Monday, November 11, 2013

RODA winery visit (Haro, La Rioja): Preamble #DWCC13

The next stop on our tour was a discontinuity. The wineries we had visited to date could be characterized as Rioja-traditional -- (i) they had been around for a long time and (ii) they use primarily American oak in their winemaking. Bodegas RODA -- our next stop -- would be different. In its exclusive use of French oak, it is the poster-child of modern Spanish winemaking.

We were welcomed at RODA by Augustín Santolaya, Managing Director, Sara Fernández, Export Sales Director, and Víctor Charcán, Export Sales Director.

As we walked from the entranceway into a more central portion of the property, we encountered a young man in a white lab coat sitting in a chair and manually de-stemming grapes. Surely, this was not the vaunted RODA sorting table. We cast questioning glances at the RODA team and Augustín laughingly explained that the young man was selecting grapes to be used in an ongoing climate-change-related Tempranillo research study. The research requires separate, small-batch fermentation of samples and this was the first step in the process.

At this point I should mention that Augustín does not speak any English but that that in no way curbs his exuberance and enthusiasm, or dulls the impact of his oratorical skills, when he is communicating to an English-speaking audience. He looked us in the eyes, said his piece(s), and then left it up to the interpreters to get his points across. Richard and Sara tried their hands at this but it was the sonorous tones of Victor that truly brought the elegance and depth of his words to life.

As we would come to find out later, Augustín is the son and grandson of vine growers and lives in a vineyard. He has been making wines since he was a child. He has degrees in Agricultural Engineering, Vinegrowing, and Enology and is a Professor at the University in Rioja. In addition to the foregoing roles, he looks after his family's properties and also owns a vineyard consultancy. In 1982 RODA was one of the projects that he was consulting for and, after speaking with the owners, he fell in love with the project. He has been with the company ever since. As time went on he became more involved with the enology and administration of the company -- extending beyond his viticultural role -- and when it was determined in 1998 that someone had to take on the management of the enterprise, the team volunteered him for the job.

After walking for a bit, Augustín stopped and signaled for us to gather around. The vintage was almost completed, he said, except for a single parcel of Garnacha that remained unharvested. This vintage represented the 25th year since RODAs founding by its current owners Mario Rottlant and Carmen Daurella, both of whom came to Rioja with the intent of creating one of the world's iconic wines. The initial name of the enterprise was Bodegas el Carado but that was later changed to RODA, the combination of the first two letters of both their surnames.

Augustín continued speaking for a few more minutes, giving us a broad overview of the enterprise, and then we set off to explore the environment in greater detail; first the vineyards and then the cellars. This post will cover vineyard-related issues.

I travelled to one of the RODA vineyards in Augustín's car along with Robert (McIntosh. Conference co-founder, tour organizer, and guide) and two other bloggers. Of course we were treated to a live commentary as we went along. As soon as we disembarked, Augustín launched into a discourse which I will paraphrase (on the basis of Robert's translation). Apparently Augustín uses divining (dowsing) rods for subsurface detection (I assume of water but he did not specify) but a set of recently installed, high-capacity electricity transmission lines were "messing up" his magnetic field. I was honestly more upset by the fact that the relatively ugly structures supporting the lines had despoiled such a beautiful landscape where grape vines had previously stretched out to the hills otherwise unencumbered. I asked whether landowners had fought to prevent this from happening and he looked at me with sympathy. I obviously did not understand how things worked in these here parts. Of course they had protested. But while they were off protesting, the permitting was rushed through by the interested parties and the despoiling structures were erected almost overnight. And they had messed up his magnetic field to boot.

He went to the trunk of his car and retrieved two L-shaped, copper-colored rods which he grabbed by the short ends of the L, pointed them away from him, and made a bee line for one of the vineyard rows. The rods held their positions as he walked, but as soon as he got below the lines, they both made a sudden, crazy move to the left; while his clenched fists remained pointing straight ahead. This was some weird stuff. I switched around the camera on my iPhone to see if I could see the whites of my eyes. I couldn't. They were too bloodshot from my being continuously over-served. Robert was a trooper. He stayed close to the action, kept a stiff upper lip, and kept on translating.  In order to experience the effect himself, Robert took the rods, positioned them as Augustín had done, and retraced our steps down the vineyard row. The rods reacted similarly once he got under the transmission lines. Based on the foregoing, I will recommend that Augustín explore other areas for unhindered dowsing.

Darn. I had promised to talk about vineyards in this piece but my pen got away from me. Oh well. Next time.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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