'World's most expensive hotel' takes shape in Rioja

Gehrty rioja spain riscal News Wine News
  • Thursday 17 June 2004

One of the world’s most expensive hotels metre for metre is taking shape at the Marques de Riscal winery in Elciego, Rioja.

The building is designed by American architect Frank O Gehry, who also built the extraordinary titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, an hour from Rioja on the north coast of Spain, a winery in Niagara, Canada, and other celebrated modern buildings around the world.

Titanium is also a key element in the Riscal building (model pictured), which when it is finished early next year will be a 14-room hotel, restaurant, conference centre, museum and spa. The roof, which echoes the flowing movement of a flamenco dancer’s dress, will be constructed of ‘ribbons’ of red, gold and silver titanium.

Marques de Riscal is one of Rioja’s oldest and most esteemed producers. From its first vintage in 1862 it pioneered the blending of cabernet sauvignon in its wines, while most Rioja is 100% tempranillo.

The winery also introduced French techniques with the use of sorting tables and oak ageing. Chateau Margaux director Paul Pontallier visits several times a year as an informal consultant.

The new buildings are part of Riscal’s ‘Project 2000’, a growth plan which includes expanding the winery’s production from 4.5 to 5.5m bottles. The whole project, including new winery buildings and the hotel, are costing some €65m. ‘This will be the most expensive hotel in the world by floor space,’ said Javier Ybáñez, export director at Riscal.

It will be run by the Starwood group, a conglomerate which runs the Sheraton and W chains, and other luxury hotels and resorts. The tiny town of Elciego (population 900, one restaurant) is reportedly just as excited as Riscal’s owners by the boom in its midst.

Rioja is benefitting from the regeneration of the port of Bilbao, of which the signature building is the Guggenheim, but which also has a host of other striking modern creations.

One of these is a footbridge by architect Santiago Calatrava, from Valencia on Spain's east coast, designer of the super-modern new Bilbao airport – and also builder of the new winery for Bodegas Ysios (pictured below), a stone’s throw from Riscal.

Ybáñez said they expected visitors to the winery to increase massively over the next few years.

‘At the moment we have around 6000 a year. If enquiries from cruise companies are anything to go by that number could go up to 100,000,’ he said.

The hotel’s titanium roof will be started next month. Meanwhile the winery is thinking about a chef.

Asked whether they would be recruiting amongst the top international culinary artists like Ferran Adria of El Bulli in Barcelona, considered the world’s best restaurant, Ybáñez said they wanted ‘someone from the area. Whoever is chef here must understand local Rioja cooking.’

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