Rioja

Villabuena de Álava, a small village with 300 inhabitants, lies on both slopes of a ravine carved out by a small creek.  You could drive by the village on the main road and probably miss it completely if you weren’t looking carefully. But if you turn off the road and drive down the hill into the village, you are in for a pleasant surprise, because this village has more than 40 wineries, a fact that surely deserves a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

Twelve of these wineries, along with the spectacular Hotel Viura, have created an innovative wine tour through the village that won a regional 2019 ‘Best Of Wine Tourism’ award from the Great Wine Capitals Global Network.

We decided to take the tour to find out for ourselves.

 

Five years ago, local entrepreneurs and music lovers Jose Pancorbo and Rafael Bezares weren’t sure if they wanted to create a special music festival or a special wine festival.  So they created both: MUWI La Rioja Music Fest, an annual event that fuses music, Rioja wine and tourism.  This unique focus earned the event a 2019 ‘Best Of Wine Tourism’ award for Art and Culture from the Great Wine Capitals Global Network.

The most heartwarming moment at the 2019 Bilbao-Rioja ‘Best Of Wine Tourism’ awards ceremony was the standing ovation given to three women from Bodegas Bohedal for their innovative wine tourism program. Three generations of women not only run the winery but have created experiences that perfectly define the family’s passion for wine, with a feminine touch and great attention to detail.

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.

Imagine you’re a young couple with two small children.  You’re also wine lovers and would like to visit a Rioja winery.  But you have a problem:  you can’t find a baby sitter and your parents are busy.  What do you do with the kids?  The answer is simple – bring them with you to Bodegas Valdemar where they have an experience that is tailor-made for children:  “In Search of the Magic Grapes”. Bodegas Valdemar received a ‘Best Of Wine Tourism’ award for innovative wine tourism experiences from the Great Wine Capitals Global Network for this program.

Bodegas Lecea in San Asensio is one of many underground wine cellars that lie underneath most of the villages in the Rioja region.  Sadly most of these cellars have fallen into disrepair if not completely destroyed.  Luis and his family are leading a movement to restore these old cellars that show an important part of Rioja's winemaking past.  The winery was awarded a 2018 Best Of Wine Tourism award for Architecture from the Great Wine Capitals Global Network.

Ricardo and José Miguel Arambarri of the Vintae group are well known in the Rioja region for their novel approach to wine marketing.  So it was no surprise that they were the driving force behind Wine Fandango. This wine, tapas and cocktail bar and restaurant has quickly become one of Logroño’s favorite watering holes and received a special jury award at the Bilbao-Rioja 'Best Of Wine Tourism awards ceremony.

Bodegas Ramón Bilbao, in Haro in the heart of Rioja Alta, came up with the right idea with the creation of the Oculus Virtual Reality Experience that earned the winery a 2017 ‘Best Of Wine Tourism’ award for Innovative Wine Tourism from the Great Wine Capitals Global Network.

Using goggles, Oculus takes the visitor on a virtual journey that follows the progress of a grape from its birth to a wine glass.  It reflects Ramón Bilbao’s commitment to technological innovation to explain the winemaking process in an original, enjoyable way that is attractive to today’s tech savvy consumer.

Bodegas Valdelana, in the village of Elciego in Rioja Alavesa, is right behind the huge Marqués de Riscal winery/hotel complex, but it should not be overlooked by the discerning wine tourist.  It offers everything a visitor could ask for, and more. It’s no wonder that Valdelana received a “Best Of Wine Tourism award in the Art and Culture category in 2017.

It’s not easy to find Viñedos & Bodegas de Páganos. The estate is near the bottom of a hill between the villages of Laguardia and Páganos, leading you to believe that the owners, the Eguren family,  just want to be left alone to quietly go about their business.  And what a business it is!

The estate won an international ‘Best Of Wine Tourism’ award for Architecture and Landscapes for its stunning ensemble of vineyards, winery and ageing cellars in the Alavesa subregion of Rioja.

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