Pedro López de Heredia: In Memoriam

Rioja has lost a giant of a man, perhaps the greatest visionary of his generation, with the passing on April 20 of 84 year old Pedro López de Heredia, the patriarch of the 136 year-old bodega R. López de Heredia.  Pedro was the grandson of the winery’s founder Rafael.


Pedro López de Heredia (Credit: López de Heredia winery website)

Pedro López de Heredia
(Credit: López de Heredia winery website)

Whenever I think of the four generations of this family I’m reminded of a quote that I read in Barbarians at the Gate by a member of the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company. “Mr. R.J. wrote the rules, all we do is follow them.” This was the López de Heredia philosophy too, steadfastly following the rules set down by founder Rafael to his son, also called Rafael, then to Pedro, and from him to his children María José, Mercedes and Julio, who currently run the winery. I’m not sure, but I think Pedro’s young grandchildren are already running around the winery on weekends. Making wine today like it was in the 1870s in the face of the high alcohol, opaque Riojas of the late 20th and early 21st centuries was a bold move.


The 'txori toki' or 'birds' perch' at the winery. Credit:  Claes Löfgren

The ‘txori toki’ or ‘birds’ perch’ at the winery.
Credit: Claes Löfgren

I recently read an anecdote about Pedro and his father that sums up this attitude.  After finishing high school, Pedro mentioned to his father that he was interested in studying chemistry.  His father replied, “It’s up to you, but I wouldn’t advise it if you plan on working in the winery.  With a chemistry degree you’ll be tempted to mess with the wines too much. It’s not only unadvisable, it’s also unethical.” So Pedro took a law degree, but never practiced, instead devoting his energy to his vineyards and winery.

He always defended the fact that his winery was both traditional and at the forefront of modernity but loved to criticize, tongue in cheek, the initiatives that his children suggested.  As the patriarch of the winery, he had the last word, of course, so he must have agreed with the idea of adding the Zaha Hadid-designed tasting room and visitors’ center to the winery.  However, as told by daughter María José, he referred to it as “that ‘thing’ stuck on the front of the winery”. Vintage Pedro.


The Zaha Hadid-designed visitors' center, nicknamed 'The Flask'. Credit:

The Zaha Hadid-designed visitors’ center, nicknamed ‘The Flask’.

I met him because he had been a founding member of the Rioja Exporters’ Association, which I directed for fifteen years. He sat on the board shortly after the association’s founding, although by the time I arrived on the scene his presence was limited to attending our annual general meetings, where he often spoke out against the politics espoused by the big wineries, but always in a reasoned, constructive way.  His big political battle was to gain official recognition for the use of ‘vinos finos’ (elegant) for Rioja wines, something his grandfather and father fought for, to defend elegant Rioja against the coarse wines on the market, the norm at the time.  Sadly, the Sherry producers had already registered the term ‘fino’ so Rioja wasn’t allowed to use it. If any wines deserved the label of ‘fino’, they were Pedro’s: elegant, silky and long-lived.

I’m sure he was happy, though. Due to his perseverance in maintaining the founder’s dream of making ‘the supreme Rioja’ along with the international acclaim received for his wines, elegant, easy to drink Riojas have become popular once again. On the way out are the high alcohol fruit bombs produced following reviews by a few wine writers, mainly in the USA. Today, these same writers are heaping glowing praise on Heredia’s Tondonia, Bosconia, Gravonia and Cubillo.

Rest in peace, Pedro. Mission accomplished.

A Tapas Crawl Down Logroño’s Calle San Juan

Most visitors to Logroño’s Old Town congregate in and around calle Laurel, our legendary tapas street.  Locals, however, tend to have their tapas and drinks on calle San Juan, a short walk away. Until recently, San Juan kept a more traditional profile than its better-known neighbor, a street packed with bars serving traditional specialties such as tortilla de patata (Spanish egg and potato omelet), zapatillas (ham on toasted bread), lecherillas (sweetbreads) and fried mushrooms, while on Laurel and adjacent streets, the fare has evolved toward the modern (at least for tapas), like steak and roast suckling pig.  The wine selection on San Juan used to be firmly Rioja, while on Laurel, you can find wine from just about everywhere, to the chagrin of 600 Rioja wineries.

This clear distinction has become blurred in recent months, as many bars on San Juan are going upscale to follow Laurel’s lead.  Last Saturday, my wife, some friends and I did a short tour of San Juan. Our first stop was Tastavin where the bar was packed with elaborate meat and fish tapas, most of which had been cooked in the kitchen and needed to be reheated in a microwave oven just before service.  I ordered pluma ibérica, part of the feather loin near the shoulder joint of an Iberian pig, grilled and topped with a green pepper sauce.  The rest of our party ordered grilled red tuna drizzled with soy sauce.  We drank Buble, a white made with the godello grape from Valdeorras, a denomination of origin in Galicia in northwestern Spain, near the town of Verín and the Portuguese border.

Tapa of pluma ibérica

Tapa of pluma ibérica


Red tuna and piquillo pepper tapa

Red tuna and piquillo pepper tapa

Our next stop was Bar Torres, which had been transformed from a dark, dingy place into one of San Juan’s most popular bars.  Although Torres offers a wide range of tapas, the specialty is a grilled patty of wagyu beef (from cows bred in Japan that are massaged and fed beer).   Here, we drank Sela, a crianza from Roda in Rioja. If you’re a visitor to Logroño, you’ll enjoy looking at the pictures of the city in the mid-20th century that hang on the walls.

Crowd in Bar Torres

Crowd in Bar Torres


Wagyu beef patty in Bar Torres

Wagyu beef patty in Bar Torres



It was getting late, around midnight, so our next stop was our last for the evening, although the streets were still teeming with people. We decided to go to La Tortilla, where, as the name implies, the specialty is Spanish omelet.  We ordered our slices of perfectly cooked (meaning that the egg isn’t completely cooked and the potato is al dente) omelet with hot sauce made from a piquillo pepper concentrate on top – that packs quite a wallop!  We washed the omelets down with glasses of Campo Viejo from Rioja. Visitors shouldn’t be put off by the gooey texture of the omelet – it’s how it’s supposed to be!

Tortilla is probably Spain’s most popular tapa.  Here, the local restaurant association sponsors a contest to determine who makes the best tortilla.  There are two categories:  regular –  tortilla using egg, onion, potatoes and salt –  and special, where anything can be used as an ingredient.  Once the winner has been chosen, Inside Rioja will sample Logroño’s best offerings.  My mouth is already watering!


Spanish potato omelet with hot sauce

Spanish potato omelet with hot sauce

Tastavin  San Juan 25, Logroño

Bar Torres  San Juan 31, Logroño

La Tortilla  corner of Travesía de San Juan and calle Portales, Logroño


Jura: The Book

ImageI assume that if you’re following Inside Rioja, you’re a wine lover.  With that in mind, I’d like to let you in on a new project undertaken by my friend, fellow wine blogger and wine educator par excellence Wink Lorch.  Wink divides her time between London and the Jura region of southeastern France, where she owns a house.  The Jura is known for its fantastic wines, but is little known outside France, except of course for Wink’s heroic efforts to promote it through her blog

Wink is planning to write a book about the region, its wines and its people.  No one is more capable than her to do the job, but she needs the help of the wine lovers’ community to get the job done.

She has decided to solicit the help of friends and fellow wine lovers for a crowd funding project on Kickstarter.  As I write, she’s a little over halfway toward receiving enough pledges to make the project a reality.  For further information, follow this link:

Thanks for your support of this exciting project!