Photo Challenge: Serenity – Part ll

A Pink Dawn Over Rioja
A Pink Dawn Over Rioja

I don’t know why I overlooked the most serene moment of my life when I started on my former blog about this subject.  Maybe it was because the images to go with it are not very spectacular; certainly they don’t convey the calmness of the moment, the sense of absolute peace and tranquility, and the near total silence we experienced.

The occasion was a balloon flight over the vineyards and fincas of the wine-growing area of Rioja in Spain.  We began our ascent as dawn was breaking bathing our world in a warm pinkish glow as we rose into the sky watching fields and houses below diminish in size minute by minute.  Initial trepidation dissipated as soon as we started our flight and the beauty and joy of the morning filled us with awe.  For once I felt at one with nature, not in the way I had done when out walking in the mountains or swimming with dolphins, but a feeling of really being part of this marvellous planet of ours.

Vineyards of the Rioja area
Vineyards of the Rioja area

Up and up we went right into clouds which deadened what little sound there had been up until then.  it was totally eerie, chilly and white.

Up, Up and Away, in my Beautiful Balloon
Up, Up and Away, in my Beautiful Balloon

Then the pilot motioned ahead and there it was, the photo I would have died for if I’d known when on the ground that I would actually see it, our balloon shadowed on the cloud in front of us, faint but very obviously there.  The moment was too precious to grab for a camera and start focusing, so in a sort of reflex action, I just clicked on the little camera I carry for emergencies like this, and here it is.  My only image from my time in the clouds when I really knew the meaning of Serenity.

My Beautiful Balloon
My Beautiful Balloon
Reflection of Balloon in Clouds
Reflection of Balloon in Clouds

The Wine Museum of Rioja

Dinastía Vivanco Bodegas Museo del Vinois not just a great Museum, it is a beautiful one as well, set in the heart of the wine area of Alberite in La Rioja, Spain.  What also places this Museum in a category of its own is its geographical position with glorious views over the surrounding countryside.

View from the Steps of the Museum of Wine, Rioja

The Museum is located right next to the Vivanco winery from which it takes its name, in the town of Briones, La Rioja, and was built to “give back to wine what wine has given to us” in the words of its founder Pedro Vivanco Paracuellos. It was Senor Vivanco’s passion for collecting everything to do with wine that led him to open this magnificent museum, created to showcase every aspect of his collection.

With audiovisual and interactive displays and a specific route for physically or visually impaired visitors, this museum ticks all the right boxes. The collection is divided into 5 main spaces and takes the visitor from the process of vine cultivation through its development from 8000 years ago right up to the present day, the history of which shows how the vine is central to our culture. Dinastía Vivanco Museo del Vino is set to become the world’s greatest museum of viniculture

What to See in the Wine Museum at La Rioja

Starting with an introductory video about the family Vivanco, visitors then move through the rest of the museum. An easy to follow plan guides one around but various sections can be skipped if time is short, or if the particular theme is not of interest. During the tour one learns that wine is closely related to human patterns of settlement and that it was found in both pagan and religious ceremonies from the earliest days.

Egyptians, Romans and Greeks are all well represented in the displays, and some beautiful mosaics and drinking vessels are on show along with the front panel of a 3rd century sarcophagus and some small oil paintings on copper. Many artistic works show how grapevines and wine have been used throughout the ages to depict figures in classical mythology. With ancient presses and ploughs, etchings and early pictures to illustrate the harvests, and photographs of more recent times, the life of the labourers in the vineyards is brought to life.

Barrels and Bottles and Transportation of Wine

Transportation of wine was always of major importance and barrel making and acquiring the correct oak wood for the barrels occupies a goodly section of the museum. There are only 3 types of oak used to make barrels today, Sessile Oak which adds a vanilla flavour to the wine, English, French and Russian Oak (not much used) which is very tannic, and American White Oak which adds chocolate aromas. Oak grows very slowly and cannot be cut before it is 120 years old.

As well as the barrels there is a whole area devoted to bottles and the corks used in them. The use of cork is always recommended for fine wines as its flexibility means that it swells up on contact with the wine and fits tightly into the bottle. The foil on the cork and top of the bottle protects it from exterior airs.

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Following on from that there is a display of nearly 3,000 corkscrews that charts the evolution of this simple instrument, dating from the first patented model in the 18th century. Wine has given work to many people in many trades over many centuries.

