On March 12, the Sustainability Awards were held, organized by BBVA and the newspaper El Correo. Among 98 candidates, Bodegas Ostatu, located in Samaniego, in the Rioja region of Alava, won the award accrediting it as a benchmark in Sustainability.

Today we talk to Mariasun Sáenz de Samaniego, its Manager, about her winery, its development model, and why Sustainability is so important in her activity.

How do you think we can define, or what is the differentiating factor that makes Bodegas Ostatu (Ostatu Wineries) and its wines stand out from its competitors in the market? (which are many)

Differentiation in wineries, of our size and structure, is the only way to survive in our sector. That differentiation comes fundamentally from our grapes, seeking the highest quality and expression in our wines.

In this sense, I must say that we are in a privileged environment to develop quality viticulture, as is the Rioja Alavesa. Due to its climate, soils, native varieties, and tradition, we must add the commitment to continuous improvement and respect for the environment that gives us our way of life.

Lately, wine cellars have gone from growing grapes and making wine to an authentic catalog of tourist experiences. In this sense, what wine tourism offer, if any, does Bodegas Ostatu offer to those who want to visit you?

Yes, wine tourism has become a significant factor in the development of the territory. The wineries have developed our experiences offers, aimed not only at the customer consuming and getting to know our wines and our work, but also at the customer becoming a consumer of the territory, favoring the development of our rural environment.

Just a month ago, you were awarded in the edition of the sustainability awards organized by BBVA and the newspaper El Correo. Ekohunters was also a finalist. What is Bodegas Ostatu’s assessment of the award received? Does this recognition as a “sustainably committed company” compensate for the more significant effort that will be involved in the future? Do you think that your customers value this effort when choosing your wine, or do they carry it out as their own responsibility and commitment, out of respect for the environment in which they carry out their activity?

As it cannot be otherwise, the assessment is very positive, as our project has been recognized as one of the outstanding ones, especially in these times when good news and motivating impulses are scarce, the recognition was very positive for all of us.

It also encourages us to continue with our work based on our activity’s environmental and social responsibility.

Specifically, the award-winning project, Viñadiversidad, is very ambitious in terms of knowledge and improvement of biodiversity and soil structure in our vineyards, taking advantage of their potential as carbon sinks and transferring this differentiation of each plot to our wines.

We transfer all this commitment and effort to the market, focusing on a customer looking for added value and a committed product, an arduous task in which we find ourselves. However, we are sure that the consumer’s concern for environmental and social Sustainability is becoming more and more evident.

Continuing with the subject of Sustainability in the winery, what measures is Bodegas Ostatu taking to reduce its impact on the environment and its resources? 

Sustainability, I can proudly say, is part of the DNA of our small organization, and we have been working for many years in that line in the different processes of our winery: photovoltaic installation, biomass air conditioning, water recovery circuits, led lighting… there are many small steps that we have been taking beyond the ecological and regenerative viticulture that we are carrying out.

Ostatu was the first winery to calculate its carbon footprint for the entire process. As a result of this calculation, we implemented small and vital improvements, mainly aimed at reducing packaging impact, a process with more impact on the carbon footprint, reducing the weight of glass, recycled cardboard, etc.

In short, a long journey based on small steps, which finally represents a significant commitment, which at the same time is motivating for the whole team and family that make up Ostatu.

In this sense, Bodegas Ostatu is not a single agent in its value chain. How do you involve, and to what extent do you involve the different agents participating in this chain (winegrowers, distributors, etc.) in this commitment and responsibility acquired with Sustainability by the winery? Are they also open to implementing sustainable models in their activity, or is it focused on their relationship with Bodegas Ostatu?

Of course, we try to transfer this commitment to all the agents we interact with, especially the winegrowers with whom we have been working and collaborating for many years, encouraging them to take steps towards a more sustainable viticulture model. As always, you find all kinds of people who are more open to change and others for whom a small change is a whole world.

In any case, a more sustainable model is what we are all looking for, so through small steps, we manage to involve them in an organizational commitment, which they are also part of.

Is the wine sector in general committed to the sustainable development of its activity? What do you think is, in general, the biggest problem faced by wineries, the wine sector in general, about the environmental impacts of its activity? What measures do you think would be necessary to carry out at the sector level to improve these impacts?

The wine sector is a sector committed to sustainable development, and essential commitments have been made by large groups and large wineries and small wineries, although they are still insufficient. The market is still not very demanding in terms of its importance to the product it consumes. However, we are aware that this will change rapidly towards a much more demanding and sensitive consumer, as we already see in other countries.

The measures that the sector can put in place coincide with those that each one of us, at an individual level, should and can implement: reducing fossil energy consumption, efficiency in water consumption, recycling, improvement of the landscape and biodiversity, social responsibility, ecology, many areas of action and improvement.

We cannot forget that the sector is feeling the effects of climate change at first hand, with its effects on vineyard cultivation: increasingly frequent inclement weather, earlier vegetative cycle, earlier grape ripening, etc., so the involvement should be maximum, and the institutions should push for its promotion in a meaningful way.

Climate change and global warming are undoubtedly changing the planet and all its scenarios. How do you think this change will affect the wine sector? Is this change in the climate (higher temperatures, more pronounced storms, shorter autumns, and springs…) already being felt in the cultivation and production of wines? Is the wine sector as it has traditionally been known in danger due to these changes?

We cannot forget that the sector is feeling the effects of climate change first hand, with its effects on vineyard cultivation: increasingly frequent inclement weather, earlier vegetative cycle, earlier grape ripening, etc… so the involvement should be maximum, and the institutions should push for its promotion in a significant way.

In our territory, we can see the effect of this climate change, because today we have vineyards at about 750 meters above sea level, and this was unthinkable 50 years ago, that it could be possible, and get good ripening in those places, previously considered too cold and wet for the development of a quality vineyard. Today we get grapes with good ripening and balance.

Viticultural practices are being adapted, which partly mitigate the effect of climate change. I do not believe that the sector is in danger, but it is very alert and committed to preventing this situation from worsening.

Amid all these changes that are taking place, how do you see the future of the Rioja Alavesa region? Will the territory and its inhabitants be resilient to these changes? Is there a genuine will to carry out the necessary change towards economic, social, and environmental Sustainability among its inhabitants and governors?

This environment, Rioja Alavesa, where we work and where our vineyards are located, with its candidacy of Cultural Landscape of Wine and Vineyards to be nominated as a World Heritage Site by Unesco, is a territory of great historical, social and cultural value for the whole of the Basque Country, which we are all obliged to care for, protect and value, working towards the postulates of economic, social and environmental Sustainability necessary for its survival and enhancement.

Finally, from all the different wines produced by Bodegas Ostatu, could you recommend any in particular that you think our readers should taste?

With the wines, it is challenging to advise one because they are all different; if I have to advise one that can fit a younger consumer profile, with a more casual consumption, I will bet on ESCOBAL de Ostatu 2018, a wine with lots of fruit, round and a great freshness that makes it highly recommended at different times, both accompanied by gastronomy, as well as to enjoy a glass of wine.

If my advice is directed towards a more mature consumer, I will go for a more complex, deep, mineral wine, as is the Selección de Ostatu 2016, perfect to accompany a good meal and enjoy it with time.

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