The Wine Museum in Briones does not pander. This is not the Disney-esque of London's Vinopolis or Duboeuf musuem in Beaujolais. This is a wine museum for grown-ups, and for those who are intrigued and entranced by culture and art. The owner and dream weaver for the museum is the owner of the Vivanco bodega, Pedro Vivanco Paracuello who needed a solid home for the collection he obsessively accumulated over the decades.
While the exterior of the building could be any faux-California–meets-Spain, kind of building, it is with the thoughtful interiors that local architect, Jesus Marina Pascual struts his stuff. (My tour guide fluttered her eyes, hand to heart, said, ”I am a proud Riojan woman and I am proud that a Rioja architect made this building.” )
The inside is the locus for the action. I adored the huge grape cluster chandelier
and the tile work against the gleaming stainless in the bathrooms, from the lapis on the basement floor to the ruby on the main.
But bathroom aside, the collection of old farm machines are rare and displayed as dinosaurs in the Museum of Natural History. Also rare are the delicate Roman glassware, tools organized by the season in which they are used, the video of a life of a vine. A variety of ancient presses, pretty nifty "What does wine smell like," interactive games, 3,000 corkscrews and the most thrilling thing of all, the library.
I squirreled my way into the by-appointment-only, library. The librarian (oh-so-antsy- for lunch), let me leaf through a 15century document (1491) which had been once owned by Docteur S. Baudry (from the Loire....from the Baudry winemaking family?) on wine and health. It was in Latin and I couldn't read a damned thing. There were lovely red ink drawings, penned by the monk who had been the original owner.
The restaurant, by the way, is an essential booking. First of all, hate to say it, but the best of Spanish cuisine has side-stepped Rioja, but the food here is pretty good. Then there are the views of the Cantabrian mountains. True, you have to drink the Vivanco wine, which is unfortunate but could be worse, however the food is first rate. 58 euro gets you a huge three-course meal including wine , but ordered ala carte, you might get off a little cheaper and less in need of unzippering your pants. While I don't eat such things I'm sure Melissa would have ordered the gizzards with poached egg and truffle, or the beans with chorizo--kind of a traif version of cholent. I had the special white asparagus salad (the thing here is to eat jarred or tinned asparagus. I have no idea why I never see the fresh stuff. Why canned over fresh? This is the elephant in the room that you never bring up) and the hake in a smoky paprika sauce that was awfully tasty.