It would be a shame to leave this delightful museum without spending time in the Essence area, a spot where different aromas can be experienced, from jasmine to leather, chocolate to chillies. It is revelatory.

Restaurant, Bar and Wine Tasting Area

Outside the displays can be found the tasting bar where one can spend a happy half-hour or so, sampling the delightful wines of the area.   The bar sells a fine collection of local and imported wines, and the excellent onsite restaurant offers superb, local dishes, cooked and served in the local fashion and with carefully chosen wines to accompany them.

A Pink Dawn Over the Rioja Vineyards

Back from Rioja and Catching Up.

Been a long, been a long, been a long time.  Anyone remember those words from the old song?

I’ve been busy over the last few months trying to work for a living and juggle social life which has made me neglect my blog.  I blame my computer really, as the many ways it distracts me from doing essential jobs are too numerous to mention.  Especially when it comes to playing with photographs, resizing, cropping, changing aspects, etc.  My biggest problem is not being able to resist trying them in different styles – just for my own amusement, of course – and I can waste a good few hours doing this.  But hey ho! here I am again.

Logroño

Bar in Logroño, capital of Rioja Region

Since I last blogged I’ve been to the Rioja Wine Festival in Spain where the celebrations were absolutely fabulous.  Tapas in the bars from 7 in the evening until well into the early hours of the morning, drinking some fabulous wines that I’d never tried before and when it wasn’t a tapas evening, sampling superb food in great restaurants, two of which stand out particularly.

Rich, Red, Rioja

1.   Restaurant La Venta Moncalvillo, a country restaurant about 12 miles outside Longroño. Since opening in 1997 this restaurant has grown from a modest little place to one of the most important restaurants in the region.  The two owners, brothers Carlos and Ignacio Echapresto do everything between them from the wine buying to the organization of the seasonal menus. A dish of wild mushroom sliced so thinly as to be almost transparent and served with the best olive oil and a sprinkling of chives makes a perfect starter, especially when followed by Ham Ibérico liced just so wrapped round the white asparagus that Spain specialises in.

Display of Coloured Corks at Taberna Herrerias, Logroño

2.   Taberna Herrerias, Logroño
In the old area of Logroño stands the Taberna Herrerias (a name that means Blacksmiths Tavern),on the street of the same name.  It is a 16th century palace sympathetically renovated without losing any of its ancient charm and now a restaurant serving delicious fresh, locally produced food,. The wines come from all over the world, but naturally, the locally produced Rioja is very much to the fore, especially the top quality Riojas that are sometimes difficult to source.

Logroño, Rioja’s capital, is an amazing city and one I hadn’t previously visited.  Accessible from the port of Bilbao which we arrived at and from where we hired car, we reached Logroño in just over two hours easy driving.  I met some people who had flown there, via Madrid, which they described as an easy trip.

Balloon over Vineyards of Rioja
Of the many experiences in and around Rioja, I treasure most the early morning balloon flight over the vineyards, flying up and into the clouds and watching the morning sun come up and cast the balloon’s shadow on the same white clouds.  Looking down on the toy cars and the dolls’ houses and experiencing the eerie silence as we drifted in space sharing a breakfast glass of champagne, was something I shall remember for the rest of my life.  I’ve done other balloon flights, but this one I can only describe as magical.
Museum of Vineculture

A visit to what must be one of the best Museums ever, the Dinastía Vivanco Bodegas Museo del Vino set in the heart of the wine area of Alberite in La Rioja, should be on everyone’s list of things to do in Rioja.  Located right next to the Vivanco winery from which it takes its name, in the town of Briones, it was built to “give back to wine what wine has given to us” in the words of its founder Pedro Vivanco Paracuellos. It was Senor Vivanco’s passion for collecting everything to do with wine that led him to open this magnificent museum, created to showcase every aspect of his collection.

Overlooking vineyards and the town of Briones, the Museum covers everything from ancient wine making to wine tasting guiding the visitor through ceramics, brass utensils and even a “smell experience” where the smells associated with wines can be experimented with.  Truly the most enjoyable museum I have ever visited.

There were wine tastings, trips to a thermal spa, horse riding, visiting an old monastery, and always, eating.  As a week-end trip, or a short break, this undiscovered town has everything, plus some of the best wines you will ever sample.

I think of Longroño now, as one of the places I must return to a.s.a.p.