Ribeiro

Since ancient times, winemaking has been this region's main industry and source of wealth, although the origins of the distinctive and unique native Ribeiro varieties are unknown. The Greek geographer Strabo records that Ribeiro wine was already being made in the middle of the 2nd century B.C.  Indeed, as their legions marched through this area, the Roman emperors enjoyed Ribeiro wines as they dined. 

But if anyone deserves special pride of place in the region's historical memory, it is the Cistercian monks from the monastery at San Clodio, in the borough of Leiro. The monastery was built by the religious order and was occupied until a few years ago, when it became a hotel and tourist attraction. The monks saw the enormous potential of Ribeiro wine and lavished a great deal of care and attention on the native grape varieties that have come to make this area world famous.

Interestingly, in the mid-12th century, the Abbot of San Clodio monastery, Pelagio González, referred in his will to the enormous task of re-planting the vineyards. He was very proud of the high quality of Ribeiro wines which were taken to Europe via the Santiago Way by Jewish merchants, who also made their mark on Ribadavia's historical and monumental landscape.

However, the monks at San Clodio monastery were not the only ones who were promoting the wine industry. The monks at the monastery of Oseira (known as the Galician Escorial) were also wine growers. Although the monastery does not lie within the geographical boundaries of the Ribeiro Denomination of Origin, the monks planted vines on Ribeiro land along the banks of the Miño river and built a number of farms and priories dedicated to wine production. According to documents dating from the 12th and 13th centuries, the monks from Oseira signed contracts with various landowners in the Ribeiro area to plant vines.

This area, which was little affected by the Muslim invasion, enjoyed continuity and progress in vine growing from Roman times, reaching its heyday in the 15th and 16th centuries, when wine became one of the great riches of the Ribeiro region. During this period both vine growing and wine production were carried out to extremely high standards and had considerable status. Wine was exported throughout Spain and Europe, to France, Portugal, Italy and especially to Great Britain.

The Miño river played a vital role in the Ribeiro region's economy and wine was transported on rafts and carts for loading at the ports. 

Documentary evidence shows that in 1592, at the port of Ferrol, 127 barrels of Ribeiro wine costing 190 Reales were loaded on board a ship bound for America.

In those days, the benefits of wines from this region were reflected in all aspects of everyday life. Proof of this can be found in the many references to them in literature, including in one of Cervantes' Exemplary Novels, “The Licentiate Vidriera”, in which the protagonist comes across Ribeiro wine in a tavern in Genoa: “At a word, the host offered and even gave them more wines than Bacchus himself could have in his cellars” (trans. Watson, from the Exemplary Novels, Project Gutenberg, p. 54).

But, in 1850 the Ribeiro region, along with the rest of Spain, was hit by the oidium plague which decimated entire vineyards in a short space of time.  This was followed in 1892 by mildew and phylloxera, which brought poverty where there had once been a thriving industry.  The native grape varieties began to lose ground to other lower quality but hardier vines, which were more resistant but unsuitable and the decline in wine production triggered a wave of emigration from the area, a sad option for those who had no alternative.

Despite its past history, Ribeiro is now making a strong comeback and is firmly committed to the native grape varieties that gave it its name. This has been achieved by reviving ancient vineyards as well as creating new ones, by means of restructuring programmes and by opening new wineries and making improvements to existing ones. All this is being done by incorporating the latest technology, designed to improve quality and obtain maximum performance from native varieties, without losing sight of the traditional aspects of the great Ribeiro wines.