Exopto’s principal vineyards are ploughed by Miguel Angel Mato, a seasoned grower based in San Vicente. Mato owns a number of old vineyards high on the slopes of the Sierra Cantabria, and, under the Exopto label, Puyaubert has been making and releasing a series of small-batch single-vineyard wines sourced off Mato’s familial plots. The grower carries out all the farming duties under Puyaubert’s guidance while Puyaubert makes and sells the wine.
Tom Puyaubert is bringing us up to speed with his new vineyard plots. First, there’s La Mimbrera, a gnarly plot of Garnacha and Tempranillo planted between 1890 and 1950. Also, in Abalos, he’s acquired a parcel in El Hoyo where one plot dates back to 1920. Then, San Cristobal, 0.7 hectares of old Viura at 630 metres, and Carrapeciña, an old vine parcel devoted to high grown Garnacha. By the time he gets to a plot of 1940s Malvasia Riojana in San Vincente, we realise that the man behind Exopto is only getting warmed up.
When we first started shipping this producer, we marked French-born Tom Puyaubert as a Rioja star in the making. That was ten years ago, and today the man and his wines have amply delivered on that expectation.
Much like in Champagne, in the last 15-20 years, Rioja has witnessed the rise of a small number of growers who are determined to make wines reflective of their place. In doing so, they are emulating the traditions of the cosecheros (grower-producers) of 19th century Rioja, who made wines from their own grapes long before the impact of this region’s more accepted generic ‘traditional’ model.
All the critical artisanal boxes are ticked here: outstanding, hillside vineyards on rocky soils; very old vines (averaging 60-plus years); low yields; a terrific little winery replete with new cement tanks and large-format oak; and small production. Then there’s the grower’s passion for a place where, in 2003, he arrived as a barrel salesman. Today he finds himself at the vanguard of Rioja’s return-to-terroir movement.
Exopto works a total of 22 hectares of organically tended old vineyards on the slopes of the Sierra Cantabria (Rioja Alta) and Yerga mountains (Rioja Oriental). The majority of these small holdings lie around the villages of Ábalos and San Vicente de la Sonsierra, in the small pocket of Rioja Alta between the River Ebro and the Basque mountains. This postcode has much in common with Rioja Alavesa and is sometimes referred to as Rioja’s Côte-d’Or. The soils here are rich in limestone, the climate is cooler, and the altitude is even higher than most parts of Rioja Alta.
Having established Exopto’s core range—-under the Bozeto and Horizonte labels—-Puyaubert has recently turned his attention to several extraordinary single-vineyard wines—something very new for Rioja. Two of the most exciting bottlings we have tasted from northern Spain, La Mimbrera (Ábalos) and El Espinal (San Vicente), now underpin one of the most stimulating portfolios of the new Spain.