Monday, August 07, 2006

Take me to Rioja!

The Juice journeyed to Rioja last week to see Dinastia Vivanco's grandly named 'Museum of the Culture of Wine' and to catch up on their other vinous and cultural endeavours. In the company of Olly Smith (broadcaster and flame-headed Syndrome lookalike) and mild-mannered web supremo Tom Cannavan of wine-pages fame, TJ boarded the early flight from a sunny Stansted to land in an improbably drizzle-bedecked Bilbao. Once over the Cantabrian mountains, and as predicted by tour guide Rob McIntosh, the weather cleared, the wide open lands lay before, and (give or take the odd Riojan roadwork or two), the group made good speed to Briones, home of the Vivanco operation.
The Vivanco family have been selling and making wine in Rioja for the best part of a century, and as part of their very family-centred efforts, have built a magnificent museum and cultural centre just outside Briones. First stop for our crew, however was an small tower which protrudes from the Tempranillo vineyards across from the museum. Down the spiral staircase, and into an amazing new winery they have built underground.
To call it 'James Bond' in style and scope is to do it a disservice, but this vast and beautifully conceived underground lair was lacking, in TJ's opinion, only a grey-suited villain with a cat on his lap and sinister band of lackeys to accompany him. Happily for our party, it was handsome and distinctly unvillainous Rafael 'Rafa' Vivanco who brandished the keys, and took us on a tour of the spectacular site. The Dinastia Vivanco wines are all made here, and the future for the wines looks very bright indeed.
Once back to the museum, our hosts very generously fed us in the beautiful restaurant (perhaps realising that we had not, thanks to the vagueries of cheap air travel, eaten a morsel that day since a blueberry muffin at circa 0600 hours). The veritable feast on offer was duly devoured, the team descended (with only slightly creaking legs) into the museum. Here were further feasts. Rafa explained that, unlike other repositories of wine paraphenalia around the world, this one was concerned with the role of the grape in culture across the ages. Thus one gets not only barrel making demonstrations and ancient wine presses, but beautiful greek amphorae and art across the centuries celebrating the odd glassful being consumed. These included works by Picasso and some truly stunning Roman mosaics, as well as the biggest collection of corkscrews you are ever likely to clap eyes on.
The museum is a great testament to one family's devotion to wine in all its forms, and ever-growing visitor numbers bear out its great value to Rioja in particular, and wine tourism in general.
An evening spent 'tapas crawling' - quite the most delicious bar crawl TJ has yet had the pleasure to take part in - in nearby Logrono, finished with a decent bottle of the local reserva in the main square, as Olly Smith revealed previously hidden (and for the most part unprintable) dexterity with the Spanish language. Truly, this is a man born to talk rubbish in many tongues.
The next day we went south into the gently undulating countryside of the Rioja Baja, to DV's latest project, an architectural dig on the site of an old winery. Initally, translation and general pointing at the ground suggested that this project was perhaps not on the scale of Pompei in its potential; however moments later our guide led us down a steep slope into the very bowels of the earth, where we gazed in wonder at the 12th century Sisterian arches and corridors which had been uncovered, buried deep into the hillside. Feeling ever so slightly nervous at being in the midst of a 'live' dig (and one arch had already collapsed during digging), TJ was still full of admiration for the Vivanco family and their desire to chronicle and explain wine history for the benefit of future generations.
There was barely time for another four course meal back in Briones before Senor McIntosh led us back to the team beemer for a race to Vittoria, thence via Ryanair back to Blighty. A truly memorable trip, for all the right reasons. Rioja will never be a 'hardship' destination, but the Vivancos have given us all even more reason to visit this famous wine region. Salud!


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