From its birth in the Picos de Urbión mountains to its outlet in Porto, the river Duero has shaped the landscape of more than a dozen wine-growing regions in Spain and Portugal, and specially our own Abadía Retuerta estate.
The name Abadía Retuerta derives from the river itself —the Rívola Torta was the sinuous shore next to which the Premonstratensian monks settled at the end of the 12th century. They erected the abbey close to the water, on the left bank of the river. There are approximately 700 hectares of land on the property, of which more than 200 are currently under vine.
In a way, Abadía Retuerta is one of the many wine stories or stages dotting the course of the river. In this piece, we wade through its waters to understand the Duero Valley in all its diversity.
900 kilometres and over a dozen wine regions
Although the Tagus and the Ebro are longer, the Duero river basin is the largest in the Iberian Peninsula and occupies a significant part of its north-western part. The source of the Duero is found at an elevation of over 2000 metres on the southern slopes of Picos de Urbión and the river flows for almost 900 kilometres down to Porto, where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the Duero flows through Spanish territory, where it receives water from the Cantabrian, Iberian and Central mountain ranges. For 112 kilometres, the river forms part of the border line between Spain and Portugal, where there is a sudden drop in altitude.
Both the Douro and its tributaries have shaped the countryside of many wine regions in Castilla y León: Arlanza, Ribera del Duero, Valtiendas, Cigales, Rueda, Toro, Tierra de León, the Valleys of Benavente, Arribes. In Portugal, its waters have sculpted the stunning landscape of the Douro leaving its mark on the wines of Tras-os-Montes and in the Vinho Verde region.
Although it was not suitable for navigation in Spain, the Portuguese made the most of it as a form of transport: they sent their port barrels downstream in their traditional boats, the rabelos, to age in the warehouses of Vilanova de Gaia, across from Porto.
The Duero Valley is in fact a large sedimentary basin in which different materials have gradually set creating a complex and mixed geology that explains the great diversity of soils that we now encounter, albeit on a very small scale, in our Abadía Retuerta estate.
It is particularly revealing that a large part of its course is planted with Tempranillo, the most prevalent variety on our estate but also in appellations or regions such as Arlanza, Ribera del Duero, Valtiendas, Cigales, Toro and Tierra de Zamora. Tempranillo extends across a vast red area that is only interrupted by the white Verdejo grapes of Rueda.
A little bit of history
Although grape growing in many Spanish regions was introduced in Roman times, the current Duero vineyards are heirs to the reconquest against the Muslims and the repopulation of territories that were abandoned or devastated by both battles and scorched earth tactics.
The repopulation of the Duero valley was largely achieved in two ways: through presura, a system of land appropriation that allowed those who ploughed and cleared land to keep it; and the royal allocation of large properties to wealthy men who later brought settlers or major religious establishments. In the case of Abadía Retuerta, it was founded by Doña Mayor, daughter of Count Don Pedro Ansúrez. Traditionally regarded as the founder of Valladolid, Ansúrez donated a site known as Fuentes Claras or Retuerta on 1 April 1146. Doña Mayor married Álvar Fáñez Minaya, chief captain in the army of King Alfonso VI of León and a contemporary of the Cid Campeador with whom he had fought in innumerable battles. Predictably, Minaya appears repeatedly in the medieval Spanish epic poem Cantar del Mío Cid.
If only rivers spoke…