Share this page
Before the arrival of electricity, pumps, air conditioning and heating, wineries dug underground cellars to vinify and age their wines. A fine example of this architecture is Bodega Conde de los Andes in Ollauri, the largest underground network of ageing cellars in the Rioja region. Loving maintenance and respect for ancient winemaking traditions by the owners, the Murua family, earned the winery an award for sustainable wine tourism from the Great Wine Capitals Global Network in 2018.
It’s not clear if the first cellars were built in the 13th or 14th century. What is certain is that a record of them existed in the 15th. The rest of the cellars was built in the 17th and 18th century. Here, wine was made by putting grapes into stone tanks called lagos at ground level where unpressed juice drained into wooden fermentation vats underneath. The skins and grapes were trodden using footpower and then pressed. The fermented wines were then siphoned off into storage tanks and later, pigskins which were carried up steep stairs on workers’ backs to ground level.
The Federico Paternina winery acquired the cellars in 1896. When the company built cellars in Haro, the Ollauri cellars were used for bottle storage. The cellars gradually fell into disrepair until 2014 when Julian and Javier Murua purchased them and began an ambitious plan to restore them and eventually vinify wine again. This idea came true in 2015.
It could be said that the Ollauri cellars were among the first to open its doors to tourists. Two of the most famous were the novelist Ernest Hemingway and his friend the bullfighter Antonio Ordóñez who visited often in the 1950s. The Muruas have honored these visits with two armchairs and one can only imagine the two illustrious visitors talking while enjoying a glass of wine from the winery.
Today, the Conde de los Andes cellars has opened its doors to thousands of tourists interested in seeing how wine was made the old fashioned way.