The Winemaker Who Tells Stories
Rioja - Spain
Roberto Oliván is a rare breed among winemakers; a quiet creature, worthy of praise for his creativity, passion, and perspective. You don’t need to search long to figure out Roberto’s capabilities—his voice speaks for itself through his ambitions in the vineyard, blending style, and bottle presentation. For such a young person, he has an old soul that thrives in looking to the past. His work simply exudes originality and artistry.
Roberto Oliván is the sole face of Tentenublo, the proprietor, the grower, the cellarist. Tentenublo hails from an unexpected location in the midst of three mountain ranges—the Iberian Chain, Cantabrian Chain, and the Pyrenees. This location gives opportunity for Roberto to seek special microclimates throughout Viñaspre, a hamlet of Rioja Alavesa, for which he’s become known. He has increased the number to 22 distinct parcels ranging from 15-70 year old vines. In choosing to bottle many of these parcels separately, he’s seized the opportunity to stand apart from those in Rioja who still focus on volume blending.
The first of many inspirations come from his family where he draws a forceful connection; the Xérico line is a tribute to four previous generations of Oliván ancestors. If you align all the Xérico bottles side by side, the effect of the labels would illustrate a family tree of his ancestors in black and white photographs. His ties to generations of his family cultivating vines in Rioja ring true in the Xérico bottles. To complete the tribute, he’s opted for the Xérico wines to be blended from various parcels, as is Rioja tradition.
Artistry crosses another threshold with the eponymously named Tentenublo, his flagship wine. “Tentenublo” is a term for the ringing of bells used to defend the vines from hailstorms; the term “hailing” from some of the local Rioja villages. On these playful labels, you see images of both wide-eyed bell and cloud in full-speed cartoon chase, complete with musical notes. For any winemaker, hail is as serious as disease; a little humor from Roberto’s label easily lightens the mood.
Escondite del Ardacho—the hideaway of the Ardacho lizard—is a wine depicting the habitat of a local lizard. The presentation of the bottle is the lizard's home environment. Tissue paper encompasses the bottle, a metaphorical thicket where the lizard hides outside the vineyards. The tissue is wrapped in a straw-like twine, perhaps representing the growth of vegetation. On the neck of the bottle, tied with the twine, hangs a booklet of cards with illustrations and verbiage on the wine and on the lizard itself, inviting you to take part in the observation. After peeling away the tissue, a lizard depicted as a 19th century period character presents itself on the label. To complete the packaging, the bottle is hand-dipped in wax. Escondite del Ardacho wine takes on a new cuvée name with each vintage change, but remains a single vineyard bottling.
For Roberto, his cuvées serve more than a concept of beverage or wine—they’re an expression of artistry, telling a story, including the audience in the act. His tools are simple, using Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Viura varieties with the light-handed usage of French oak, and an even lesser usage of sulfites. Roberto’s wines present the world with a depiction of history and culture from the minuscule area of Viñaspre in Rioja.
by Brittany Marsh - the Cru - HART & CRU