Words + Photography by Luke Alland, using Leica's Q2 Reporter and SL-2.
You've probably never heard of Cenicero before, but you've definitely heard of La Rioja. The name of the sleepy little town with a whole three lines on Wikipedia that literally translates to 'ashtray'. But it's where I found myself on a little grape-spotting adventure, to learn all about wine.
I'd never seen a grape before it was a grape, if that makes sense. Or the vine they grow on up close before. Goes to show how horticulturally handicapped I am having grown up in London. So safe to say, I was quite excited at the prospect of seeing where this delightful liquid (or the blood of Christ, whichever you prefer) starts, because I know where it ends up.
Cenicero has had a wine culture within the village since the 13th century, and with a population of about 2,000 people, the heritage really does run through to the modern day. There's not an awful lot to actually do, surprisingly, so it seems only natural for families to end up in the winemaking business. On any evening out to get dinner, you end up on a table full of the locals who can regale you with stories about wine, their families, and why this bit of Spain is better than others.
The Vineyard and Bodega we are here to visit first is El Legado (The Legacy), run and owned by Ángel de Pedro. The vineyard itself is over 90-years-old, one of the oldest constantly-used vineyards in the region which is synonymous for winemaking in Spain.
The older the vine, the better the grape. That was the first of many lessons Ángel made sure to impart on me. El Legado is a traditional winery that was renovated and reopened in 2020. Its building has the elements that were essential for winemaking in its previous life that have been carefully restored and provide an essential key stone in the tour.
Ángel and his team are, first and foremost, storytellers who immerse you in the fascinating world of wine, bringing you on a journey that lasts two hours but starts up in the hills at the vineyard itself. At the very top, there are huge trees which cast a much needed shadow that was used, still to this day, as respite from hours of hard labour collecting the grapes by hand: as this particular vineyard is so old, the vines are delicate which means that everything needs to be done by hand. The irrigation is the only 'mechanised' part of the process.
As we talk about how he came to be where he is now, he cuts me short to tell me that his grandfather used to trek from the village using a donkey and a cart, bringing back the grapes from a day's work. I don't think I needed a better explanation as to what El Legado really stands for.
After extolling the virtues of the wine in the region, we head over to a far corner where, magically, a table has been chucked up laden with food and more importantly... wine. He pours out a glass each for us and doesn't hesitate to fill it back up, even if you've barely touched the halfway mark. Good things in life shouldn't always be counted, and that includes glasses of wine. He explains as we look out over the town how several generations of families run certain parts, but that none of them have a vineyard older than his.
A few glasses deep, and with the sun trying its best to burn its way through my factor 15, we head back down to the village and into a small unassuming square, pass through a burgundy door where we direct ourselves to a table replete with white wine and charcuterie. Whilst we heard the story of what used to happen between these four walls, I was struck by how much of a manual process wine production used to be. It's very easy to think about lavish meals depicted in films from hundreds if not even thousands of years ago where wine is thrown around the table like some sort of ceremonial glazing. But seeing how it actually used to be created has added a whole new level of appreciation for how easy we have it now.
We descended down some extremely steep stone stairs into where the wine, once fermented and ready, was stored. The huge barrel dates back almost 350 years and is still in pretty good nick, even if it is not used for its intended purpose today. It was quite easy to imagine the wine making its way down, but how, when it was ready to be purchased, would it make its way back up? Simple: on the backs of a number of young men employed to do exactly that. They would fill the goat hides you can see here full to the brim, and lug them step-by-step back up to the surface.
Another round of red wine and some more charcuterie ensued as we discussed how the need to lug this all upstairs had thankfully changed, speaking about a hypothetical hard day's work is always amplified with a large glass of red in your hand.
We went even further down the rabbit hole to see where the wine was produced and stored, with Ángel explaining how the process works in the modern day, how he came to define his wine, and why this is something he is immensely proud of.
I'd never been on a wine tasting tour before, and not only did it bring me well and truly up to speed, but it showed me another side to it. It's easy to think that with the copious amounts I've consumed in my years as an adult, I'd have actually learned a thing or two. Much with the other tours I have done at whisky distilleries for example, seeing really is believing. Being able to savour and to understand what you're consuming makes it all the more sweeter.
I left with a huge appreciation of wine and its production. But this wasn't the only visit I made in La Rioja. The next day I headed to one of the largest producers in the region, which I'll be covering in Part II, coming soon.
If you're thinking about going, or want to try something a bit different for your next trip, the details for what is listed in this article are below.
You can find out more about El Legado and their story here (website in Spanish):
The prices for visits are as follows:
A two-hour visit to the winery and the cellars, in addition to a tasting of three Ancestral Legacy wines, paired with tapas comes in at a very reasonable €15 per person. A two-hour visit to the vineyards, including the panoramic lunch accompanied by Legado Ancestral wine comes in at €25. This requires a minimum of six people, however, they do combine some trips together.
Tours are in both Spanish and English.
And if you're looking for a place to stay...
The RiojaValley Apartments are just a twenty-second hop from the town centre, come with a glorious hand-delivered basket breakfast every morning, and the team are an absolute delight.
The Cuevas apartment offers the best view and cost around €80 a night.