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Haro Station Wine Experience Big Hit for Riojan Sub-region

Posted: Tuesday, 20 September 2016 11:23

 

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Haro Station Wine Experience Big Hit for Riojan Sub-region

Sep 20: The second edition of ‘La Cata del Barrio de la Estación’- Haro Station Wine Experience held on September 16-17 in the seven wineries located within the Station District of Haro, the Capital of Rioja was extremely well- organised and attended event, curated to promote this wine region, writes Subhash Arora who feels that besides promoting wines from the ‘barrio’ the successful event will also help Brand Rioja if it becomes a regular feature on the wine calendar

Click For Large ViewAbout 5,000 wine aficionados congregated in the small town of Haro last weekend to attend a unique wine festival. It would be in fact, more accurate and appropriate to say that they descended on the Barrio de la Estación (Station District) where there are seven globally well-known wineries, most with a family history of ownership of 100-150 years. The Bordeaux- Rioja wine business connection in the mid- 1800’s and transportation through rail those days necessitated building the Haro train station. It was natural for these wineries to come up in the vicinity of the station.  

López de Heredia Viña Tondonia, La Rioja Alta, Bodegas Muga, Bodegas Roda, Compañia Vinicola del Norte España (Cune), Bodegas Bilbaínas and Bodegas Gómez Cruzado are the seven wineries within walking distance from Haro train station. In fact, three- Rioja Alta, Gomez Cruzado and Muga are right next to each other with common boundary walls while Tondonia is right across the road. Roda is slightly farther off-about 200 meters away at a higher and curving road and is the only one not visible to a casual visitor from the station.

A wine tourism idea takes shape

Click For Large ViewThe concept to promote the District as a wine tourist destination had been fermenting during the last decade since the producers came together and formed an Association in 2007. But it took shape two years ago in 2014 when the Association decided to host La Cata del Barrio de la Estación’ Haro Station District Wine Experience for the first time in 2015. Encouraged by the success of the maiden edition, the event was repeated on September 16 this year for wine specialists and journalists, followed on 17th for public when 4,000 tickets were sold at €50 each. Adding special invitees, the number ran into 4,500-5,000 people enjoying a unique gastronomical experience on two days. The ticket with 21-detatchable tags entitled visitors to taste 2 labels each (at 125-150  mL poured in a Bordeaux/Rioja glass which they could carry home as a souvenir) in each winery and a Tapa as well. 

The first day was a serious affair where Pedro Ballesteros MW, the only Spanish Master of Wine conducted two unique Masterclasses running into 150 minutes each (details in a separate Article later). Each tasting organised at Bodegas Bilbaínas accommodate only 200 tasters but the request to attend was for 400 personas necessitating a repeat later in the afternoon.

The invitees

Click For Large ViewThe tasting and the ‘Experience’  was attended by about 100 invited journalists, a third of whom were international, including Cav. Subhash Arora from India. Another 600 people were invited by the wineries and the Association; these were wine specialists including distributors, sommeliers and restaurateurs and bar owners invited by the wineries.

The invitees included Sarah Jane Evans MW who looked  more relaxed than usual; she had just finished her 2-year term (2104-16) as the Chairperson of IMW-the Institute of Masters of Wine) a day earlier and given charge to another Master of Wine, Jane Masters MW and felt like a ‘free-bird.’  Natasha Hughes MW was the other Master of Wine besides Pedro, of course. Andreas Larsson, World’s Best Sommelier (2007) had also flown from his hometown of Stockholm. The soon-to-become second Master of Wine from Spain, Fernando Mora Aiws (there are no guarantees to become the Master of Wine till you get ‘that’ call from IMW, but Fernando can see the Everest very close from where he stands and the weather is good and favourable) was also present.

Genesis of the current event

Click For Large View‘The Association of seven producers was formed in 2007 but was not very active in the earlier years until 2014 when it decided to hold the first festival in September 2015,’says Iñigo Torres, the Administrative Manager of the Association. ‘The event spread over 2 days last year was also a two-in one event-where 50 journalists including 12 from overseas and several wine professionals had been invited. The maiden event was very successful. We sold 4,000 tickets in two categories- €25 and €50. We have not changed the structure much except that Tim Atkins MW had been invited to conduct the Masterclass and this year our own Spanish Master of Wine Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW has been the special guest (neither is related to (Miguel) Torres which seems to be as common a last name in Spain as Arora, Smith or Johnson). We have kept the number of tickets sold, including online same but kept only one ticket at €50 each,’ he adds.

