When in Rioja, a visit to Bodegas R. Lopez Heredia Viña Tondonia is a must! This is one of the oldest wineries in Haro, located at the railway station, where in the 19th century all the important Rioja houses had their wineries. By rail, wine could be shipped easily to France and elsewhere, so at the railway station is where they built the new wineries in those days. Around 1877, Don Rafael López de Heredia y Landeta began planning the lay-out of the buildings that are still visible ánd in use in Haro.
The only modern addition is a visitor reception room designed by Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. This grey and a bit odd-looking booth houses a 100 year old gem: a stand used in the 1910 Brussels exhibition.
Another treasure is the Art Nouveau Gallery, dating from 1903. It was built to connect the ever expanding buildings that housed an equally expanding family in those days. Soon, it will serve as a reception area.
We had the good fortune to be there at harvest-time. Grapes are still gathered, by hand of course, in large wooden comportas, made of poplar, just like 130 years ago. Each comporta holds 80 kg of grapes. Comportas are numbered, and pickers get paid by the number of comportas that are filled in the vineyard and emptied in the de-stemmer.
The company even has two full-time coopers, to maintain and make all the woodwork of vats, barrels, barriques and comportas.
In 2013 wine making is still carried out as it was in 1877 at R. Lopez Heredia, and in the main vinification room, Bodega Blondeau, fermentation vats of over 100 years are still in use. After fermentation, red wines are transferred to barriques, where the malolactic fermentation takes place. Bundles of vines in the vats are used to filter the wines. The building is designed to admit the wind, to provide cooling for the wines.
R. Lopez Heredia is world-famous for its aged white wines: they receive almost the same treatment as the reds, remaining in barriques for many years. Currently Viña Tondonia White Reserva 1998 and Viña Gravonia 2004 are available!
Below the surface, dug out in the rock, are large cellars that hold the rows and rows of barriques necessary for this long aging process. One of the corridors even runs all the way to the river Ebro. On the outside you have a view of the Gravonia vineyard across the water. Gravonia is named after the French wine region in Bordeaux, the Graves, as Maria José Lopez Heredia explained to us later.
Not only barriques are kept underground, also bottles line the cellar walls. Later on, tasting the famous red Viña Tondonia (‘tondon’ means rotunda, and refers to a big bend in the river Ebro, inside of which are the Tondonia Vineyards) was a very special moment. Available this year is the red Viña Tondonia Reserva 2002, a very lively and fruity red wine. We also sipped of the Viña Gravonia 2004, made of 100% viura, and tasted of honey and nuts with a light mineral touch. One of my absolute favourite wines during this trip!
Our visit ended with more than half an hour listening and talking to wine maker Maria José Lopez Heredia (in French!), who is now responsible for the company, together with her sister Mercedes. Something that was high on her mind was the fact that this was the first harvest without her father. Pedro Lopez Heredia passed away earlier this year, but according to Maria José he still watches from above. Maria José is a very passionate story teller, who taught us a lot about the history of R. Lopez Heredia and winemaking in Rioja.
My suitcase only had room for two bottles of Rioja; one of them was, of course, the Viña Gravonia. Now I have to find the perfect occasion…
Much more information, especially on the history of the company, is on their website!