Galicia’s Rías Baixas is a privileged region for vine-growing. Its climate, landscape, soils and indigenous grape varieties combine to make up the area’s wine-growing ecosystem. These characteristics define and condition the vocation of the Rías Baixas appellation (Denominación de Origen Rías Baixas) to produce high quality wines.
Vine-growing conditions are characterised by the conjunction of factors relating to temperature, water and light, which can combine in greater and lesser degrees of complexity. According to the Winkler Scale, which measures the average potential quality of a vine-growing area, the five sub-zones making up the Rías Baixas appellation (Condado do Tea, O Rosal, Ribeira do Ulla, Soutomaior and Val do Salnés) are located within zones of the highest wine-growing quality.
The Rías Baixas appellation lies wholly within the vast Atlantic zone, the borders of which are traced by the Wagner line (Wagner P., 1976). The appellation’s wines are thus termed “Atlantic” wines.
Winters in the Rías Baixas appellation are characterised by Atlantic squalls driving in from the west and the south-west along with 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 are able to cause a sufficient drop in night-time temperatures to produce frosts.
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, which gives an idea of how mild winters are. However, winter is the rainiest time with 600mm of the annual average of 1,600mm falling in this season.
Spring in the Rías Baixas appellation comes early and is rainy. The dangers arising from these conditions are frost damage and aborted fruit setting. Nevertheless, frost damage is rare.
At the beginning of summer, the Azores High settles in the West Atlantic, preventing the passage of bad weather which even in the worst case scenario is diverted over the northern coast of Galicia. During summertime, rainfall is infrequent and light, while temperatures are not excessively high, thanks to the presence of cool air. Summer storms are rare. In this season, significant drought conditions set in on account of low rainfall, high temperatures and fast-draining sandy soils.
During the months of autumn, squally weather arrives, causing very rainy conditions.
The type of landscape has great influence on possible soil erosion, soil moisture content 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.
In Condado do Tea and O Rosal, sub-zones between which it is not easy to make a clear distinction, the topography is characterised by the morphological opening of the Miño river valley, especially as from the borough of As Neves. 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, which mostly originate in high Galicia ridges and which drain small depressions in a north-south direction and are caused by severe terrain fractures. They have in common a flat bed and on their sides there are rocky, often steep cliffs.
The predominant rock-type found in the Rías Baixas appellation is almost exclusively granite. Only a narrow band of metamorphic rock affects the Val do Salnés sub-zone on its way through to the villages of Rosal and Tomiño. 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 also 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 of the mouth of the Umia.
In the Condado do Tea and O Rosal sub-zones too, there are large, recent sedimentary deposits, among which the terraces of the Louro and Miño rivers feature. Both are very closely related, and from them seven levels have been detected.
Finally in the Ribeira do Ulla sub-zone, the soils 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 in the province of La Coruña. All of them have opted to 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 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 4.047 hectares (9,996 acres), divided up into over 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 we can take pleasure in observing when visiting Rías Baixas.
Seal of quality
The different types of wine displaying the Rías Baixas appellation carry a seal of quality that makes these wines unique. The seal guarantees that they have passed rigorous controls before being released on the market. Each strip label contains a hologram that makes it impossible to forge and which carries a number, enabling the batch of wine and the person to whom each bottle belongs to be traced.
Before the wines of Rías Baixas are dispatched to the market, the Control and Certification Body, after the prior qualification of the winery, collects a sample from each vat of wine which then undergoes a process of verification consisting of an organoleptic and physico-chemical analysis complying with regulation 17.065. Once the sample has passed this rigorous test, the wines are awarded the seal of quality and may be released on the market.