The evening before was a gala event for the journalists and producers at La Rioja Alta. One could see guests drinking top wines from the seven wineries in magnums and double magnums and networking. With many of the owners living in Barcelona or elsewhere, meeting them usually is not easy. Many own more than one winery-Raventos family in Barcelona of 604 members spread all over, owns 10 wineries including Bodegas Bilbaínas in the Haro District which is run by Mar Raventos as the President. It was a great opportunity to meet her and all the others producers and their senior executives.

Despite the rain trying to play spoil sport, the enthusiasm of people on the public day was infectious. The sound of people’s voices kept increasing throughout the day as they went from winery to winery, visiting cellars Click For Large Viewthat were open to them and where they could ask questions regarding winemaking or other details. Live music performances charmed the visitors, many of whom could not resist the urge to dance, with occasional enthusiasts grabbing hold of one or more of musicians to shake a leg with them and were duly obliged. Visitors could walk through history of the wineries and marvel at the architectural features of the district dating back to around 150 years while at a couple of wineries like Roda they could see traditionalism meet modernism and try to understand how Roda has joined the rank of the top producers in a rather short period of only around 25 years whereas others have a history going back to 100-150 years.

Fine Wines to taste

The wines offered for the event were of very good to excellent quality, many of them retailing for over €50 a bottle. The pours were generous and no one seemed to complain. Here are the 14 wines one could taste and drink from 11 pm-6:30 pm, almost one winery and 2 glasses an hour:  

La Rioja Alta -Gran Reserva 904 2005 and Viña Ardanza 2007
Viña Tondonia-Viña Tondonia Tinto Reserva 2004 and Viña Bosconia Tinto Reserva 2005
Bodegas Muga- Muga Reserva Selección Especial 2011 and Prado Enea Gran Reserva 2004
Bodegas RODA-RODA 2011 and RODA I 2009
CVNE-Asua Crianza 2012 and Cune Reserva 2010
Bodegas Bilbaínas-Viña Pomal Rosado 2015 and La Vicalanda Reserva 2010
Bodegas Gómez Cruzado-Gómez Cruzado Blanco 2015 and Honorable 2012

Unique wine tourism destination

Haro Station Wine District, is considered the birthplace of Rioja wine  in the second half of the 19th century, using recently-invented trains. The event won the prize as the ‘best wine tourism initiative’ from the international network of great wine cities, ‘Great Wine Capitals’.

According to Iñigo,  the district attracts about 100,000 visitors a year from across the world, 30% of which are from overseas. But why did it take 8 years to put an excellent idea into a reality, I ask Iñigo. He replies with a smile and says ‘let is put it this way that every great idea has its time and the time came last year and it was so successful that we decided to expand the scope.’

Click For Large ViewPedro Ballesteros is more direct. He says, ‘you should know that Spanish people are very individualistic and independent in thinking and take a long time to come to some Agreement. I think it is an excellent programme and I am glad the producers are happy about it’s success. We don’t have many organised promotions in Spain since the funds need to be self –generated. These producers have organised it rather well. In fact, I am sure the other Riojan producers are envious right now and watching how the event goes.’

I ask Iñigo about the profile of the visitors. ‘About 10% of the ticket sales and the visitors are from International markets. 40% are from the local Rioja area.   Around 50% are from the rest of Spain,’ he says. No wonder, the RENFE train that stopped at the Haro Station, barely 50 meters from Bilbaínas in the morning had brought in train-full of people numbering 300-500 who stepped out and walked in the direction of Bodegas Bilbaínas.

This is the only one day when they have opportunity to walk around the district freely- the wineries are totally cleared of any vehicular traffic, making it more festive and people can walk around. An independent security is provided. Cars or no cars, security or no security, up to 14 drinks but no single case of misbehaviour anywhere! Really commendable! Truly a memorable event, Haro Station Wine Experience is memorable and for the sake of wine connoisseurs one hopes that it continues. Says Iñigo, ‘we shall evaluate once this is over. One of the things to consider is shifting it to earlier in June. This is a harvest month and everyone is really busy.’

Watch out this space for more news or visit www.lacatadelbarriodelaestacion.com for details:

Subhash Arora

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