New Grape Collective e-book takes an in-depth look at Rioja

The eBook 'Rioja: Conversations with Winemakers' is like listening in on a visit to their cellars in Spain

Grape Collective, the online wine magazine with a great roster of writers that launched in December last year, is re-purposing some of its content as e-books.

The first tome to hit the iPad or Kindle device is "Rioja: Conversations with Winemakers," edited by Christopher Barnes and available at the iBook store for $4.99 and at Amazon for $3.82. It includes a lengthy introduction from Kristen Bieler setting up the history and contrasting the traditionalists with the modernists. 

The book is unique in that it’s really a collection of interviews with prominent winemakers and producers in Rioja. Instead of comments distilled by a writer, you get to hear everything they say. A four- or five-minute Vimeo video introduces each player, so it’s like listening in on a visit with an interviewer who asks smart questions.

Maria López de Heredia of the famed López de Heredia estate founded in 1877 explains, for example, that her Chilean-born Spanish grandfather was educated in France and offered a job in La Rioja where a lot of French came because phylloxera was ravaging the vineyards in France. She goes on to say, “The way we make wine is like cooking. We don’t measure the color in the laboratory. We know our own land, we know our grapes.” 

Her dad, she says, used to get annoyed when people called him a winemaker. He said, “I am not a winemaker, I am a vine maker.”

Victor Urrutia who owns CVNE, with his sister Maria, the fifth generation to make wine there, talks about the difference between traditional and modern expressions of Rioja. “My point of view is, with time, there is no difference between traditional and modern. There’s just good and bad.”

I’ve spent time with many of the winemakers interviewed for the book, and their voices ring true. Yes, there's hokey Spanish music that introduces Jorge Muga of Bodegas Muga. It’s meant, I guess, to remind you that you’re in Spain. But the video itself is nicely edited. As he talks, you see the work in the cellar, a worker fining with egg whites (which brings me to wonder, what do they do with all the yolks?). In the interview, Muga admits they made Torre Muga for the export market at a time when they weren’t having much success selling their traditional Rioja abroad. 

“Sometimes I hate when I taste the wine and I can’t recognize where it’s coming from. My great-grandmother could tell you from which village in Rioja was coming the wine. Today, sometimes I can’t say from which continent a wine is coming ... many of the wines in the world today are boring, very very boring. There’s nothing new, nothing special, nothing you can recognize.”

The Rioja estates given this in-depth treatment include López de Heredia, CVNE, Bodegas Muga, Bodegas Bilbaínas, Finca Allende, La Rioja Alta and Conde de Valdemar. Chapter 8 gives a short synopsis of other wineries to visit, while Chapter 9 and 10 are devoted to hotel and dining recommendations.

Definitely worth $4.99.

Follow @sirenevirbila for more on food and wine.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times