The development of the steam locomotive in England in the early 19th century was one of the most important drivers of the Industrial Revolution. By the middle of the century there were more than 10,000 kilometers of railway lines in England, France, the German and Italian States, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Russia. (1)
Spain was eager to adopt this modern means of transportation.
However, despite the governments’ progressive leanings, finances were in a sorry state following a severe economic crisis in 1847 and 1848 so official financial backing for rail lines was lacking.
According to Carlos Larrinaga, the absence of projects “was not due to a lack of initiatives but rather of capital”. (2)
Unable to raise capital, governments in Spain offered concessions to private investors. In the case of railroads, several of these capitalists were French, such as the Rothschild and Perère families as well as Spaniard José de Salamanca. Once a concession was granted, the investors provided capital with their own funds and by means of stock and bond issues. In exchange, the companies received a percentage of the price for shipping freight for a certain number of years.
Northern Spanish ports compete for concessions
Ports on the coast of the Bay of Biscay competed to link them with central Spain. Some of these projects, such as a line from Alar del Rey to Santander and another from Castile via Soria, La Rioja, Pamplona and Bayonne in southwestern France via the Alduides valley were unsuccessful in spite of strong regional support due to fundraising problems and central government opposition.
The passing of a national railway law in 1855 laid the groundwork for a network of rail lines radiating from Madrid following a plan from the time of king Carlos III.(3) The most important of these lines was to link Madrid to the north coast.
Bilbao, capital of the province of Vizcaya, competed strenuously in favor of this line passing through the city and port but its initial aspirations were frustrated. The project finally approved called for the northern end of the Madrid-Bay of Biscay route to be at Pasajes near the French border, not Bilbao.
Bilbao gets its train line
Bilbao later succeeded in receiving a concession and funding for the last stages of a rail line linking Spain’s major industrial regions of Catalonia and Vizcaya (Bilbao). This line followed the course of the Ebro River to Miranda de Ebro and then north. By the beginning of the 1860s, it reached from Catalonia to Tudela in Navarra, with the last stage, from Tudela to Bilbao, completed in 1864.
This line connected with the Madrid-French border railway in Miranda, allowing goods to be shipped by sea from Bilbao and Pasajes and overland through France from the border town of Irún, the terminus of the northern line.
The project had strong political support from the Riojan civil engineer and congressional deputy Práxedes Mateo Sagasta as well as financial backing from the provincial government of the province of Logroño and investors from Vizcaya including the recently created Banco de Bilbao (1857).
The line was not only a means to ship industrial goods to and from Bilbao and Barcelona but also foodstuffs from the fertile valley of the Ebro River, including wine from Rioja. Haro, in the province of Logroño (today La Rioja), was a stop on the line and the land around it was where the winery district soon developed, although the train station was not officially opened until 1880 (4).
Phylloxera in France attracts French buyers in search of wine
Numerous French agents began to visit the region in search of wines to export to France, whose vineyards had been ravaged by the phylloxera plague. Some of these French agents decided to stay in Haro, including Messieurs Heff, Anglade, Blondeau, Dupeyron, Foisier, Lavatout, Lepine, Savignon, Serres and Vigier. (5) The first winery in the station district, an association of the Alsatian Armand Heff and Spaniard Rafael López de Heredia, was founded in 1877. (6) Other winery investors followed suit.
Rioja wines needed to improve
From 1864, date of completion of the line to Bilbao, wines from Rioja had a faster route to Bilbao to satisfy increased local demand, and for exports via seaports in northern Spain and overland to France. But as we will see in Part Two, winemaking had to evolve to satisfy the demands of French wineries, Rioja’s most important customers.
- José Manuel Delgado Idarreta. 150 Años del Ferrocarril en La Rioja.
- Carlos Larrinaga Rodríguez, “Las conexiones ferroviarias entre las Provincias Vascongadas y Navarra a mediados del siglo XIX”. Revista Huarte de San Juan. Geografía e Historia 10, 2003, p. 16.
- Delgado Idarreta, op.cit.
- Llano Gorostiza, Manuel. Los Vinos de Rioja. Induban, 1973, p.74.
- De Candamo, Luis G. R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia. Biografia del Rioja Supremo. 1996, pp. 76-77.
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