The drive to Haro was very relaxed, passing through some lovely countryside on a beautiful sunny day. With mountains in the distance and the valleys between, far reaching views stretched in front mostly planted with wheat and barley crops interspersed with numerous vineyards. Haro (a local lady said it is pronounced ‘Arrow’ as H is silent in the Spanish language), is located in the Rioja Region in the cooler north western side of the area, lying between mountains north and south giving both shelter and rainfall. The small town sits high on a hill overlooking the valley below, its ornate church situated at the top, from where there are some excellent views of the surrounding vineyards and mountains.
A maze of narrow streets spread out like a spider’s web to the town below with a central square, bandstand and many statues.
We have stayed here previously and having been sun-starved for a week, we took advantage to enjoy refreshments at a bar overlooking the square while topping up the tan.
There are many Bodegas in the region, some are only small wine producers and others have several vineyards in the area producing wines from different varieties of grapes, all being made in under one Bodega name. On our visits to several of the local ones, we learned that the variety of the vines were grown on different soil types, the oche coloured calcareus clay in stair-step terraces in the northern area where some special qualities are achieved. Alluvial silty soils are found in the flatter areas near the rivers, they are easily worked and various types of crops can grow on them. Lastly the reddish ferrous clay on the ridged slopes of the mountains that separate the valleys between the rivers of the southern area.
The main grape varieties used by the Bodegas are different depending on the wine being produced. We tried several made with Tempranillo and blends also adding proportions of Garnacha and Manzuelo which made lovely smooth red wines with lots of taste and a long finish. Most of the wines are red, however, we did find a few white wines produced from Verdejo and Viura at one Bodega which were lovely; fruity, dry and crisp. Also we tried some rosé, a very pale made mainly from Viura with a small percentage of Tempranillo where the skins are left in for only a short time to give the colour. I preferred the more definite flavour of a rosé made 100% with Tempranillo grapes, the skins left in for longer which flavoured and coloured it to a greater depth. We also found one Bodega with sparkling wines which were wonderful.
At all the Bodegas we saw numerous barrels which made from French oak and American oak. They are used for aging the wines and imparting flavour over 2 to 3 years, then aging continues in the bottle, some for a similar time scale. I found I don’t particularly like these oaked wines too much which is just as well as they are in a price range which I wouldn’t pay! Each barrel holds around 300 bottles so the buildings were vast to accommodate them, one Bodega had an underground tunnel lined with barrels which naturally kept an even temperature and humidity. Generally after being used for several seasons they are sold for whisky and brandy production.
At this time of year all the vines are dormant and have been trimmed back in a variety of styles which vary from area to area. Some are cut back to stumps, others trained along wires no more than 2 feet (60cm) high, and we have also seen some on high wire frames where the grapes hang underneath. Grapes are produced on one year old wood, so pruning is done annually. In areas where it is very cold, freezing can damage the fruiting buds so it is generally done later, and depending on how much wood and how many fruiting buds are left on the vine, will determine the potential crop. I would really like to come back and see the vineyards in the Autumn at harvest time to see the difference a season of growth makes. In the Rioja region the harvest usually starts in September and finishes in November. The grapes are picked by hand by teams of people from students to gypsies, migrants to families, they all need work permits and it is heavily policed so most vineyards prefer to use agencies.
In 2017 there were icy conditions in April with hail and then a drought, in the Rioja region it was estimated that there was a loss of 50% of production; less wine but very good quality. We enjoyed trying various wines over three days, meeting the people who showed us around and told us about the wines we were drinking, it was so interesting. All of them spoke excellent English and were able to answer our questions, they have a real passion for what they do and the wines that they make, and we get real enjoyment from trying them.
We have enjoyed our travels and having the opportunity to live in Spain, albeit temporarily, and will be returning in the future. Here are a few facts about our trip for you:
1. Set off on 11th October by ferry from Portsmouth. Flew from Alicante back to the UK on 8th December for Christmas. Returned on 8th January to resume our travels.
2. Stayed 96 nights on 26 campsites, 19 free nights on Aires plus 1 paid Aire at Gibraltar. Plus 2 nights on the ferry and one at Gatwick Airport – a grand total of 119 days!
3. Visited 12 of the 15 regions in mainland Spain only missing out Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria.
4. Visited friends originally from UK, 4 couples who now live in Spain, for all or most of the year. Also met Vicent, my Spanish email-friend!
5. Driven over 3,100 miles seeing mountains, rivers, coast, large cities, small villages and many interesting things between.
6. Used 105 gallons (490 litres) of diesel which equates to approximately 30mpg
7. We have now seen a total of 153 species of birds in Spain, that we hope to add to over the coming years.
Finally, the day has dawned for our return ferry from Bilboa to Portsmouth, nearly 24 hours at sea leaving in mid afternoon gives us plenty of time to chill out, just hope the Bay of Biscay is smooth!