Viña Lanciano (Credit: Bodegas LAN)
Bodegas LAN is a newcomer to the wine tourism scene in Rioja, having only opened their tasting room in May. According to Alejandro Ruiz, the winery’s wine tourism host, “LAN is either the 186th or 187th Rioja winery to open its doors to wine tourists”.
Before deciding on a wine tourism strategy, LAN did its homework, visiting over 60 wineries. Their decision has been based on “less is more”, beginning with Alejandro Ruiz’s role in the winery. “My official title is ‘host’. I didn’t want to be the guide whose job is to say the same things to each group and wait for the next bus to arrive.”
It seems clear from Ruiz’s comment that LAN understands that a lot of wine tourism guides suffer from burnout from repeating the same story day after day and that different wine tourists want different experiences. More about this follows.
With the empirical evidence learned from many winery visits, LAN has devised three experiences.
The first experience is based on the acronym of the winery’s name. LAN was named after the first letters of the three Spanish provinces that house the Rioja wine district:
L for Logroño (now called La Rioja)
A for Álava
N for Navarra
This experience is a variation of the name, ‘LAN in Three Letters’. It’s a visit to the winery and a tasting, built around
L for Legend, based on the famous Roman bridge at Mantible which originally crossed the Ebro river to the area inside an oxbow where Lan’s signature vineyard Viña Lanciano is located.
A for Architecture, featuring LAN’s spectacular barrel aging cellar and the winery’s participation in the “Concéntrico” architecture fair featuring an original sculpture every year in the Viña Lanciano vineyard.
N for Numbers and Names, featuring the winery’s brand D-12, named after the winemaker’s favorite fermentation tank number 12 and the names of the winery personnel that contribute to the success of the winery and its brands.
This visit lasts 90 minutes followed by a tasting of D-12, LAN crianza and Viña Lanciano.
The second experience takes 45 minutes and centers on the barrel aging cellar. Here, visitors learn about the beneficial effects of oak aging to increase the longevity of the wine, followed by a tasting of two oak aged reds.
LAN’s barrel aging cellar (Credit: Bodegas LAN)
The third experience is a tasting in the tasting room. Visitors can taste as many wines as they want, paying by the glass.
In the future LAN will launch a fourth option: a visit to Viña Lanciano.
Wines are also available for purchase, both by the glass, bottle and case.
Alejandro Ruiz explained that most Spanish visitors request the full winery tour. Foreign visitors, especially those from the USA, preferred the tasting option.
LAN’s visitors’ reception area reminded me of Scandinavia – low key, featuring furniture with a contemporary design, blond wood shelves, bar, and stools with comfortable armchairs and sofas and two wood-burning fireplaces. It’s a place to relax, chat and enjoy a few glasses of wine.
LAN’s visitors’ center (Credit: Tom Perry)
I think LAN has got its wine tourism philosophy right by offering visitors several options rather than the sole possibility of shepherding groups through the winery like cattle before providing a tasting at the end of the visit. This avoids what I call “bodega burnout”, an affliction that affects wine tourism staff and wine tourists alike.
In my former life as the point person for the international promotion of Rioja wines for fifteen years, one of my responsibilities was to lead at least 20 groups of wine, food and lifestyle writers around Rioja every year. These visits usually lasted a week with three wineries a day, so I reckon I’ve visited Rioja wineries at least 4,500 times. A lot of these visits took place before wine tourism became popular, but I was witness to the high turnover of wine tourism staff, who either left the industry or moved to other wineries because they were tired of giving the same spiel 15 to 20 times a week. I think there must be a better way. I remember a visit to Voyager Estate in Margaret River in Western Australia where the tasting room employee explained that the winery avoids burnout by rotating the staff between the tasting room, the winery and the restaurant. Might this be a lesson for Rioja wineries?
I learned about creating valuable wine tourism experiences from these trips with journalists. Visiting wineries with wine writers is an art form because the writers almost invariably know more about wine and the winemaking process than the winery staff itself, so a standardized tour would inevitably lead to boredom. I tried to maximize interest by requesting that for each visit, the winery concentrate on one aspect of the process from vineyard to aging. One winery would talk about how their vineyards are planted (for example to a specific varietal or to field blends of various varietals); stainless steel fermentation vats versus cement, both lined and unlined, eggs, or wooden vats; the effects of ageing in French, American, Slovenian, Russian and Spanish oak; single varietals versus blending; single vineyards versus sourcing grapes from different parts of Rioja; new oak vs. old oak and so on. By the end of the week, the journalists would have a good overview of the different ways wine is made in Rioja. This almost always produced lots of articles because the writers had plenty of angles to write about.
Ideally, I think Rioja wineries should replicate these fascinating differences by concentrating on unique experiences that don’t necessarily include visiting the whole winery. And of course they should pay more attention to opportunities to taste and purchase. A weekend visit to Rioja doesn’t have to mean being forced to see interminable stainless steel tanks and oak casks. If everyone showed visitors what’s unique about their property, Rioja’s value as a wine tourism destination would increase exponentially.
Bodegas LAN; Paraje Buicio s/n; 26360 Fuenmayor (La Rioja)
Reservations: +34 676 569 115 (Alejandro Ruiz)