Spain Days #2 and #3 – Rioja

Yesterday was our first day in Rioja. I have hard time describing the feeling I had knowing we would get to spend time in one of, if not my favorite, wine region to drink wine from in the world. After sipping cafe con leche (yes, coffee. With milk…my Spanish is HORRIBLE), we met Luis, the export manager from Bodegas Manzanos, the winery we were meeting with for the day. He seemed a bit uneasy at first, which made sense. A few suburban americans from Kansas who don’t really speak Spanish. He seemed excited in all of the email communication we had, but I would bet he wasn’t super thrilled when he saw us. I had a feeling that would change…
Driving from Haro, the capital of the Rioja wine region to the main winery of Bodegas Manzanos was nothing short of breath taking. Luis drove us out to the main winery of Bodegas Mazanos, which was about 45 minutes from Haro. Seeing the production at a level this high was something I wasn’t prepared for. I knew they were bigger, and I knew we needed to be able to import some of the bigger wineries who have production high enough for us to be able to expand, but this was another tier. First, you may be thinking, “aren’t you wanting to import, small family owned wineries?” Yes, but family owned is more important than small.
This is owned by 3 siblings who are all under 30 that took over for the dad who just recently passed away. We can’t fault them for being good enough to expand, especially since that’s a goal we have as well. They own 10 wineries, and many brands and all of this started with them taking over about 7 years ago. The history they are trying to bring back in Rioja and represent is special. Their winery Bodegas Berceo, is the oldest winery in Rioja and where the Muga family started making wine. The name sake of the winery, Gonzalo Berceo, was the first person to ever write Spanish on paper. Think about that for a second…
Un-real.
They are re-modeling Bodegas Berceo and making it operational again to bring the amazing experience they provide to downtown Haro. They also recently purchased the oldest winery in Navarra, which is a region that butts up to Rioja. So just from those two, it’s pretty obvious these people care about the right things: Hertiage and History, quality of wine, family and providing an amazing experience. I will provide more details to come on the wineries and things we did later on. Why not now? Maybe we are partnering with them to represent some of their wines in the US… or maybe not =)
As per usual around here, we ended the day with an amazing meal, which consisted of baby lamb, mushrooms, peppers, white asparagus and cheesecake. Did I mention we went to a bar that had almost 500 different gin and enjoyed a little night life in Haro well? That was fun, and after ending our 2 day stint with the people from Bodegas Manzanos (which culminated with another amazing meal, this time of ox tail…) we had the chance to do a few wine geek things that I didn’t think we would be able to do. We visited the part of Haro that has the most iconic wineries in Rioja…all right near each other. Lopez de Heredia, La Rioja Alte, Bodegas Muge, CVNE and more are all in the same walkable, across the street from each other area and going to see it was about as wonderful as you would expect.
As much fun as it was to learn about a winery I didn’t know, it was almost if not more fun see the history I did know. It helped me understand more about why I love this wine region so much. To boot, we got to purchase Rioja from 1976, 1981 and 1982… that was very inexpensive. One of the best wine experiences of my life. The shop we went to was up there with the best wine shops I have ever seen. The gentlemen who owned it even opened a bottle for us and invited us to drink it with him. Now, it was all in Spanish, but wine is a language we can all speak and it wasn’t more clear to me than in those moments.
As our time in Rioja ends, I am not sure I comprehend how special this business trip actually is. I also know I will be back and hopefully soon. Next time, getting to bring Jill and the kids to experience this will be so special. Heck, they even have a water park here! Being able to do things like this makes me know to thank God for the amazing path and my family for helping make sure this all would be possible.

We are driving to Barcelona now to meet with some wineries who make Cava… I’m not sure I even believe the sentence I just wrote. We are driving from Rioja… to Barcelona, to meet new people, taste new wine in hopes to find partners to work with. This is so crazy, but the craziest part? I feel like we are all in the place we should be and it doesn’t feel weird, or out of place. It just feels….right.

Cheers
Keith

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