We saddle up for our 2 hour ride to the Artcava Winery at 9 am needing to be there by 11:30. The beginning of which was a wonderfully winding 12k downhill. I remember feeling a bit guilty that I had the pleasure of cruising down the mountain upon seeing the faces of several unfortunate souls riding up. Speeding along, wind in my face, Rod Stewert in my ears, a Zen-like feeling overwhelms me – one with everything. As I also feel I AM the one with everything. Life is good this morning.
I reach the bottom thankful to see the petrol station, as that was what Anthony said our landmark was for this first leg of Wine Pleasures bike tour round two. Going inside, a blast of cold air hits me in perfect timing. Making a bit of conversation with the lady behind the counter, ever practicing my Spanish, I remember that Catalan is the language here, and I feel a bit foolish. I purchase my lemon flavored Fanta and head out to wait for the others. Mmm, Fizzy, cold, citrusy, all the qualities of my favorite Cava (minus the sugar of course). Finishing my beverage, up rides Anthony asking if I have been here long. I suspect he wants to get an idea of how difficult it might be to get home first. Emily and Nic arrive after Anthony, cruising around the parking lot, shifts my bike into the fastest set of gears.
Biking through a seemingly empty town, up this side street, and down the next, we pass a vineyard; Right in the middle of town! I am beginning to understand how dedicated this area is to it’s grapes, and therfore wine… Much of the rest of the ride to the winery is fairly nondescript other than that it is a nice ride through rolling hills and Back roads twisting and turning.
Although there is one thing I must mention.. We reach Vilafranca some 20 km from the Wine Pleasures base. Upon realizing this, I can’t believe how far we’ve ridden!
On time at 11.30 we arrive at our destination, Art Cava, desaddle, and head inside. I am hit with the smell of fresh paint as I come through the door. I can see they are lighting up the entrance a bit, white washing the interior walls. Eric Enguita is there to greet us and asks if we’d prefer the English tour or the Spanish one. I am hoping the only difference is the language!
The first bit of the tour is in the “museum.” Inside there are all sorts of ancient looking, wine making devices along with many old looking bottles of wine from when I can only imagine. He leads us over to a glass case and flicks on a light inside. There on the shelves are bits of Pre-Roman pottery. Many of which had contained wine since this was the major wine making region, and the major marketplace of its time.
The next part of the tour is about the process by which Cava is made. Artcava also caters to groups that come here and make their own! There are seven steps, I can’t remember them all but basically they fill the bottles with ‘base wine’, add yeast and suger to make the carbonation, then cork the bottles. Once corked they are refrigerated and aged in the cellar, tilted at such an angle so that the yeast will fall to the neck of the bottle for easy removal.
To remove the yeast, the neck is frozen and the bottle uncorked. The yeast is forced out by the newly carbonated Cava. The bottle is then recorked and ready for consumption. One more thing to mention about this process is the amount of ageing while the yeast is still inside the bottles. The more time that the wine is in contact with the yeast, the more full-bodied flavor the Cava will have. The longest being 30 months, earning the title “Gran Reserva” and, not surprisingly, the heftiest price tag. Artcava’s is quite reasonable at about 20 Euros.
Eric continues to lead us around the facility, showing us restored rooms of an authentic wine making home centuries old. There is a central courtyard which overlooks the vineyards rather pleasantly. The courtyard is also adorned with an olive tree more than 1000 yrs old. I am told it weighs in at over 5400 kilos. Short and Squat looking, it is something out of Tolkien’s Shire. While looking out over the vineyards I ask Eric about the vines and their ages. 15 yrs being the oldest vineyard, and there is one within site that is the baby at just one year. Six years is optimal for maximum harvest; Although, older vines, produce the better grapes and have much less harvest.
As we are led to the next part of the tour I am really hoping it is the tasting. After the long hot ride, a craving to consume Cava is building inside me. It is also probably the result effective tour strategy. We sit down in a small theater for a 10 min long video, which results in the ever-increasing infamy of this beverage. Probably translated from Catalan, many of the words used to describe Cava are a bit “out there” to me as i can’t help but to giggle to myself. All in all the video is quite informative and yet another effective strategy toward creating Cava cravings.
Just before the climax of the tour, we are shown the cellar in which the bottles are stored. At a chilly 16c the bottles age with the yeast still inside. The air conditioned cellar is also a welcome change from the unrelenting heat I’ve come to know since in Spain.
We are led upstairs and Eric motions towards a small bar where we all gather on typical looking bar stools. Voila! An ice cold bottle is brandished from a cooler behind the bar. As Eric opens the bottle I can’t help but notice just how silently he does so. No matter how hard I’ve tried in the past, I can’t keep from producing a small “pop” upon opening. He pours us all a glass, and pleasantly, himself a glass too. It’s all I can do to not to wolf it down! Lucky for me, the only type that is produced here is “Brut Natura” which contains no added sugar. I believe sugar to be an additive to disguise poor quality in wine. We try two varieties, first their standard economy variety and one aged for 12 months. The first is very light, and because of its “light body” the carbonation really flourishes. The second tastes a bit more full bodied, almost like a carbonated Chardonnay with less emphasis on the “fizziness.” I must confess i prefer the first, although most wine enthusiasts would probably go for the older variety because of it’s meal drinkability.
We spend the next hour or so drinking, eating chocolate coated almonds and talking of many things Catalan. Eric tells us about his family (he and his parents run Artcava) and his interests outside winemaking. After polishing off about three bottles, we decide that we had better head out and find a spot to refuel for the ride home. Looking forward to, and somewhat dreading, the challenge of the 300m elevation increase, we gear up and ride off in search of protiens and white carbs.
Alec Cruickshank firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos courtesey of Nic Myers