No trip to Rioja would be complete without exploring the iconic wineries and cellars that started it all, many years ago, and are still growing to this day.
Where to go in Rioja: The historic wineries
Just when you thought you knew Rioja’s fascinating history, you discover more tales to be told and sights to see on your wine tour. And the historic wineries and Station District are no exception…
The Rioja region of Spain had long been producing wine when a phylloxera (lice that infect vines) epidemic in the late 19th century devastated vineyards in neighbouring France. The demand for Rioja wine suddenly increased and dozens of Bordeaux winemakers travelled to Rioja to set up wineries, bringing with them extensive knowledge, techniques and experience. As a result, this period was significant in the expansion and modernisation of the Rioja wine industry and has left its mark to this day.
A Rioja in Style wine tour can help you explore any number of the dozens of famous wineries (‘Bodegas’) and Station District that were established during this prescient time, but here is a small taster of where to go:
The Marqués de Murrieta Estate and Ygay Castle, near Logroño
When established: 1852
Luciano Murrieta, appointed Marquis (Marqués) by King Amadeo of Savoy thanks to his work in Rioja, went to Bordeaux to learn winemaking techniques and bring them back to Spain. He also brought back the idea of a château, building the iconic Ygay Castle (Castillo Ygay) and establishing a wine estate that was to flourish. The wines he produced became known, vintage after vintage, for their distinctive character, and Murrieta was the first to export Rioja wines.
In those days, wineries usually kept their wines in oak barrels for years and years, becoming completely covered by bitartrates (a kind of crystallization) on the inside. As opposed to the brand new oak barrels used nowadays, oxygenation was practically non-existent as the bitartrates didn’t allow oxygen to permeate the wood and therefore prevented wines from acquiring an oak taste. In Marqués de Murrieta, there are records of some Castillo Ygay vintages being bottled after more than 40 years of oak aging.
Find out more on Marqués de Murrieta estate’s website
The Marqués de Riscal estate, Elciego
When established: 1858
Founded by Guillermo Hurtado de Amézaga in 1858, the Marqués de Riscal estate soon established itself as a point of reference in the winemaking business at both national and international level. 1862 saw the first bottled Marqués de Riscal wines and in just five years the prizes began to flood in. In the ‘80s the estate was a driving force behind the creation of the Denominación de Origen Rueda, and in 1999 they celebrated the first vintage of the Marqués de Riscal: 1860.
Find out more on Marqués de Riscal estate’s website
The Station District wineries
When established: 1877 onwards
The influx of French winemakers and the advent of rail also brought development to this unique area of Haro in Rioja that remains to this day. The winemakers established their wineries and wine warehouses as close to the railway station as possible to make production and exporting efficient. The wineries that have established themselves here over the past century or so, and which you can tour today are:
1877 R. López de Heredia
1886 Bodegas Gómez Cruzado
1890 Bodegas La Rioja Alta, S.A
1901 Bodegas Bilbaínas
1932 Bodegas Muga
1987 Bodegas Roda.
Find out more on the Station District website