Drinking for charity

Here in Rioja, people don’t pay much attention to the typical macroeconomic indicators such as unemployment, housing starts and car sales.  The talk of the town is how full the bars and restaurants are.  Judging from these numbers, Rioja seems to be doing just fine, although my friends in the restaurant business tell me that Mondays and Tuesdays are slower than usual because people burn the candle at both ends from Thursday through Sunday and need a rest.

One of my friends, the owner of the Cafetería Monterrey (which happens to be next door to our apartment building), a wine writer and I usually have lunch together once a week at a nearby bistro, El Lagar.  A few weeks ago, Roberto, the owner of the bar, informed us of an idea he had to get more traffic in his place on Mondays and Tuesdays:  a series of wine tastings whose proceeds go to a local soup kitchen.

Casimiro (the journalist) and I thought the idea was terrific and wondered why no one else had thought of it.  Here’s how it works.

Every other Monday and Tuesday the bar invites a winery to give a sit-down, tutored tasting to 20 customers.  Each taster pays 50 euro cents to taste three wines. The winery and the bar each put up 50 cents, so the soup kitchen gets 1,50 euros a taster, or 30 euros a tasting.  In addition, there’s space at the bar so others can listen in on the winemaker’s comments, even though they pay full price for their glasses (here a white costs 1,50 and a crianza 2 euros a glass, so it’s still not expensive).

The selected winery is the house wine for the two weeks that the promotion lasts, so there’s an economic incentive for wineries to participate.

This simple promotion achieves four goals:  more people visit the bar on normally slow evenings, customers can learn about the featured wine and improve their general knowledge about Rioja, relatively unknown wines get some well-needed exposure, and last but certainly not least, the profits go to a worthy cause, because there are lots of needy people here.

I hope this promotion goes on for a long time.  With over 600 wineries in Rioja, there’s certainly enough supply for years to come.  And, given the Spaniards’ propensity to copy others’ ideas (one of the most famous sayings in Spanish is “¡Que inventen ellos!” -Let others invent it- by the early 20th century essayist and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno), maybe the idea of teaching the locals about Rioja wine will catch on!  They need it.