One of the signs of identity and the most important symbolic element of La Rioja is undoubtedly the wine. But not only as a product and an economic activity, but also as a social and cultural reference point of a region where an important part of its festivals and traditions revolve around this product.
The traces of the wine activity in the heritage of the area are numerous and extensive, ranging from the cave presses to the wine cellars, not to mention the winery districts and the century-old cellars that emerged at the dawn of the development of the sector.
In the whole territory of the Rioja we find numerous presses made of stone, excavated in the rock and located next to the vineyards. In these small presses, the grapes were trodden underfoot and in some cases pressed, and the wine was then produced next to the vineyards. Within the whole area, Sonsierra stands out, with almost a hundred examples between the towns of San Vicente and Ábalos.
NAIL GUARDS OR HUTS
These elements are an example of popular Rioja architecture from the end of the 19th century and are single-storey buildings, generally circular in shape and with a false dome as an end and closure, located next to the crops. The vineyard guards were used to watch over the vineyards, as their name suggests, and to provide shelter for the farmers depending on the weather.
CENTURY-OLD WINERIES AND WINERY DISTRICTS
There are numerous examples of family wineries in La Rioja, many of which are grouped together in the so-called “Barrios de Bodegas” (winery districts), which are characteristic of many towns in the region. These cellars are dug deep into the earth or into the rock and offer the ideal conditions of temperature, between 13 and 15 degrees, and humidity to the wines. The ventilation tufas of the cellars give the landscape a very characteristic profile. We can also find open cellars taking advantage of the slopes of the hillsides.
From the second half of the 19th century onwards, the great cellars began to be excavated to contain the ageing wines, some of them taking advantage of the old caves, some of which were built during the Middle Age. One of the most emblematic winery districts of La Rioja is that of San Asensio, also known as the Barrio de las Cuevas. It has 300 wineries located on a hill called Cerrillo Verballe, being a unique complex in the region since they form a kind of village in which the caves excavated in the rock intersect with each other giving rise to passages between wineries that take us back to other times. There are also examples of wineries that are highly attractive to tourists in Cenicero, Casalarreina, Briones, San Vicente de la Sonsierra, Ábalos, Tirgo and Cuzcurrita de Río Tirón.
Finally, we cannot fail to point out the relationship between the wineries and the castles in the area. Thus, both Cuzcurrita and Sajazarra castles have preserved their old cellars together with new buildings in which wine is produced using modern methods.
But if there is one emblematic district in the area, it is the BARRIO DE LAS BODEGAS or BARRIO DE LA ESTACIÓN in Haro. The history of this district begins in the 19th century, a century in which many French winegrowers decided to move to Haro, fleeing from vine diseases such as mildew and phylloxera, which were devastating the vineyards, to first settle in the area of the Cuevas and then definitively in this district, due to the proximity of the railway station, which allowed them to maintain exchanges with the rest of the northern areas of the country.
The Haro Winery District has been and continues to be a meeting point for all those who wish to enjoy the architecture of wine, as well as the history of each corner of the century-old wineries.
Knowing the secrets of winemaking while tasting a good Rioja wine is undoubtedly one of the best pleasures that La Rioja Alta has to offer.