I cannot claim to be an expert in architecture. What I am is an enthusiast at best. So I can only describe Frank O. Gehry’s work in these terms: it is simply… mind-blowing. I mean, have you seen the EMP Museum in Seattle? Or the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao? How about the Dancing House in Prague? Needless to say, I am a big fan of his Deconstructive style. And to see a Frank O. Gehry building has always been a dream of mine.
So you can just imagine the excitement I felt the morning we drove up to the medieval village of Elciego to see one of Gehry’s titanium masterpieces in Marques de Riscal, the oldest winery in Rioja, Spain.
As soon as our bus approached the City of Wine–a 100,000sqm complex devoted to making and studying wine– the spectacular Marques de Riscal Hotel emerged from the landscape like a psychedelic mirage.
It’s one thing to see the magnificent Marques de Riscal Hotel in photos. But to see it up close made my heart skip a beat.
The luxury hotel is part of Marques de Riscal’s Project 2000, a huge undertaking that aimed at modernizing wine production and revamping the winery’s image. Gehry, commissioned to design the building, did not disappoint. His design highlighted the colors of Marques de Riscal: the red of the red wine, the gold of the wire netting found on the wine bottles, and the silver of the capsules on the bottles. Put together using state-of-the-art technology and materials, the structure perfectly shows the bodega‘s journey from the 19th century to the 21st century.
“It had to be something that felt comfortable with the terrain…with the vineyard, with Elciego, the city, with the cathedral,” says Gehry of this project. “And it had to be festive, it had to be exciting. After all wine is about joy and pleasure.”
“It had to be something that felt comfortable with the terrain…with the vineyard, with Elciego, the city, with the cathedral. And it had to be festive, it had to be exciting. After all wine is about joy and pleasure.”
-Frank O. Gehry, Architect
Not to be ignored, of course, is the rest of the City of Wine. And no other than Don Francisco Hurtado de Amezaga, the current Marquis of Riscal and General Director of the Technical and Production Area, welcomed us and gave us the grand tour.
First, he brought us to the original bodega, the first to be built in Rioja. It is also the first winery in the region to incorporate the Bordeaux Method of wine production.
Here, the wines are made using both traditional and modern methods.
The construction of the first wine cellar began in 1858. Due to an increase in production, it was expanded in 1883; then later in 1966 and 2000. Today, bottles of all vintages produced since 1852 are kept inside the old cellar, in what they call “The Cathedral”.
A wine is something that has a history, but even with the passing of the years, it is still possible to enjoy it, as the first day. We make wine in such a way that people wherever they are, anywhere in the world, can feel that emotion.”
-Don Francisco Hurtado de Amezaga, Marquis de Riscal
In 2011, 100 vintages from 1862-2005 were auctioned off in China. The auction brought in a historical €161,000! (Click here to see a 360-degree view of the Cathedral.)
After the tour, we were invited to taste Riscal’s famous wines at the hotel’s veranda.
We first tried the Finca Montico Rueda made from Verdejo variety which is the signature grape variety of Rueda, a dry wine region in Castilla y Leon. It tasted fresh and fruity, perfect for a hot summer day.
Next, we tasted the Baron de Chirel, Marques de Riscal’s award-winning signature wine launched in 1986. The mythical wine is the result of an experiment using vines that are over 40 years old! Since the vines are low-yielding (but with great quality), this wine is produced in a very limited scale.
As I walked around the veranda feeling like an haciendera with a glass of premium red wine in one hand and an olive in another, I felt a little giddy. One of my dreams had just come true and I still couldn’t believe it. What a perfect way to end a lovely morning!
“Now,” I wondered, “what’s for lunch?”
This post is part of my series on my recent travel to Spain aboard the Al Andalus. Read my previous posts here: