So there we were, alone, shivering in the rain in the middle of a magnificent winery courtyard. What to do if no one shows up for the tour we booked? With no phone service, a taxi back to town wasn’t an option. Maybe break into the cellar for shelter and very private barrel tasting? Did we mention the wind was howling?
Just as we were about to discuss breaking and entering, a voice rang out: “Oh hi there, we were just eating lunch!”

Ah – now we understood why no one was home at three in the afternoon. Spain’s eating routine still boggles us. At home, lunch would be a fading memory and dinner on the horizon. Here the midday meal is just underway. Anyway, we were extremely relieved that we wouldn’t be spending the night in the cellar or local jail.

Now we could focus on the wine country experience that lured us away from Alicante for two days. Bodega Francisco Gomez easily ranks high among wineries that wow. The facade and adjacent grounds blend elements of modern architecture with grand Spanish colonial design along with contemporary sculpture, antiques, and stands of ancient olive trees. It is most obvious that Mr. Gomez drew heavily on his background as a developer – as well as his fortune – to make his Bodega dreams come true.

We were the only ones on the tour, and our young guide was friendly and knowledgeable, obviously proud to show off the place. Our first stop was the chapel, crowned with a domed ceiling of local boulders that seemed to defy gravity. Our guide explained the engineering feat, as complex as it was expensive and time-consuming. In the future, it will be the site of festive winery weddings.

Views across the adjacent valley from the courtyard gardens are impressive. The vineyard is 200 hectares of organically grown Monastrell, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Petit Verdot vines. The vineyards are only a tiny fraction of the bodega’s landholdings, including tens of thousands of hectares where they farm produce and olives and raise pigs and goats.

The walk to the cellar passed the rustic structure in the center of the complex. Although the winery is less than 30 years old, the stone facade looked as if it had been there for centuries. Turns out it is old… just new to the winery. The stonework and wood accents were disassembled from an old bodega, shipped here, and reassembled to house the bodega’s new restaurant.

The massive cellar, barrel rooms, and tasting rooms filled with commissioned art matched the grandeur of the courtyard and facade. Of all the wines produced here, Alicante Fondillon made from native Monastrell grapes is the pride and joy of the winery. Similar in style to Sherry and Port, this historic wine that takes decades to produce has no alcohol or sugar added.

For over six centuries, rich and famous have quaffed Fondillon. Ferdinand Magellan gave it to his crew as he discovered new lands to keep them healthy. King Louis XIV of France asked for it on his deathbed. It’s cited in the works of Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes, and Daniel Defoe in his classic Robinson Crusoe.
Unfortunately, it was not part of our tasting list, so we passed on purchasing a $400-plus bottle ornate and beautifully packaged in the gift shop. But we did buy a bottle of tasty red, white, and rose for wine time in our Alicante apartment.

It was a fabulous tour and tasting, transforming our bad day into a terrific one. But the tasting glow couldn’t erase the reality that we faced a night in Casa de Felix. As we waited for our cab to take us back, we wondered if our abode would be warm and comfy when we arrived, or a mini-Overlook Hotel – cold, spooky, and miserable?
As Dick Hallorann said in The Shining, “Some places are like people: some shine and some don’t.”

To be continued: “Here’s Johnny!”

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