Visiting a winery is a moving experience for those who love wine: Driving past the growing vines ready for harvest in late September, admiring the signs with familiar names that you’ve only seen before on a label, having the honour and the luck of shaking the hand that blended the wine you’ll be tasting that afternoon… I could try to compare it with watching your favourite band playing live or visiting a museum where a masterpiece you’ve seen in books and movies is exhibited. But it is different, it’s more interactive, and if visiting one can be so meaningful, visiting seven in less than 48 hours is absolutely exhilarating.
And that is a dream that comes true when you are in Haro, the only place in the world with such a concentration of hundred year-old wineries, adding the beauty of appreciating their architecture and unravelling their history to the already deeply satisfying mix. We recently travelled to Haro, the heart of Rioja in Spain, to attend La Cata del Barrio de la Estación a.k.a. Haro Station Wine Experience.
This was the second time this event is organised, a full day wine festival in which all the wineries open their doors and bottles to visitors and besides their wines, attendees get to enjoy tapas, live music and a series of food and wine activities. However, there’s no need to wait a year to visit Haro, as the wineries have visitor areas and wine shops that remain open. Book in advance in any (or all) of them to get the most out of your experience.
The most convenient way to get to Haro from Dublin is through a direct flight to Bilbao (Aer Lingus will take you there) and from there it’s only a one hour drive to the centre of Haro.
The town itself has a stunning architecture and plenty of sites to admire, such as the Santo Tomás Church, Plaza de la Paz or La Vega Gardens. We stayed at the Hotel Los Agustinos, four star and part of the Aranzazu Hoteles Group, which is an historical jewel on its own merit: Inaugurated in 1373, the building has served as a convent, a military garrison, a jail and a hospital. Since 1989, the impressive construction hosts guests from all over the world, most of whom use it as a base to go to the Haro Station District.
Only a few minutes drive from Haro’s centre and you’ll get to Haro Station District, which has a history that traces back to the 19th century, when a train station was built to facilitate travel, mainly for French winemakers in need to source wines from Rioja when the infamous phylloxera was devastating vineyards in their terroirs.
Nowadays, the district gathers seven Bodegas, which together account for over 750 years of winemaking experience. They are extremely close to each other so it only takes a quick stroll to get to all of them. It can be done in a day, but if you can, allow one and a half or two for a more relaxed pace.
The Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España (CVNE) was created in 1879 and nowadays, the fifth generation of the founding family remains in front of it. The bodega is comprised by a series of buildings surrounding a patio. With an exhibition area (at the time we visited, a collection of wine inspired sculptures was featured), an elegant wine shop and large, well lit cellars, it reflects the traditional spirit that you can also appreciate in their wines: Cune (a popular name which was the result of a typo!), Viña Real, Imperial and Contino.
Don’t miss: Their unique Eiffel cellar, created between 1809 and 1909 by the same studio that brought the famous Parisian Tower to the world. Besides its artistic pedigree, the construction revolutionised barrel management at the winery.
This building has no columns, the roof supported entirely by wall-to-wall steel trusses. This innovative, daring architectural feat allows for a large open space with more than 800 m² that drastically improved the way barrels were managed at the winery and made racking, maintaining and monitoring them easier.
Wine Souvenir: Imperial Gran Reserva (85% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, 5% Mazuelo), an intense and elegant Rioja with beautiful velvety tannins and a mix of ripe black fruit, cedar, nutmeg and white pepper.
Available in Ireland: Cune Rioja Reserva (85%Tempranillo, 5% Mazuelo, 5% Graciano, 5% Garnacha Tinta), pleasant ripe red fruit and sweet spice with smooth tannins. Get it at O’Briens Wines at €21.95.
Opening Times: Open all year round (except on January 1st, 5th and 6th, and on December 24th, 25th and 31st).
One of the most global Rioja names, Muga exports nearly half of its production, mostly to the United States, UK and more recently, to Asia. The bodega is well known among Irish Rioja lovers and with good reason: their wines capture the artisan and traditional spirit that characterises the region yet at the same time, technology and innovation are welcomed and implemented when it represents an improvement to their wines.
Muga was founded in 1932 and is managed by the third generation with the name. They take pride in making their own barrels and having a tight control on the oak they choose for their wines, which allows them a great deal of control in winemaking.
Don’t miss: They offer an exclusive hot-air balloon trip which will fly you for approximately an hour over vineyards and fields. Booking is essential for this unforgettable experience.
Wine Souvenir: Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva (80% Tempranillo, 20% a combination of Garnacha, Graciano and Mazuelo), a gorgeous velvety and intense Rioja with cocoa, toasted hazelnuts and ripe forest berries, smooth and rich, one of my favourites from the trip.
Available in Ireland: Rioja Muga Reserva (Carignan, Graciano, Grenache Noir, Tempranillo), a very typical Rioja, with a pleasant balance between fruitful youth and roasted, leathery aromas. Get it at O’Briens Wines at €21.95.
