ArtCava lets YOU DECIDE: tailor – made Cava

14 08 2009

bikeWe 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!

ericOn 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.

pupitreThe 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.

degorgeTo 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.

olivoEric 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.

copsa de cavaWe 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.

chocsWe 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 cardman9to5@yahoo.com
Photos courtesey of Nic Myers

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Water to wine bike tour (Penedès) – taste the difference!

4 08 2009

panormaic view montserratI am quite pleased to say that I survived the 30 km excursion winding through the hills (sierra) of the Penedes wine region. We started out on a 3 km trek up the hill where, Wine Pleasures base is located.  Road winding this way and that, magnificent, panoramic views jump out from around the next bend as we ascend to the top.  Just as we get there, Nic’s bike gives out, and our breakdownexcursion stalls until Anthony can zoom down and retrieve another bike.  Seemingly moments later, up pulls the support vehicle and we pull the bikes out and Nic familiarizes himself with his new ride. 

We are off again, this time a pleasantly winding cruise down the other side of the hill leads us to our first scheduled stop, a natural spring (Els Canals).  The clear, fresh water pours from a rock just at the perfect spring waterheight for filling our water bottles.  Once refreshed and bottles no longer empty, down the little gravel road we shoot, skidding a bit here and there only adds to the excitement.

Our next stop after about a 20 min. ride is an ancient oak tree over 1000 years old.  Its massive trunk juts up to about 2m where several thick, gnarled limbs curl their way toward the sky.  Nic, all the while snapping photos, climbs the trunk to a perfect spot to sit and have your picture taken in this arborous wonder. 

Continuing along, not far from our oak stop, Anthony pulls his bike off the road and stops.  Seemingly there is something wrong, there doesn’t seem to be anything in sight.  He motions for us to follow, and nearly falling into our next sight I realize what we are stopped for!  A pot hole some 30m deep opens at our feet.  Only about half a meter wide and a meter and a half long, very little light is shed into the potentially massive cavern below.  There is just enough light to see some impressive stalagtite formations near the rim.  Without any climbing gear we are unable to explore any deeper than we can see; but all is well, It is rumoured that past inhabitants of the area used it for disposing of dead livestock, and who knows what else!

Before reaching the pinnacle of our bike tour, one more stop is made. abadoned houseThis time at a vacation house of Belgian Royalty used 200+ years ago.  Nearly intact, the structure is beautifully constructed from locally found stones.  A well house is also on the site. Nearly 3m across, I am impressed with the size and depth, and peering down the well there are still thousands of litres of water contained within.

abandoned monasteryAfter a short ride we reach the monastery ruins that we set out to see.  One partial exterior wall is all that remains.  All around though, we see the outlining foundation where the walls once stood.  Walking from room to room I can almost picture how the ancient inhabitants lived.  Several fairly small rooms (maybe 4m x 3m), probably living quarters shared by two or more monks at a time, connect to a larger, likely communal room.  Erected in 1155, these monks only lived here until until 1168 when lack of water forced them to move on to nearby Santa Creus. 

Water bottles empty, the same has forced us to do as well.  Only drops of the crystal clear spring water remain from our first stop.  Anthony tells us of another spring nearby, and we’re off.  Once again an exhilerating downhill leads us to this much needed refreshment.  Like the one previous, the water rushes from a hole, seemingly pierced into the face of a rock.  Strangely enough, the cool water has a distinctly different taste.  More like a difference in texture explainable only to the palate.  Drinking our fill, we top off our bottles and head into La Llacuna for lunch, fine wine, and La Fiesta Mayor…

                                         To be Continued…

Alec Cruickshank – cardman9to5@yahoo.com

Photos Nic Myers

Here’s a video we took during this fantastic wine country bike tour organised by Wine Pleasures: