Signal Hill has long been a communications point on the Southern California landscape. In an earlier era, Native Americans signaled their brethren with fire and smoke, from Santa Catalina Island to the foothills of the Coastal Range bordering what is now L.A.

Today the signals are electronic, connecting us--at the click of a mouse--to vast, new worldwide networks.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Spain: Humor and Generosity at the Tobelos Winery in La Rioja

While dining at the Restaurante Echaurren in Ezcaray, we tasted a fine white wine from the  Bodega Tobelos.  Once we learned that it was bottled in Briñas, a small village alongside the River Ebro (seen here), just a few kilometers from our hotel in Haro, we decided to see if we could find it; maybe do a little tasting there, even purchase a few bottles.

Maria knocked on a locked door of an imposing, modernist and very functional building.  A silver-headed gentleman  shouted out of a second-story window, "May I help you?"  "We were hoping to taste some of your wines," Maria answered, in Spanish.

Then we heard, "I was hoping you wanted to buy the winery; everything has its price, you know."

We were lucky to meet Ricardo Reinoso Casado, Director and Manager and part owner of the Bodega Tobelos, who soon appeared at the first-floor entrance.  We imagined that we had given him a welcomed break from some dispiriting bookkeeping.

He gave us an hour-long tour, even providing some glasses for tasting wines in their fermenting process, directly from the large stainless steel vats and the French oak "gaining," or aging barrels you see here.  After tasting one ripe red wine he said, "This lacks a few weeks before it is ready for the oak barrel."  Similar evaluations were made at each of four or five other stainless steel vats we sampled.

Throughout the tour, Ricardo--who has family in the United States--showed the Spanish humor, generosity and grace we had seen in Barcelona and Ezcaray.  He knew we were typical tourists and that his company had little to gain financially from us.  Nonetheless, he engaged with us and welcomed our curiosity and appreciation for his craft.

When he learned that Larry does not speak Spanish, he took pains to include him with his own, halting English.

Bodegas Tobelos produces various wines of Garnacha and Tempranillo grapes grown locally.  They export to England and Germany, as well as distribute domestically, within Spain.  We learned that the white wine we tasted at the Restaurante Echaurren had been left there by the bodega's marketing team a couple of weeks earlier.  Ricardo said the bodega is better known for its reds.

They are exploring the possibility of exporting to California and elsewhere in the U.S., a potentially large but difficult market, due to the competition and the various import fees that vary state by state.

The wine grapes come from small plots of vineyards located around the bodega, near the Rio Ebro and at the foot of the Sierra and Obarenes Mountains.

In the photo to the left you see, through a window that is the entire wall of the tasting room, some of the bodega's vineyards, with the mountains in the background.  Grape vines are deciduous, so the cool, fall weather was bringing out a palate of oranges and reds, much like the beautiful change of colors you see in New England in the fall.

Click here to see a few more photos, with captions, of our visit to  La Rioja.   ---  RCH                                                                                  

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