In the heart of Rioja Alta lies the village of Ollauri that sits on the edge of a hill that has been tunnelled into since the middle ages. The most major excavations are thought to have occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries creating the present network of caves or ‘Calados’ that stretch for over a kilometre in length and vary between 18 to 40 metres below the surface. The environment in these tunnels is idea for the storage of wine holding a constant 12 degrees throughout the year. In 1894 Federico Paternina built the ‘modern cellar’ to improve the production of the wine that had been made by his ancestors over dozens of generations. Following a number of ownership changes in the 20th century, the property is now owned by the Murúa family of Muriel Wines who have invested in Conde de los Andes to bring it back to its former glory. The old buildings today house museum pieces including some of the old wine presses and a collection of the old wooden vats together with a tasting room and restaurant. A separate location houses the current winery.
The visit is all about what happens underground. We were provided with vests to keep us warm before descending into the tunnels. We were visiting in April so it was not particularly hot but in the height of summer, visitors would certainly notice the temperature difference and would not be dressed for the cool environment underground. Descending into the Calados, you are struck by the size of the excavations and the huge number of dust encrusted bottles stored on racks and cages; it is also fairly humid, another good feature for the preservation of the wines. Apparently there are wines dating back to 1892 although these were not actually pointed out to us! Also noted were a couple of unexpected features and cartons that relate to a former visitor. I am glad we had a guide as I am sure we would have got lost in the maze of tunnels otherwise!!
After the tour came the tasting and needless to say the wines were excellent so as well as a thoroughly interesting tour, you could also carry away a permanent memento of the trip, (well permanent until you open the bottles!)
Our guide was passionate and knowledgeable about the winery and spoke excellent English so I fully recommend this tour to anybody in the area.
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