Opening Times: Open all year round Monday to Saturday (Sundays only during harvest season).
This boutique bodega is the smallest in the circuit. It produces about 250,000 bottles a year, precision and attention to detail are among their top values. It was founded in 1886 by a Mexican nobleman related to the Duke of Moctezuma de Tulten and bought in 1916 by Rioja men Ángel and Jesús Gómez Cruzado, from whom it takes its current name.
Don’t miss: Their line of Vinos de Pueblo (Villages Wines) offers a very interesting angle, these are a range of wines that allow the winery to explore the expressions of different specific terroirs. These three limited edition wines are: Pancrudo, Cerro Las Cuevas and Montes Obarenes, coming from Badarán, Leza and Haro respectively.
Wine Souvenir: Honorable (Tempranillo), handpicked grapes from old vines are aged for 18 months in French oak barriques. It’s intense, silky and with a pleasant combination of ripe cherries, vanilla and clove.
Opening Times: Open all year round.
The Bodega’s history traces back to 1890 and they still stand for artisan techniques, long ageing and tradition, but are committed at the same time to R&D and innovation (an example of this is their sophisticated optical grape-selection system that helps them choose the fruit at the best possible moment).
On their exhibition area, you’ll be able to see a collection of beautiful photography, artwork and vintage advertising as well as a to get view of the barrels (they make their own), including one cut open and well lit (great for appreciating its insides). The area is wide and it merges with a lovely wine bar and shop where you can enjoy the wines as well.
Don’t miss: They have 3 private dining rooms where guests can enjoy delicious dishes that combine traditional regional cuisine and innovation. Advanced booking required.
Wine Souvenir: Viña Ardanza (Tempranillo, Garnacha), prominent aromas of ripe cherries, cloves and black pepper correspond with a palate with elegant tannins and a well balanced, structured and rich body.
Opening Times: Open all year round (Closed on Sundays after October 30th).
This bodega has a privileged location at the banks of the Ebro River. It offers a mesmerising contrast between the modern, new construction that was built on top of the 19th century cellars. Roda’s Bodega is younger than the vines from which its wines come from.
With nearly three decades, it’s the newest addition to the circuit and the highest one as well, so once you’re there, take a moment to admire the beautiful landscape before you enter to the ample, state-of-the-art winery itself.
Don’t miss: The old underground cellar. Go down the stairs and make sure to visit this part of the winery, an austere stone cellar that with the help of small lamps and even candles offers a romantic sight that compliments with the polished top of Roda.
Wine Souvenir: RODA I Reserva (95% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano), old vines with low yields provide fruit with great potential. It is then aged in French oak for 16 months and in bottle for another 20 months. Ripe black fruit dominates, with a parade of sweet spices and cocoa in the background.
Opening Times: Monday to Saturday.
This is the oldest winery in Haro, founded in 1877 and still run by the Heredia family. They play the long game and are one of the most traditional names around. The pride they take in their heritage has passed the test of time and almost with stubbornness, they’ve stayed true to the historical style of Rioja wines that never rushes it and that offers generous complexity and depth to those who wait.
Don’t miss: Their unreal underground Bodega, which feels like time travel and is as traditional as it gets. If you have the opportunity to walk through it, don’t think about it twice. This is not a theme park, it’s a dark, humid and mouldy environment, which is very proudly kept that way and which is a reflection of the serious, classic and traditional style the family stands for.
Wine Souvenir: Viña Tondonia Tinto Reserva (Tempranillo, Grenache, Graciano and Carignan). Fabulous balance between freshness and developing aromas. Roasted notes along with vanilla and toast are driven by smooth tannins that are attractive now, but will surely keep for a few more years.
Available in Ireland: Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva. Get it at 64 Wines, Sandycove, at €73.
Opening Times: Open Monday to Saturday.
If you are looking for a textbook Rioja, this is a great bodega to find it. Opened in 1901, it is the largest owner of vineyards in Haro (over 250 ha), which gives it a distinctive chateauesque charm. Elegance and balance are flagship attributes across all its wine range and the Bodega itself is spacious, impressive and undeniably Spanish.
Don’t miss: Their slick wine shop, where you can buy bottles and special mixed boxes as well as trying their range by the glass. They also have a lovely selection of wine themed souvenirs such as handmade jewelry and cosmetics.
Wine Souvenir: Vinos Singulares (100% Maturana Blanca), one of Rioja’s oldest known grape varieties is not a name you hear everyday, so this varietal offers a rare opportunity to enjoy it. The wine spends 3 months on its lees and is aged in French oak for 4 months, the result is a fruity, fresh and intense white, where green apple and citrus meets toast.
Available in Ireland: Viña Pomal Rioja Reserva (Tempranillo), classic and elegant Rioja, restrained and balanced, it takes a while to open but you’ll be rewarded with smooth tannins and a beautiful balance and depth. Get it at O’Briens Wines, at €22.95.
Opening Times: Open all year round.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.