I did not have to stray far for my first visit to a winery during my stay in Logroño. Bodegas Ontañon is conveniently (if you have a car, and EVERYONE has a car here) on the eastern outskirts of the town – helpfully near the Berceo shopping centre we had come to know and love (for family reasons that I shall bore you about some other time).
This visit was to be with the whole family – my wife, my mother in law and two kids, so I had wanted to find one that was amenable to such a varied group, and this sounded ideal.
Bodegas Ontañon (the building) is actually a converted caramel sweet factory which was bought in the 1980’s by the Perez family for the purpose of establishing their winery. This building is now used only for the ageing of wine in barrels (there are a LOT of barrels in Rioja, so there is always a need for spaces to store them), and therefore is not affected by the need to provide access to tractors, for large fermenting vats and all the paraphernalia of winemaking – these take place in another of their winery buildings elsewhere. Instead, they decided to surround the barrels with art, sculptures and stained glass, and almost all of it by a single, local artist and friend, Miguel-Angel Sainz.
The highlights of the tour are really the pieces of art. Without this punctuation, the series of large rooms full of barrels are a little featureless and a little lacking in that “lived-in” look that differentiates a home and a showroom, but this is an art gallery after all. In every room there is a larger than life sculpture or colourful stained glass window, and even the light shades were designed by the artist. Somehow our tour guide managed to combine details of the history of the family and winery, information on winemaking, and a discussion of art and the artist in the one tour. Note, they do apparently do tours in English and French if there is the demand, but our tour was in Spanish, so I am not certain how well this is achieved in English.
The pieces themselves, largely sculptures, were interesting and on a very grand scale (check out the statue of “Mujer en el Mundo del Vino” or Woman in the World of Wine), and it was good to see wine culture extending itself beyond just describing grape-growing and wine making practices. Most of the art has a wine theme, so it does tie together rather better than I may be describing it, although you might want to brush up on your mythology before you pop along.
They also have an interesting marketing idea. They take everyone’s photo during the tour and upload it to their site, so you can go back, select the date and time of your visit and check out your group photo. It’s a nice way to make the memory personal, and get people coming back to check the site of course! They also appear to have started a blog, which would make them one of the few wineries in Rioja to have done so.
However, I do think that most wine tourists are likely to want to see more “hands-on” areas associated with the wine; where the grapes come in, where they are selected, crushed, fermented and pressed. These speak of the human effort behind the process in a way that gently ageing barrels do not, and therefore I felt it lacked a little of its wine “soul”.
The end of the tour, rather unsurprisingly, consisted of a tasting. We tasted the Ontañon Rioja Reserva 2001, and a sweet white wine called Marco Fabio (Dulce) 2004. As this was a visit with family, I wasn’t taking detailed notes, so these are just some impressions:
I’m afraid the 2001 Reserva wasn’t showing all that well, lacking fruit and tasting somewhat astringent, but I suspect it might just have been a bad bottle.
The sweet wine, on the other hand, a Vino de la Tierra made with Moscatel and not a Rioja wine, was rather good. I’m not often a fan of such Spanish wines, but this wine was very nicely made, balancing the sweetness of the late harvest Moscatel de Menudo with a fresh acidity. This is one I’d like to taste again and I suggest you look out for (but I suspect is made in tiny quantities).
Overall, I’d say a visit to Bodegas Ontañon should be on your list of places to visit if you re staying in Logroño and you like art, as it really is a little bit different to any other winery. It is not far to the centre of town so you can easily fit it in your itinerary.