There exists a curious tradition in the wine growing regions of Spain: the bodega. This term may seem familiar to some; many translate it as “wine cellar”, but a bodega is, in fact, much more than this. Over my last few years living in Spain I’ve had the good fortune to have been invited down to a number of these in the Ribera del Duero and Toro wine regions, and I’d recommend that anyone presented with the chance to experience one not pass it up.
A bodega is often the wine cellar connected to a vineyard, but in most cases its purpose goes far beyond that of a simple place to store wine. I was first introduced to this tradition in the village of Sinovas near Aranda del Duero, right in the heart of the Ribera del Duero region. In Spain many families grow and produce their own house wines. I had been invited to the village festival by a friend, and after touring their grape fields we trekked up the hill to the merendero and bodega. In this case, the merendero was what seemed to be a storage shed, but as I went inside I realized it was, as its name suggests, the perfect place to have an afternoon snack. Complete with a basic kitchen, a large table, and a wood fired grill (usually fueled by sarmiento – the dried out grape vines), it was a place for friends and family to gather, celebrate, and enjoy the fruits of their labor.
We then made our way down a long stairwell in a corner, and after a while found ourselves in the bodega itself. The walls were lined with bottles upon bottles of wine and orujo (a grappa-like liquor made from a product of the wine making process).
In the center of the room was a table with chairs so that you could partake without making the long climb back up to the merendero. We grabbed a number of bottles and headed back up so we could roast some lamb and sausages while we tasted the house varietals.
In the province of Zamora, where the Toro wine region is located, the tradition is taken to a whole other level. I was recently invited to the village of Boveda de Toro where we visited a number of these ingenious constructions. In this case the families often make their own wine, but may co-farm in order to obtain the grapes. For convenience, their bodgeas are located on the edge of town and look like a strange grouping of outhouses and electrical sheds. When you open the door, each one leads immediately down a stairwell of varying degrees of incline and regularity.
As you make the decent down to the bodega you notice the temperature drastically change. The function of these places is to keep the wine at a stable temperature throughout the year. After descending several stories down into the ground you are greeted with a charming bar of sorts. Often belonging to families or groups of friends, these bodegas store innumerable barrels and bottles of wine, but they also serve as a gathering place. The rooms are quite large and complete with kitchens and grills that vent back up to the surface. They are fully stocked with all the accouterments for a great party, which is exactly what we had!
If you don’t happen to know someone with a vineyard in Spain, don’t dismay. A similar experience can be had in the village of El Perdigón, near Zamora in the community of Castilla y Leon. Here you can find a number of restaurants which use the bodegas to provide a truly unique dining experience.
¡Salud! – Cheers!