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Wine Tourism in Spain- The Winebus

Last weekend I was invited to join The Winebus, which is a small wine tourism company based in Spain. The idea is simple: you meet your tour members in Madrid, and are driven to a winery. You tour the winery, taste some wines and then visit a small town or festival in the surrounding countryside. If you wish you can pay a supplement for dinner. The people that chose to pay the supplement enjoy a meal together and then everyone is driven back to Madrid. I thought it was a great concept so when I was offered a free trip I jumped at the opportunity.

When I originally booked the trip I was given a choice of three dates/itineraries. I originally booked a tour to go to a festival in the little village of Pedraza. The highlight of this itinerary is a concert of classical music, illuminated by over 10,000 candles. Thus I was a bit dismayed when my pre-departure email said there was a last minute change and we would now be going to a country music festival in Riaza. I grew up in the Midwest, surrounded by country music, and am not particularly a fan. I’d assumed that living in Spain I was safe from its encroaches. Turned out I was wrong about that. However, I didn’t want to “look a gift horse in the mouth” so I politely said nothing and joined the trip.

We met at a hotel in Madrid, easily accessible by Metro. There were only four of us on the tour so the owner, Mr. Ignacio Segovia, explained that for reasons of economy, he would drive the bus and lead the tour. We all got into a minivan and he verbally relayed background information about the area whilst driving us to the Bodega Ismael Arroyo, located in the village Ribera del Sotillo. This is part of the D.O. Ribera del Duero, a region where they’ve been making wine for over 2,000 years.

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The D.O. Ribera del Duero spans the municipalities of Burgos, Segovia, Soria and Valladolid

We arrived and waited in the parking lot about ten minutes for our guide to arrive. The bodega has been in the same family for over 400 years, so it was one of the current owner’s sons that showed us around. He conducted the tour in Spanish, which Mr. Segovia simultaneously translated into English. One of the participants of the tour was half Spanish and half American, so somewhere along the way she ended up doing most of the translating. Luckily I understand Spanish- if I spoke only English I think it would have been a bit confusing.

The Val Sotillo vineyards

The Val Sotillo vineyards

Grapes in the Val Sotillo field

Grapes in the Val Sotillo field

Wine making facilities at Bodegas Ismael Arroyo

Wine making facilities at Bodegas Ismael Arroyo

That said, I thought the Bodega was extremely well chosen, especially for such a hot day. We started in the fields, learned how the grapes were grown and then went inside to see the production facilities. Next we visited the caves, which were cut into the bedrock hundreds of years ago. They’re thirty meters underground, and keep the wine a constant temperature of 10-12 degrees Celsius year round. Not only good for the wine, but also for wine tourists stifling in the afternoon heat! They are lovely to look at, whilst a bit mysterious. We all felt like we had stepped into an Edgar Allen Poe story.

One of the old entrances to the caves

One of the old entrances to the caves

The caves keep the wine at a constant temperature during the aging process

The caves keep the wine at a constant temperature during the aging process

I was impressed that the oak for the barrels comes from two places: France and Missouri

I was impressed that the oak for the barrels comes from two places: France and Missouri

Following the tour, we were led into the tasting room where we were invited to sample three different wines. If we liked them we were given the opportunity to purchase bottles. I was a little surprised to see our driver tasting the wines. But he said that he spit it out, so I figured it was ok.

The Winebus group tasting the wines at Bodegas Ismael Arroyo

The whole Winebus tasting the wines at Bodegas Ismael Arroyo

After our tasting, we piled back into the minivan. Mr. Segovia gave us a choice: to proceed directly to the country music festival, or first stop at a Mirador (a place with a beautiful view). Since the Winebus tour had started at 3:00 pm (lunch time in Spain), I had been forced to skip lunch so I was really hungry, and desperately wanted a bottle of water. The rest of the group concurred, but we agreed to visit the Mirador de Piedras Llanas before proceeding to the festival.

After stopping and asking for directions twice, our minivan arrived at the Mirador. Honestly, this was my favorite part of the tour. It was quiet and peaceful, with tremendous views. Since we visited at sunset, the rocks and valley below were cast in a beautiful pink light. We collectively wished we could stay longer and enjoy a picnic dinner. Regrettably we didn’t have any food, but Mr. Segovia did bring us a bottle of white wine. He also provided us with wineglasses, which added a touch of elegance. If I was a real wine aficionada I probably wouldn’t have liked the temperature or presentation, but since I’m not I was satisfied. What did disturb me was that Mr. Segovia, our driver, drank with us. This time he didn’t spit it out. No one else seemed to mind, but I found it disturbing that our designated driver, and tour guide, was drinking whilst driving us over unknown twisting country roads.

Sunset at Mirador de Piedras Llanas

Sunset at Mirador de Piedras Llanas

Enjoying the view, and a glass of white wine, at the Mirador de Piedras Llanas. Photo of me taken with my iPhone 6 by fellow blogger, and Winebus group member, Cee Jay

After the sun dropped and the sky deepened to indigo we piled back into the Winebus. After a bit of a worry about where to park the minivan, we all arrived safely at the festival. We were given food tickets, and waited in line for roughly forty five minutes to obtain a hamburger. Finally, around 11:30 pm, we sat on the ground, Mr. Segovia took out a bottle of wine, and most of us enjoyed a picnic dinner. One of our party had some dietary restrictions, so she only had a couple pieces of ham. The rest of us ate our hamburgers, we all (including our driver) had another glass of wine, listened to music for another half an hour, then returned to Madrid. We were taken to the Atocha Metro stop. Since the Metro was closed at this time I searched for a cab, then came home and fell fast asleep.

In summary, I think the Winebus is a great concept and has a lot of potential. I had a lovely day and enjoyed getting to know my fellow group members. However, I would not recommend it to others at this time. It was extremely disorganized. All printed materials in English were fraught with errors, at times rendering them incomprehensible. Since I live in Spain I can handle it, but if I didn’t speak Spanish and was unfamiliar with the country I would have found it irritating at best, frightening at worst. The food situation was managed poorly- one of my fellow group members said “she almost cried because she was so hungry”. I would have appreciated being told that drinking water was not provided, and would not be available for purchase until eight hours into the tour (with the exception of the water from the faucet in the bathroom at the Bodega- I used my hands as a cup). The fact that our designated driver was drinking is a deal breaker.

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This entry was posted on 27 July, 2015 by in Travel and tagged , , , , , .

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