I must admit, I didn't know much about Campo de Borja when I first read about the results of this year's San Francisco International Wine Competition. I was surprised to learn that Masia de Bielsa's 2007 Garnacha won the "Best Grenache" award – quite an honor for a $12 bottle of wine from a DO with only 17 wineries.
As I started to read about Campo de Borja, I discovered that I did, indeed, know something – in fact, a fair amount – about this part of Spain. Campo de Borja is part of the region of Aragon, the home of Henry VIII of England's first wife, Catherine, and her mother, Spain's famous Queen Isabella. Campo de Borja once belonged to the Borja family, one of Spain's most famous noble clans. You'll recognize the name when you read the Italianized version – Borgia. Borja Popes and their infamous relatives had great influence throughout Renaissance Europe.
Campo de Borja Wine History
Winemaking predates the Borja family by several centuries. Documentation from the Veruela Monastery indicates that wines were made in Campo de Borja as early as the late 12th century, possibly much earlier. The Cistercian monks of Veruela bought up vineyards in the surrounding area and expanded wine production accordingly. Garnacha is native to the DO, and winemakers have traditionally focused their attention on the indigenous garnacha grapes. Today the region is dotted with vineyards, many of them small, but Campo de Borja has only 17 wineries. Several of these wineries are cooperatives; some also produce olive oil and food products.
Climate and Soil
Campo de Borja's continental climate comes with a unique twist, the "cierzo" wind that blows cold, dry air down from the northwest. As you would expect, summers are very hot and winters are cold. Temperatures can vary widely – Campo de Bierzo has recorded high temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and lows below 20 degrees. The region doesn't get much rain.
Campo de Borja lies between the Sierra de Moncayo mountain and the Ebro River valley. The area consists mainly of high plateaus and hills. Limestone soils predominate in Campo de Borja, but there are some areas with clay soils near the Sierra de Montayo. Drainage is generally good.
Campo de Borja Grape Varieties
As you might expect, Campo de Borja is all about red wine. Less than five percent of Campo de Borja's vineyards are planted in white wine grapes, mainly macabeo. Garnacha rules here – the DO's slogan is "Empire of Garnacha" – 62 percent of the region's vineyards are planted in garnacha. Tempranillo, the second most popular variety, lags behind at 12 percent. Grape production continues to increase, with wine sales expanding accordingly.
Campo de Borja exports about 35 percent of its wines, so you'll find it easy to learn more about wines and wineries of this DO even if you don't read Spanish. Information is available in several languages, including English.
Visiting Campo de Borja Wineries
Any trip to Campo de Borja should begin at the Campo de Borja Wine Museum. It's located in the Veruela Monastery, the traditional heart of Campo de Borja winemaking. The monastery is no longer active, but you can tour the buildings as well as visit the Wine Museum. Here you can learn about wine production, history and wine tasting techniques. The museum's "Workshop of Senses" helps visitors understand the different aspects of tasting wines. You can arrange for an actual wine tasting session by contacting the museum in advance.
Once you've experienced the Wine Museum, it's time to head out to some wineries. Bodegas Borsao unites the products of three cooperatives under one label. Borsao wines are known for their quality and reasonable prices. You can visit the Borsao winemaking complex if you arrange your visit in advance.
Bodegas Aragonesas produces an astounding 7 million liters of wine per year. The winery offers an enormous range of wines, from award-winning garnachas and moscatels to, well, box wine. You can visit the winery if you contact Bodegas Aragonesas in advance.
Bodegas Bordejé was established in 1770. This family-owned winery recently built a new bodega, complete with an art gallery. If you'd like to visit this winery, you can find a handy map at the Spanish-language section of its Web site.
Bodegas Ruberte has put together a Garnacha Wine Route booklet. Although the downloadable brochure is in Spanish, it's worth a look. Not only can you see beautiful photographs of the Campo de Borja DO, you can also find contact information for eight area wineries. If you'd like to visit Bodegas Ruberte itself, you'll need to contact the winery in advance. (Web site in Spanish only. English-language visits available by prior arrangement.)
Whether you're spending a few days in Campo de Borja or sitting on your deck with a bottle of the region's splendid garnacha, you'll enjoy experiencing this DO's rich winemaking heritage. Quality, tradition and value – could there be any better combination?