Region: Castilla y León (Ribera del Duero)
Address: Isilla, 18
09400 Aranda de Duero (Burgos)
Telephone: +34 947 50 43 16
Fax: +34 947 50 43 16
Vinos: El Lagar de Isilla, Zalagar, Valdeusillo
Continuing with my story of my trip to Aranda del Duero
Dating back to the 15th century, El Lagar de Isilla was originally a winery before it was transformed into both a restaurant and a Bodega. As I pointed out in my last article, the winery sat at ground level where the grapes were carried inside to be pressed. In fact, you can still see the old wooden press where the grapes were crushed inside the main bar part of the restaurant. The juice from these grapes were fed by gravity into the basement some fifteen meters below ground level into large fermentation vessels. The main reason for this, beyond the avoidance of having to use a pump, was so that fermentation would take place away from the heat which is endemic to this region during the summer and at the end of the harvest.
I met José Zapatero, the owner of Lagar de Isilla in his wood framed restaurant fully equipped with a stone fireplace roasting several varieties of meat over a crackling flame. He was very welcoming, but unfortunately, in a hurry to get out the door to begin his weekend away from the exhausting work of both running a vineyard and a restaurant. However, he was able to explain how the winery was in the process of growing and expanding, bringing more prestige to the region as a whole.
The expansion included the addition of a Posada, a type of country house, to the main winery that is situated in La Vid, approximately twenty minutes from Aranda. Rather than a brief, and often impersonal, visit to their winery, their hope is to attract those who enjoy delving into a culture by staying on the property. Completed in stages over the next few years, José felt that it was a wonderful way to introduce people to Lagar de Isilla, as well as Ribera del Duero as a whole.
As señor Zapatero made his gracious exit, José García Arrontes, the Manager of the Bodega, not only offered me a free tour of the bodega and restaurant, but also a tasting of some of their wines. Not having a lot of time in his busy schedule, he nonetheless graciously drove us to La Vid where their main winemaking facilities are located.
Lager de Isilla has forty-eight hectares of vines with a small percentage of those vines over sixty years old. What I found so interesting was that without adding a single vine over the next few years, they still intended to increase their wine production to 300,000 bottles a year. As a result of new markets requesting their wine, the Bodega can utilize a larger percentage of their production that was lying dormant. This led me ask whether they intended to continue increasing production, to which he responded, “300,000 bottles are enough for us”. Instead, the Bodega would rather refocus their energy on both regional wine tourism and perfecting the quality of their wines.
As some of you know, the redundant technical details of wine production are never that interesting to me. Therefore, if you’ve ever toured a vineyard, you’ve heard more than enough about the “latest technology in winemaking”, “bladder presses” and how the wine is stored.
For a Bodega to rise above the rest, they really need to go beyond these basic necessities to gain recognition on the world market. In the case of Lagar de Isilla, they are fully aware of this concept and have created a sound marketing strategy that goes well beyond the typical “cookie cutter” tour. One particular strategy is to continue their exporting to both the States and several EU countries, but also to expand their market to uncharted wine territories. Yet their strategy goes well beyond exporting alone. For them, wine like business is an evolution, a constant work in progress.
As we walked around the Bodega in La Vid, you could physically experience what they meant by a “work in progress”. Mud driveways and stacks of building materials made it undeniably clear that they were in the beginning stages of construction, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to a decrease in wine production. As you move inside, you are quickly conscious of the fact that regardless of what goes on outside there is still great wine to produce inside. Wine transferred to barrels, barrels washed, bottles filled and eventually stored all permeated the building with the enchanting sounds of wine.
As we walked and chatted about the region, the winery and their future, I noticed the restored wooden doors and the reassembled stone walls reminding me how refreshing it is to see a winery respect tradition while acknowledging their customer’s needs today. In all honesty, the Bodega had a wonderful vibe and I looked forward to when they finish the guest house, so that I can bring Gabriella here for a long weekend.
Because José needed to return to the restaurant, we jumped into his car and began our brief drive back through vines as far as the eye could see. Once inside the restaurant, José led us down a winding fifty-nine step stone staircase into the basement of this cellar, it was truly a special experience. Walls hollowed out of the native sandstone and then reinforced with stone arches, you are completely surrounded by the owners attempt to both restore and flaunt its heritage. Currently it is used to teach tourists about the past and too store wines both for the restaurant and individuals who join a wine club at the restaurant.
In fact, to describe it would be a disservice. So, I’ll do one better and provide a link to their site where those who have Flash enabled can take a virtual tour of the Bodega: Virtual Tour of El Lagar de Isilla. Fortunately, you can actually visit the cave without a personal invitation. Although I believe the tour is only offered in Spanish, I would suggest inquiring at the restaurant upon your arrival.
As far as wines, they produce six wines in total, while I had a chance to taste three: the Joven Roble, a young wine that sees a short period in oak and their Crianza from the 2000 and 2001 vintage. As always, my notes follow, but I want to make one last comment: take the time to stop in the restaurant. Not only is the food great, but the wine is fun and they are great at what they do. They are savvy to tourism, and are fully aware that it can not only aid in their own growth, but can boost the region as a whole. Spanish Bodegas tend to give tourists roadblocks, rather than welcome mats. I’m saddened by this. And while Lagar de Isilla has a long ways to go before being able to welcome tourists, they’ve got a good start and great ideas. Give “em a shot if you get the chance.
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