on their sides, rocky, often steep cliffs.
RIBEITA DO ULLA AND SOUTOMAIOR
With similar landscape features, but further to the north, close to the border of the provinces of Pontevedra and A Coruña, the Ulla river valley is home to the vineyards of Ribeira do Ulla.
The landscape of Soutomaior, our smallest subzone, combines streams emerging from the Verdugo and Oitavén rivers with granite peaks.
The predominant rock-type found in the Rías Baixas Designation of Origin is almost exclusively granite. Only a narrow band of metamorphic rock appears in the Val do Salnés sub-zone on its way through to the town of Sanxenxo and towards the villages of Rosal and Tomiño in the subzone of O Rosal.
Also quite frequently found in the five sub-zones (Condado do Tea, O Rosal, Ribeira do Ulla, Soutomaior and Val do Salnés) are quaternary deposits which may be either alluvial or alluvial-colluvial. They are particularly found in the Val do Salnés sub-zone, more specifically along the Umia River, and at the bottom of the meridian depression which crosses the area from north to south. These consist of gravel, sand and clay deposits (in Sanxenxo, Meaño, Cambados and Ribadumia), and silt-clay deposits in the marshland at the mouth of the Umia River.
In the Condado do Tea and O Rosal sub-zones, there are large, recent sedimentary deposits, especially in the terraces of the Louro and Miño rivers. The two terraces are very closely related, and seven levels have been detected in them.
Finally, the soils in the Ribeira do Ulla sub-zone are essentially derived from granite substrata. In some cases the mother rock is schist in character, corresponding to the wide strip of schist that crosses Galicia from north to south through the central zone. In the lower parts of the river there are alluvial soils made up of material deposited by the river current.
The Rías Baixas appellation is made up of five sub-zones: Condado del Tea, O Rosal, Ribera del Ulla, Soutomaior and Val do Salnés. Four of these areas are located within the province of Pontevedra, while the Ribera do Ulla sub-zone is situated along the boundaries of the Pontevedra and A Coruña provinces.
All of them grow the indigenous grape varieties of their zone, particularly Albariño, which represents over 96% of the production. These indigenous varieties cope well with the challenging climatic conditions peculiar to each zone and impart to the wines genuine quality, a sense of place and distinct Atlantic character.
The Rías Baixas Designation of Origin is largely made up of a patchwork of vines grown in micro-plots, a typical feature of Galicia. The appellation currently covers a surface area of 4,184 hectares (10,334 acres), divided up into over 22,500 vineyard plots. Thanks to the carefully-honed manual skills and expertise of the area’s 5,046 vine growers, traditional Galician vine-growing is being preserved. Vines are therefore still trained on pergolas, a growing system which always attracts the interest of the region’s visitors.
The different types of wine belonging to the Rías Baixas Designation of Origin carry a seal of quality that makes these wines unique. This seal is found on the strip label, which is normally positioned on the back of the bottle. Each strip label carries a hologram that makes the seal impossible to forge and which also carries a number, enabling the batch of wine to which each bottle belongs to be traced back. This seal of quality is the guarantee that the wines have passed rigorous inspections before being released onto the market.
Before the wines of Rías Baixas are dispatched to the market, the Control and Certification Body carries out a series of inspections, in accordance with the international UNE-EN ISO/IEC 17.065 regulation, which combines complete audits in the winery with the collection of samples from each vat of wine, which then undergo a process of verification consisting of an organoleptic and physico-chemical analysis. Only when this strict inspection has been passed can the wines be awarded the seal of quality and then be released onto the market where they can be clearly identified by the consumer.