The Palace of Viana in Laguardia, the heart of the Rioja Alavesa Wine Route, was built in 1619 as a residence for Laguardia nobleman Martín Sánchez de Samaniego. However, with the passing of time, the building fell into disrepair. In 1989 Jaime Gutiérrez – a man with a dream ahead of his time – carried out a meticulous, painstaking restoration of the property. Today, Mayor de Migueloa houses a working winery, a boutique hotel, two restaurants, and a wine shop.
Underground wine cellars honeycomb the village
Visitors to Laguardia cannot help but notice the Palace of Viana with its spectacular Baroque façade and heraldic crest when walking down the Kale Nagusia/Calle Mayor (Main Street) towards the church of Santa María. Within the city walls, walking is the only option, because below street level there is a vast honeycomb of underground wine cellars that would not support the weight of a car or a lorry. Mayor de Migueloa has one of the most spectacular of these vaulted cellars, ten metres deep.
Traditional and modern winemaking practices in the palace
The Gutiérrez family, whose ancestors have maintained an unbroken winemaking tradition dating back to 1690, have respected the winemaking traditions of Laguardia wherever possible.
Today, as in the seventeenth century, grapes are delivered in small recipients to the door of the winery, located in the street behind the entrance to the palace. Once inside, the grapes are transformed into wine following both traditional and modern methods including destemming, and fermentation in large French oak vats, ceramic-lined clay amphorae, glass demijohns, or stainless steel micro-vinification tanks.
Ageing is carried out in the vaulted underground cellar in oak barrels and in bottle. Visitors to the palace can follow each stage of the winemaking process that includes a tasting. Mayor de Migueloa wines are made and sold with the guarantee of the Designation of Origin Rioja.
Eight luxurious rooms
The hotel respect the architectural style of the palace, with the original floors, wooden beams, stone walls and a staircase made with ashlar stones that show the wear and tear of thousands of footsteps over more than four hundred years.
The decoration in each of the eight unique guest rooms respects the style of the epoch, with antique furniture and other decorative elements inside the rooms, in the halls and landings of the stairwells and on the walls. Guests are made to feel that they are staying in a seventeenth century nobleman’s palace but with 21st century amenities. It is indeed a magical experience.
High-class dining in a traditional setting
The hotel’s main restaurant is on the first floor in three rooms dating from the 17th century. Tastefully decorated with antique furniture, the restaurant serves Basque-Riojan cuisine sourced locally, prepared in a traditional style with modern touches.
A second restaurant is in the old grape press room in the underground wine cellar where visitors can enjoy a wine tasting or a typical meal made with local ingredients.
The carefully curated wine list includes wines from the palace’s winery under the Mayor de Migueloa brand.
A labor of love has its rewards
The devotion of the Gutiérrez family to this project has earned Mayor de Migueloa numerous national and international awards. When the building opened in 1992, it was widely recognized as one of the outstanding properties devoted to tourists in northern Spain.
In 2019, the Basque government granted the building the status of a Protected Basque Country Monument. Among other recent awards received are two from the Great Wine Capitals Global Network: a 2023 Best Of Wine Tourism trophy in the Art & Culture category and the International People’s Choice award.
Visitors to the Mayor de Migueloa Hotel – Winery – Restaurant are reminded of the longstanding history of Laguardia and its traditional links to winemaking in the Rioja Alavesa.
Text by Tom Perry, Inside Rioja