Elciego, La Rioja Alta, SPAIN, December 11, 2006 "“ With the inauguration of the dramatic $100 million Marqués de Riscal's City of Wine in October, one of Spain's wine regions, La Rioja, is transforming itself into a wine tourism destination. In the past two years, a wine museum has debuted, a Santiago Calatrava-designed winery has opened and a Zaha Hadid tasting room was inaugurated. Recognizing travelers' growing interest, the Spanish government is developing rutas del vino, wine routes that will lead visitors through vineyards to wineries, tasting rooms, restaurants and charming haciendas.

Frank Gehry's swirl of pink, gold and silver titanium and steel ribbons houses some of the public rooms of the Hotel Marqués de Riscal, a Luxury Collection hotel: the restaurant, bar, reception area and striking penthouse lounge. In a separate building across a bridge, the 43 roomy suites have high ceilings, king size beds and all the latest technology: LCD TV, CD player and high speed Internet and wireless access. The vinothérapie® spa with heated indoor pool, conference center with banquet facilities and meeting rooms, and visitors' center with tasting rooms and shops round out the City of Wine's facilities. "I wanted to design something exciting, festive, because wine is pleasure," Gehry explained.

There's no doubt that the City of Wine will be exciting for gourmands, wine aficionados and those who simply must stay in the latest design hotel. Michelin-starred chef Francisco Paniego from the renowned Echaurren Restaurant has been named the consultant for the Marqués de Riscal Restaurant and José Ramón Piñeiro will direct the kitchen. The 10,000-square-foot-vinothérapie® spa from the Caudalie pioneers will offer wine baths, grapevine wraps and massages with grape seed oil. The San Vicente Conference and Banquet Center has 10 meeting rooms and an auditorium seating 100. And then there's The Cathedral, the wine cellar that is home to vintages from every harvest since 1862. Founded in 1858, Marqués de Riscal was the first winery in La Rioja to produce wines following the Bordeaux method.

With the worldwide acclaim its wines have been receiving, it seems only natural that Spain should look to wine tourism. The country has more land "under vine" "“ almost 1.2 million hectares "“ than any other country in the world and is third in wine production after France and Italy, with 42 million hectoliters.

Two years ago the Dinastía Vivanco Museum of the Culture of Wine opened in Briones showcasing 5,000 wine-related antiquities and art. Rhytons and ceramic vases from ancient Greece, a Chinese wine vessel from the Zhou Dynasty (1027-771 B.C.), wine goblets of Egyptian glass (XXII Dynasty, 945-715 B.C.), and bronzes from the Late Dynastic period (1069-343 B.C.) are displayed with 17th century Mannerist silver sea-shell cups and 18th century French tastevins. More than 150 paintings, etchings and engravings from the 16th to the 20th centuries by Andrea Mantegna, José de Ribera, Joaquin Sorolla and Pablo Picasso present Bacchus and scenes of revelry. The museum boasts the world's largest public collection "“ some 3,000 "“ of antique and contemporary corkscrews which show the English preference for brass, the French for silver and the Americans for horn. Divided into five thematic sections, the permanent collection features old Riojan wooden wine presses, 18th century brass stills and 19th century copper extractors. Visitors can learn about the history of wine making, take a stroll through the vineyards and gardens and later, dine at the winery's restaurant directed by chefs Maribel Frades and Jon Zubeldia who trained in the kitchens at Arzak and El Bulli. www.dinastiavivanco.es

Last year Santiago Calatrava designed an undulating low-rise building surrounded by reflecting pools that echoes the Rioja landscape for Bodega Ysios. The bodega, whose design was inspired by rows of wine barrels, sits at the base of the Sierra de Cantabria and is open for tours www.domecqbodegas.com/ingles/bodegas.

Award-winning architect Zaha Hadid created a tasting room at the López de Heredia winery in Haro by wrapping the company's hand-carved kiosk from the 1910 World's Fair in gold-tinted steel. Shaped like a decanter and furnished with wine-colored Corian benches also created by Hadid, the tasting room adds a contemporary touch to this 129-year-old winery "“ one of the region's oldest still in family hands. The original structure dating from 1877 has a windmill, a watch tower confection of Victorian gingerbread, a cooperage where artisanal barrels are made and underground caves for aging the wines. www.lopezdeheredia.com

The government "“ along with the Association of Wine Cities of Spain (ACEVIN) "“ is developing 17 wine routes throughout the country. The already-established ruta del vino winding through La Rioja Alavesa identifies 35 bodegas. The following are open for tours and tastings and lunches for groups can be arranged by reserving in advance: Bodegas Franco Españoles, Bodegas Juan Alcorta, Bodegas Marqués de Murrieta, Bodegas del Marqués de Vargas, Bodegas Olarra, Bodegas Otañón and Bodegas Viña Ijalba. Philippe Mazieres designed an enormous building in the shape of an oak vat for Viña Real of the CVNE group. Several years ago native son Iñaki Aspiaza created a striking glass box rising like a lighthouse over the vineyards of Bodegas Baigorri with the production facilities buried underground. In addition to tours of its winery, the Bodega Izadi offers lodging and dining at its Michelin-starred restaurant. The route also visits Bodegas de Posada Mayor de Migueloa which boasts a small inn and restaurant in its restored 1619 Palacio de Viana.


Besides the wineries, the region has many sights of historical and cultural interest to entice visitors. Inhabited since Neolithic times, the Celtiberians left their mark as did the Romans who settled for seven centuries. Fortified in the 13th century, the charming medieval hill town of Laguardia overlooks the Ebro River and has a beautiful 16th century church, Santa Maria de los Reyes, with Spain's only polychrome portal. More than 50 Renaissance mansions are clustered within the city walls and beneath the town's cobble stone streets lie cavas, subterranean wine cellars that belonged to the wealthy wine-making families of Laguardia. And of course, Gehry's other architectural wonder, the Guggenheim is only a few hours drive away in Bilbao.

The Dinastía Vivanco Museum of the Culture of Wine is located at Carretera Nacional 232, km 442 in Briones, about ten kilometers from Haro. Open October through June from 10 AM to 6 PM (Fridays and Saturdays until 8 PM) and July through September from 10 AM to 8 PM and closed Mondays, admission is $7.60. For more information, call: 011-34-902-32-00-01 or email: infomuseo@dinastiavivanco.es. For more information about the Marqués de Riscal City of Wine, visit the web site: www.marquesderiscal.com and for information about Spain, contact your travel provider or the Tourist Office of Spain in New York (212-265-8822); Miami (305-358-1992); Chicago (312-642-1992) or Los Angeles (323-658-7188) or go to www.spain.info.

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