As in many regions of Spain the vine was cultivated by the Church. By the 1500s wine based on Tinta del Pais had become the region’s main economic product. In the 1650s wineries in Aranda del Duero were said to have produced 6 million liters of wine. Underground tunnels were utilized for temperature control and aging of wine. In 1864 Vega Sicilia was founded with the first vines from Bordeaux being planted in the area. After being granted D.O. in 1982, due largely to the work of Alejandro Fernandez, an explosion of development occurred shifting production from inexpensive rose to top quality red wine.
"'All these new wineries, the buildings are modern, the vinifying is modern, but they're doing very traditional wines,' says Javier Zaccagnini, who ran the area's governing Consejo Regulador from 1992 to 1999 and now is the managing partner of Aalto. 'It's the traditional style, but done properly - not with dirty cellars, but just genuine Spanish wines.'"
Climate: The majority of plantings are sited within the valley and thus protected from extreme weather. Due to the high altitude, 2,300 to 2,750 feet, nighttime temperatures are much lower than daytime temperatures allowing grapes to maintain essential natural acidity. Frost in late Autumn and early Spring is a worry in this area and while rare temperatures can drop as low as -5 degree Fahrenheit.
Soil: The main growing area is made up of the high plains, steep slopes, shallow slopes and river banks. Most vines are planted on the shallow slopes where chalk and limestone predominate in the soil making up to 50% of the total. Clay, marl and sandy soils are also found in the region.
Grape Varities: Tinta del Pais, the local clone of Tempranillo, makes up 85% of plantings in Ribera del Duero. While Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec are allowed grapes in the blend, they are not permitted to be planted in new vineyards. Garnacha makes of the remainder of the vineyards along with Albillo, a white grape traditionally used to make rose when blended with Tinta del Pais. Vines vary in training between bush vines and wire trained, with the wire trained vines pruned to allow 16 bunches per plant.