May 2010

Santa Bárbara, Ezcaray

Sunday May 30th, 2010 01:13 PM

Santa Bárbara, Ezcaray, La Rioja, Spain

Ezcaray has just finished its annual Santa Bárbara celebrations – four days of fiesta that left plenty of parents bleary-eyed as they dropped off children at school the morning after the final onslaught. “I wish it was only every other year,” one told my wife.

The festival traditionally marked Pentecost – and it still includes a hike up the hill to the Santa Barbara chapel which overlooks Ezcaray. But somewhere along the line, someone had the bright idea of dancing round the bandstand as the musicians played the tune of “Ay, mamá, cuánto me quiere mi novio!” (Oh mum, how much my boyfriend loves me!)

And round and round and round they go until, one assumes, the muscles in one leg are considerably stronger than those of the other. And, strange though it may seem, going round in circles for four days is a perfect recipe for a superb atmosphere – a beautiful mix of bonhomie, booze and fun by people of all generations.

Santa Bárbara, Ezcaray, La Rioja, Spain

Santa Bárbara, Ezcaray, La Rioja, Spain

Santa Bárbara, Ezcaray, La Rioja, Spain

Santa Bárbara, Ezcaray, La Rioja, Spain

Santa Bárbara, Ezcaray, La Rioja, Spain

Seven Rioja wineries in seven days

Thursday May 6th, 2010 09:32 AM

Fernando Domingo, enolgo, Casa Primicia, Laguardia, Rioja AlavesaThere couldn’t have been a more appropriate assignment for someone who has just moved to La Rioja: visit wineries and capture people at work, plus some portraits of the owners and directors. The British firm Laithwaites sent me to seven wineries – or bodegas – which produce Rioja wine and from which they buy much of their Spanish stock.

That “Rioja” is the most searched-for term on the firm’s internet site shows, I guess, how the mark has built over the years a reputation for sustained high quality and dependability. One of the bodegas said a third of its produce was destined for the UK, with Germany being the other huge European market.

At this time of year, the leaves are just beginning to show on the vines. Six of the wineries I visited were in a province called Álava, which lies to the north of the river Ebro and is technically in the Basque country. The grape plants here still tend to grow on small terraces, or viñas, and the resulting wine is called Rioja Alavesa. To the south of the river, back in La Rioja, the viñas are notably larger.

In the wineries themselves, the activity in April and early May could essentially be summed up as moving previous years’ produce to market and preparing for the new crop – there’s bottling, bottle labelling and barrel washing going on.

The seven bodegas, all located between Haro and Logroño, were: Valdemar, Casa Primicia, Muriel, Valpiedra, Labastida, Izadi and Luis Cañas.

The barrels, cellars and patterns made for lovely photos, some of which are in this gallery.

Mohammed Talbi, Casa Primicia, Laguardia, Rioja Alavesa, Spain

Sara Ugarte, Bodegas Muriel, Elciego, Alava, Rioja Alavesa, Spain

Julian y Javier Murua y Sara Ugarte, Muriel, Elciego, Rioja Alavesa, Spain

Carlos Martinez Bujanda, Finca Valpiedra, Fuenmayor, La Rioja, Spain

Juan Luis Canas, Bodegas Luis Canas, Villabuena de Alava, Spain

Aitor, Bodegas Luis Canas, Villabuena de Alava, Spain