Wine Country Outside Valladolid, Spain

After my time in the Balkans, I decided to treat myself to a couple days at the Abadía Retuerta LeDomaine, a luxury hotel in Sardon de Duero, a town in wine country outside of Valladolid, Spain. Since it was a resort-style stay where I remained on the hotel property the whole time, I don’t have a ton to share, but wanted to capture a couple memories / anecdotes for myself.

Up first – I arrived to Madrid after almost twelve hours of travel from Bucharest, and then promptly proceeded to go to the wrong train station to catch my train to Valladolid. After a hasty subway ride and additional confusion, I finally caught my train northward into wine country. I arrived in Valladolid proper just in time for golden hour, and wandered through the Plaza Mayor to grab dinner at a highly recommended local tapas joint.

Valladolid’s summer festival was starting the following day, so much of the square was taken up with equipment and folks prepping for the festivities. The tapas were great, especially for only 7 Euro! I had a “tartare” (clearly seared) that was delicious, served with some kind of lovely steak sauce. I also had a tostada with grilled shrimp and garlic, which was fantastic.

The following morning, I woke up early and headed for the resort in Sardon de Duero. The property is a converted 12th century abbey that sits on several acres of wine country and was luxury in every sense of the word. Of course, I enjoyed the delicious food (there is a Michelin-starred restaurant on-site, which offers some of the most creative and interesting food I’ve tried recently, all with products local to Valladolid; the remainder of the restaurants on site are also extremely high quality and offer a great selection of wine pairings as well) and the spa (my favorite part was the “scented showers” – essentially two showers that pair atomizers with “scents” to the temperature of water you select; I chose lavender and was spritzed with pleasantly lukewarm water from various jets around my body while lavender misted me gently. It was like something out of a movie!).

However, the real item of note was the winery, which is available to folks who are not staying at the hotel as well. The wine tour begins with a drive (in hotel-branded Land Rovers, of course) through a grove of pine trees (they also produce pine nuts – as I discovered, pine nuts are so expensive as harvesting them requires physically collecting pine cones, reaching into the cone to pull out the “nut” which is covered in a shell like a pistachio, and then removing said shell to reveal what we refer to as the “pine nut” itself). Then, on to a beautiful view of the surrounding wine country and local villages.

Where you see the tree line end in the photo on the right is actually the border of Rioja, the appellation with a “designated protected origin” for wines in this region. Specially, tempranillo wines. As it turned out, when Spain historically conducted the “zoning” for the wine appellations, they came to Sardon de Duero to see if they’d like to join. Unfortunately, while the abbey and its vineyards / wine production date back to the 12th century, they’d fallen into disrepair and been purchased as growing land for cereal grains for several hundred years. As the town wasn’t producing wine and didn’t want to have to pay a production tax, they rejected the offer to join Rioja.

As it turns out, that was a very fortunate choice for them when (of all companies!) Novartis (yes, the Swiss pharmaceutical company) purchased the whole property in the 1980s and restored both the abbey and wine production, bringing in wine experts from France and other regions of Spain. At that time, they asked Rioja if they could join and were rejected. As a result, the winery doesn’t have to comply with Rioja’s strict regulations (e.g., wines produced must be 70% tempranillo) and they can conduct their own research / adjust growing strategies based on the necessities of climate change. The winery has already won several awards, and of course Rioja showed up recently asking if they’d like to retroactively join – I can only imagine how satisfying it was to say no!

The wine tour took me through the vineyards, where they grow a variety of grapes including tempranillo, syrah, grenache, cabernet sauvignon, and a smaller amount of other varietals, including pinot noir and Gewürztraminer. The coolest part was that we were only a day or two from the start of this year’s harvest, so we were able to try the grapes directly from the vine! It was amazing – wine grapes are so much more delicious than regular “table grapes” as they have a much thicker skin and more seeds, making them more flavorful. They also taste different based on the varietal, which makes sense but was shocking in practice.

Tempranillo grapes, right off the vine!
Grenache grapes!
Cabernet sauvignon grapes!

The winery is also aiming to be completely organic and to receive its own “designation of origin” as an appellation. As part of that, they showed me an amusing strategy called “sexual confusion” which is used to deter moths. Apparently, these rings release female moth pheromones – male moths will come looking to get lucky, feel rejected, and leave for elsewhere; females show up and feel overwhelmed by competition and leave. Basically your average night at a bad nightclub!

Of course, the wine tour ends with a tour of the processing room and tasting of several wines, which were delicious.

Ultimately, the rest of my trip was essentially me pampering myself. I did have one odd experience – apparently there are a lot of bats in the area (and on the property, it being an abbey, afterall!) and while I was at lunch, one decided to land in the shade near my chair at the pool (apparently it also could have been a baby bat which had fallen out of a nest in the bushes nearby, which would be much sadder). Of course as an American, I associate anything related to bats with disease and got irrationally anxious about it despite only viewing it from afar – however, everyone at the hotel was totally unperturbed and (very kindly) indulged my anxiety, calling an ER doc to convince me there was no risk of disease from being near it (and, obviously very limited risk of any issues had I actually touched or been bitten by it, which thankfully was not the case – I also learned that bats apparently have very sharp teeth and 99% of the time if you’re awake, you’ll feel a bite, which assuaged my anxiety greatly!). The ER doc, before learning I hadn’t even touched it was concerned that I might be having an allergic reaction to its fur – here I was worried about rabies, only to learn it’s essentially been eradicated in Spain! Gotta love an anxiety-inducing cultural learning opportunity.

Thankfully, a glass of the hotel’s fantastic wine further reduced my anxiety and I was able to enjoy the remainder of my stay.

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