Internationally renowned wineries in the Appellation of Ribera del Duero in the region of Castilla y Leon, Spain, are facing a critical situation that threatens to destroy the unique terroir that lays claim to some of the world’s greatest wines. The strip of the heavily traveled N-122, also known as “the Golden Mile” (describing the several prestigious bodegas located on either side of the road), bisects the region and connects the two heavily populated towns of Valladolid and Soria, is anticipated to carry over 2,000 cars per day by the year 2010. With the current infrastructure, it is an unmanageable amount of traffic for a local thoroughfare that only has two lanes. Consequently, the government considered six options to affectively handle the increase of traffic based on 17 factors which it deemed as important.
These factors included everything from the environmental impact to budget considerations for each of the six alternative routes. Based on the apparent use of an old map dating back to 1991, the government chose the option which is seen by many to be the most environmentally destructive, the least affordable and the most unpopular by both businesses and local residences alike – the widening of the N-122 from a two-lane to a four-lane highway. If the Southern- Expansion Option (titled the “Southern option” in this article), moves forward as expected bodegas would lose valuable vines and a considerable amount of tourism dollars in the future. It appears that the speculation on future urbanization of the area is behind these decisions.
The Ribera del Duero earned its international reputation as a wine appellation in 1982 for its continual production of quality wines by vineyards such as Vega Sicilia who revolutionalized the Spanish wine market. In 1991, Ribera del Duero housed a mere 30 bodegas which dotted its landscape. As of 2006, the number had increased to over 250 Bodegas that are now harvesting between 60 and 80 million kgs of grapes per year– some of which are selling for as high as 240 Euros a bottle.
The success of the region is not only a result of these fine wines, but also the current trend towards wine tourism. The Duero River shelters some of most impressive tourism attractions throughout Spain. Not only known for distinctive micro-climates, such as the Golden Mile, this region can also boast of having some of Spain’s oldest and most beautiful architecture including a series of castles, abbeys and cathedrals that sit along the Duero River. Beyond the castles lie small pueblos which have preserved the region’s vernacular architecture surrounded by a rolling countryside filled with unique flora and fauna. Combining the rich historical and cultural fabric of the region along with internationally recognized Bodegas the Ribera del Duero river valley has become a magnet for future tourism opportunities.
The Southern Option
If the expansion of the N-122 commences, the destruction to the region would be devastating. Not only would the Southern option destroy 100 hectares of vineyards, but also lower the annual harvest by approximately one million kilos of grapes per year. In addition, it would wipe out 120,000 vines, many of which are considered to be “old vines” from some of the more renowned single estates. Pablo Alvarez, owner of legendary Bodega Vega Sicilia, will not only lose 15 to 20 hectares of vineyard, but is quoted by El Mundo as commenting that “the impact on our old vines will be irreversible.”
The environmental repercussions would equally be appalling. Because grape leaves naturally absorb hydrocarbons through their leaves and can carry them into the wine, the pollution could directly impact the quality of the wine. With the expected increase of traffic, the fumes could increase the likelihood of either killing vines, or at the very least, tainting the wines made in this region.
The Southern option has been met with criticism by both local residents and businesses. Although no one appears to disagree that an alternative route is necessary, the Southern option has been met with disapproval. Bodegas Arzuaga, who will lose 4.2 hectares as a result of the highway circulating within 5 meters of the entrance to their newly constructed 5 star hotel, questions the validity of the Southern- route. Ignacio Arzuaga was quoted by El Mundo as questioning if “there are six other options like the Northern-Central one, which doesn’t impact anything, why aren’t we doing this?”
The Northern-Central Option
There is a route that can be mapped to the north of the valley along the ridge that would add between 6-10 kms to the total route, used as justification by the Ministry’s defense of the Southern route. According to the figures from a study done to show the impact of a route in both the north (avoiding vineyards) and the south (destroying vineyards), the northern route is more favorable in 12 of the 17 points looked at. The North-Central option was considered the best option because it both met 12 of the 17 factors being considered by the Ministry, in addition to having a smaller impact on both the environment and the wine industry; whereas the Southern option met only 8 of the 17 factors, leaving the potential for environmental and social destruction.
The questions remains: how did the Southern option trump the North-Central option? The map originally used to layout the route for the new highway overlooked more than 100ha of vineyards as a result of the map dating to 1991. If we consider the rapid growth in the region, the map couldn’t have shown the considerable growth in past fifteen years, including 5-star hotels and new vineyard plantations. More than 10,059 additional hectares of land has been planted in the corridor of Ribera del Duero since the map’s publication in 1991, amounting to 52.75% of the total plantings in the Ribera del Duero as a whole.
Support was initially high for the Southern route, though it quickly dissipated when the BOE (Official State Bulletin) of the 16th of November, which reported on the environmental impact was found to be lacking in research. 15 days after the administration publicly announced the construction of the highway from Valladolid to Aranda de Duero, 19 local provinces and 6 wineries had announced their opposition in support of the alternative route that parallels the Duero River. Currently, sixty-two towns in the province of Valladolid, Burgos and Palencia support the North-Central option and oppose the Southern option.
If the government chooses the North-Central option, it will not only protect the natural beauty of the Duero River Valley, it will also provide access to the Golden-Mile which begins at Tudela de Duero in the West and continues East to Peñafiel. Additionally, because this N-122 is located not 3-4 kilometers from a major highway, tourists can enjoy the tranquility of the region, Bodegas can continue to grow and expand their already internationally renown vineyards and the local population can still be provided convenient and rapid transportation on the North-Central Highway.
Watch this short video about the problem:
For more information and to fill in the petition to save the Duero click the link below: