Rias Baixas: The druglord’s palace

The Pazo Baion, now a winery, was once owned by a Spanish druglord.

Every once in awhile while driving through the Galician countryside, you see some enormous stone mansion that looks like something out of Downton Abbey. They are called pazos in the Galician language (yes, they have their own language up here) and were built as country manors by ostentatious Spaniards who made a fortune in the New World and then came home to show off their wealth. We visited one, called Pazo Baión, that is now a winery and event center.

Pazo Baión was built by Adolph Fojo, an emigrant who made his wealth in the U.S., back in the 1920s. It was then purchased in the 80s by the notorious drug dealer, Oubiña Laureano, and his wife, Esther Lago, before being seized by the Spanish government in 1995. After that, the 287 acres of prime Albariño vineyards were leased by Vionta which is owned by the massive Spanish winemaker Freixenet. After years of legal wrangling (when Spain tried to sell the property in 2007, the daughters of Oubiña Laureano claimed that the palace was part of their inheritance following the death of their mother, who died in a car crash), the pazo and the vineyards were sold to Condes de Albarei, a wine collective, in June, 2008 for a little over 15 million euros.

Originally, Freixenet was determined to continue producing Vionta wines from the estate, but the new owners have decided that the entire property needs to go into rehab to cleanse itself of its drug connection. The pazo is now the centerpiece of an effort to increase wine tourism in the Rias Baixas region.

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