To say that there is a connection between alcohol and rowing is stating the obvious. Consider all the rowing clubs which have a bar. Think Pimm’s and champagne at the Royal Henley Regatta. Remember how good a cold beer can taste at the end of a weekend workout on a hot summer day. We have certainly made much of the fact that so many of our rowing trips pass through wine country – beautiful scenery and tasty beverages in the evening.
During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, I have it on good authority (my friends) that more alcohol is being consumed, even though we are not rowing. Or maybe because we cannot row and cannot travel. Thinking about rowing themed wine and beer labels became a chance to reminisce a bit, and daydream about future travels.
Bidaia, a Basque wine label
Turns out that the story to share is not the story of why this wine label depicts a rowboat floating above vineyards, but rather is the story of trying to find the story.
This wine has nothing to do with any of our rowing tours. I would like to add Spain as a destination and maybe soon, but that presently falls into the daydreaming category. But I like the wine and the label.
A friend in my book club introduced me to the wine. We were reading The Wall by John Lanchester, a wonderful although somewhat dystopic novel about future impacts of climate change (no pandemics mentioned). The main characters in the novel do some pretty serious, survival rowing. Gail loves to find book appropriate wines, and this one was perfect. The wine is a tasty Getariako Txakolina – we drank the white but a rosé also is produced.
It would seem easy to contact the winery and ask about the label. Not so easy. Initial google searches for a Basque vineyard named Bidaia did not reveal much. I tried tourism websites, listings under the Denominación de Origen (DO) label and just about every variation of the grape spellings that I could imagine. The helpful staff at my local wine store did not have any details, but they put me on to Copa Fina, the North American importer. From their page about the wine, I found the name of the owners. But the name of their vineyard seems to be different: Inazio Urruzola Txakoli. My rowing label does not appear on this website. Some more searching suggested that the winery name was indeed Bidaia. But I could find nothing further.
I emailed the first vineyard since there was contact information, but of course with the pandemic it is not surprising that no answer yet. Then I remembered that Jan Holloway from Row England and with whom we were planning to do our Cornwall Coastal & Traditional Camp had a rowing coach friend in the Basque region of Spain. Jan agreed to get Marc on the case – maybe the mystery will be solved yet.
One thing that I did learn is that “bidaia” means “the traveller” in the Euskara language of the Basque region. Perfect! And according to Copa Fina, the (possible) vineyard is just four km from the Cantabrian Sea. Ah, turns out that the region has a traditional rowing boat called a trainera. Formally sailed, the boat is rowed by 13 people plus a coxswain with a distinctive bow and stern built for the waves of the Bay of Biscay. There are also versions with six and four rowers. They used to be rowed in the cod fishery off Newfoundland Canada as well as the local sardine fishery.
It is a vibrant and active rowing community along that coast, with regattas replacing fishing, some which have been running since 1850. I found an excellent blog post with lots of photos about rowing in Santander. This led me to the Facebook page of Navigatio Santander, a local club. But wait, more rowing travel connections! Their page has posts about rowing in Cork, Ireland (we have a trip there!) and an amazing video about yoles in Martinique, where we just ran a winter Caribbean rowing trip. All this travel and I have not left Winnipeg.
The label shows a single rower plus a passenger, but we will concede poetic licence. And rowing above vineyards is also poetic and charming. From the photos that I have seen of this region, it looks hilly and lovely. I would like to travel there one day. And now that I know there is rowing …
Olivier’s Island Golden Ale
I clearly remember when I first encountered this beer. It was August 2015. I had just flown into England from Canada and had taken the short journey from Heathrow to Staines on the Thames River to start preparations for our Classic River Thames trip. Later in the sunshine I went for a long walk along the Thames Path, stopping at The Swan to celebrate being back in another one of my favourite rowing destinations. I saw the label on the draft tap, well, of course I had to try it. Refreshing! Fun! The trip was off to an auspicious start.
As the brewer’s website explains, Oliver’s Island Golden Ale “draws inspiration from a local landmark. Every day, rowers glide serenely past the Griffin Brewery towards the island in the Thames – reminding us just what can be achieved by pulling together…” Indeed. Yes, the island does exist, and when I have rowed in London, I must have gone past it. Nice memories of rowing From Putney Town Rowing Club with friends Andrew and Sheryl – thank you again James, you were a wonderful host and guide for the outing! There is no Oliver’s Island Golden Ale available here in Winnipeg, so I will have make do with fabulous memories of rowing travel, and the anticipation of future rows and trips.