Grapes Grapes Everywhere

Spain Adventure Day Seven
Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Carmen describing barrel making process

It's our last full day in the Rioja region and we made some schedule adjustments to get everything in. Today we toured the Muga Winery in Haro with the Spanish language group, even though our Spanish is fairly limited. Our guide, Carmen, led the 28 of us through their facility explaining everything as she went. Having been on dozens of winery tours in English, we were never completely lost, but there are a few details that we probably missed. Okay, there are things we totally missed and others that we made up from what we thought we heard.

Karla at Muga

Still, it was a terrific tour and we recommend that you take it-in either Spanish or English. Three things set the Muga tour apart-one is Carmen's love for wine, winemaking, and the Muga facility, two it's the only winery we've ever toured with a barrel making operation, and, finally, Señor Muga invented an egg separator that is so cool, you have to see it.

Egg separator

The winery is over two hundred years old and covers an entire city block-at 270,000 square feet, it's a lot of stone and oak and room for 14,000 barrels and acres of resting bottles. Carmen described the barrel making operation with lots of energy and drama. We got to see how oak is transformed from the raw wood through the stave seasoning process, and on to shaping, toasting and assembling. They make 1500 barrels a year including giant wine fermentation tanks-there's no stainless steel at Muga! All of their processes are traditional-their barrels aren't on fancy steel racks, they're held up with chocks left from their woodworking.

Egg whites, the most common agent used for fining or clarifying wine, either come from certified sellers as in France and the U.S. or from local chickens as they still do in Spain. When the operation is as large as the one at Muga, you're talking about separating a lot of eggs. Señor Muga came up with an ingenious solution to the problem. He put two metal chutes together-the top one has holes that the white drip down through to a second shoot and on into a bowl on the left side and the top one escorts the yolk to another bowl on the right.

Another reason to visit Muga is the tasting-their wines, the rosé and reds are very good. We did a special tasting of their Rosado, Reserva, Prado Enea, and Torre Muga. All are excellent. Karla's favorite was the Prado Enea and Judy really enjoyed the Reserva.

Playground at the Museum of Wine Culture. Bring the family.

Not far from Haro is the Museum of Wine Culture opened in 2006 by the Vivanco family, who own the Dinastia Vivanco estate nearby. Items from the family's collection, interactive displays, videos, and art from around the world are gathered on 9000 square meters that take hours to visit. After two and a half hours, we were starving and decided to eat at the museum's excellent restaurant. There's a garden outside with over 200 different grape varieties growing; it's both beautiful and educational.

Karla and Jean Pierre

We returned to Hotel Viura in Villabuena de Alava and took a walk around town counting bodegas. We were told that there are 45 bodegas and only 200 residents in town. It's a prosperous place with nice houses and new cars on the sharp, steep streets of the old town. For dinner we walked up the hill to Arabarte, a winery with a restaurant. Our hotel, the fabulous Viura, arranged for us to have dinner-one of the staff called ahead and talked to the chef about what we wanted--something very light, we weren't that hungry. We arrived as we'd planned at about 8:45 and were taken to the bar. No wine for us. We were so hot and thirsty, we had two glasses of water. And then waited some more. A young couple came in, sat down and we all waited. We went up into the tower that's attached to the winery to catch fabulous views of the vineyards and mountains. Jean Pierre, the chef, speaks Spanish and French so we were communicating in French. The woman from the other couple speaks Spanish, fluent French and English and stepped in from time to time as translator. The chef is also the winemaker, the host, the tour guide, and waiter. He works very hard.  Finally at about 10:00 we sat down. The food was amazing. We had white asparagus, sardines Andalusian style and cherries that the chef picked from his trees this morning. With our meal we had a very nice rosé that the chef made in his spare time! It was a lovely evening.

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