Basque in Success: Winemaker Is Distinguished Lecturer

Guillermo de Aranzabal Agudo, M.B.A. ’84, leads Grupo La Rioja Alta.

A fifth-generation vintner from Spain is the University of Miami Alumni Association’s 2012 Distinguished Alumni Lecturer.

Guillermo de Aranzabal Agudo, M.B.A. ’84, president and CEO of Spain’s Grupo La Rioja Alta, S.A., will discuss his family’s time-honored profession at 6 p.m. on January 19, 2012, at the Newman Alumni Center.

Aranzabal is a member of La Gran Orden de Caballeros del Vino, which recognizes those in the U.K. Trade who have shown exceptional enterprise in promoting quality wines of Spain. In 2006 he founded the Association of Centenary and Traditional Wineries and was appointed a member of the Basque Academy of Gastronomy. In 2007 he founded and chaired an association devoted to developing tourism in La Rioja, one of Europe’s top wine destinations.

Though his family runs other businesses, Aranzabal says none excites him as much as La Rioja Alta, founded in 1890. “You control everything,” he enthuses. “What grapes you plant, where you plant them, the yield per acre, the aging of the wine, the label on the bottle, the market you want to target, even which customers you want to sell your wines to. It’s a unique industry, and those possibilities make you totally responsible for your success or failure.”

The Haro, Spain-based business has four wineries, many brands, a distribution company for Madrid, and offices in Germany and Miami. Its best-known wine, Viña Ardanza, was introduced in 1934 and blends Tempranillo and Garnacha grapes.

The key to winemaking, notes Aranzabal, is balancing Old World technique and modern technology such as microchips that can be implanted in vines to forecast the plants’ needs. “The raking and the aging in cask is more or less as it was 100 years ago,” he notes, “but the fermentation facilities, the control of the grapes, the bottling line are state-of-the-art.”

Aranzabal was born in Pamplona (“known for the bulls running in the streets,” he says) but raised in Vitoria-Gasteiz, the capital of Basque Country, where he still lives with his wife and sons, ages 13 and 16. After earning law and economics degrees from the University of Deusto in Bilbao and completing Spain’s mandatory military service, he came to the States to study management at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte and then business at UM. In 2005 he succeeded his father as head of La Rioja Alta.

“The Distinguished Alumni Lecture Series recognizes University of Miami alumni who have distinguished themselves through lifetime achievement and professional accomplishments,” says Donna A. Arbide, M.B.A. ’95, UM Alumni Association executive director. “It is a pleasure to present Guillermo de Aranzabal with this distinction and thank him for his support and leadership of the University. In growing and maintaining his family-owned business as a premier winery in Spain and the global wine community, he has embodied true entrepreneurial passion, vision, and innovation throughout his career, which is a testament to the caliber of our alumni.”