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Bordeaux has the Haut Médoc, Burgundy can boast about its terroirs and Germany, the steep terraced vineyards above the Rhine and Mosel rivers. In Rioja, Haro’s historic railway station district is a unique place, too, but not for its vineyards. It’s the only place in the world where you can find five one-hundred-plus-year old wineries within a two hundred yard radius:
R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia (1877)
Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España – CVNE – (1879)
Gómez Cruzado (1886)
La Rioja Alta (1890)
Bodegas Bilbaínas (1901)
This small area is also the home of two ‘newcomers’:
This is a killer marketing opportunity so it might seem odd that an event linking these properties only happened last September. You have to consider, however, that funding for the event came almost exclusively from the wineries’ own pockets, a monumental effort taking into account that their priority is promoting their own brands. Happily, the wineries put aside their traditional rivalry to showcase their wines and it was a spectacular success, earning the event a ‘Best Of Wine Tourism’ award in the category of Innovative Wine Tourism Experiences.
The arrival of a railway line linking the Ebro river valley to the port of Bilbao in the mid-19th century was critical for the development of international sales of Rioja wines. Before the railway arrived, wines were transported in wagons on bumpy roads over the mountains between the valley and Bilbao, a long journey that no doubt jostled the wines. The railway was the catalyst for entrepreneurs to build wineries around the station, where they remain today.
The event took place over two days in mid-September, just before the start of the harvest. The first day was exclusively for over 400 professionals – wine writers, distributors, retailers and sommeliers who were guided through a tasting of fourteen wines (half from the 20th century, half from the 21st) by Tim Atkin MW, followed by open houses at the seven wineries where each showed their range of wines.
The tasting room
The second day was devoted to the public. Over 5000 visitors, 90% from Spain and 10% from abroad, sampled the wineries’ offerings. There were two tasting options: a ‘regular’ ticket for 20€ allowing for a tasting of one wine from each winery and four tapas, and a VIP ticket for 40€ for a tasting of 14 premium wines and seven tapas.
Each winery showed off a winemaking skill or an artistic presentation– barrel making, barrel ageing, or blending in the first case or sculptures, murals and a photographic exhibition of the Railway Station district from its creation to today.
It was a great educational opportunity for locals and visitors from abroad as well as a big, happy street party.
The organizers were so pleased with the results that they agreed to hold another tasting this year. Mark your calendars: September 16-17, 2016. And keep an eye on the event website: www.lacatadelbarriodelaestacion.com
Text and photos: Tom Perry, Inside Rioja