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

Advertisements




Water to Wine Pleasures… cont

7 08 2009

Wine Pleasures country bike tour.

The ride into town is, once again, a pleasantly rolling downhill cruise. I am beginning to wonder, “all that goes down must come back up right?” The thought passes as my stomach, growling at me, brings me back into the moment. 

We ride through town in search of a simple sandwich and a glass of fine bile la llacunaPenedès wine.  Along side streets paved with stone, I begin to realize that every store seems to be closed. Banners hang from open windows displaying messages like, “Ball de Diablos” and “La Fiesta Mayor.” Upon reaching what seems to be the town center, it dawns on me that everywhere is closed because of the festivities here before my eyes. We park the bikes out of the way and take in the unique sights. A group of younger boys and girls wrap eachother in long green cloths around their torsos. One holds the wrap tight while the other spins themself until wrapped. I am not sure why… 

human towersOnce everyone is wrapped, they begin to build human structures. Some are five people high! I look in astonishment as a very brave little boy, crash helmet secured, scurries to the top and stands fearless. All the while, horns serenade the event. This is followed by, what must be, a traditional dance involving wooden sticks that are struck together rythmically.  

After the dancers clear, a group of several children near where I stand suddenly scatter. Moments later several men dressed in devil costumes emerge carrying pitchforks.  Most in the crowd seem as oblivious to what is about to happen as I am.  “Los Diablos” gather in a circle and attach little red diABLOSfireworks to their pitchforks. One devil lights them all and, sparks flying everywhere, they parade around in a circle. Those in the crowd that had not fled to safer ground certainly did now! Luckily I am standing halfway behind a pillar and get very little of the hazard.  The danger, though, is well worth sight as sparks rain down in a most amazing display. Suddenly, POW! Then again, POW! Nearly coming out of my shoes, I realize it is from firecrackers and not gunshots. Checking to see if my reaction was noticed, I see a few children laughing at me. 

estrelaOnce the excitement has passed Anthony tells us of a place that is open on the edge of town to get what we came for. Arriving at a little sidewalk cafe we park our bikes and sit for some much needed refueling and refreshment. With no fine wine available in this bar (strange as we are slap bang in the middle of a wine region) it’s an easy choice. The local beer is Estrella Damm, and it has become a favorite of mine for it’s heavy maltiness and full bodied flavor. We order a round and three “omelette” sandwiches. The sandwich is very tasty and simple: scrambled egg, diced tomato, olive oil and salt served on hard crusted white bread. 

Refueled and refreshed, the ride home is all that is left for the day’s bike uphillevents. Almost all uphill, I guess the saying IS true. We are undoubtedly going back up! 

Alec Cruickshank – cardman9to5@yahoo.com

Photos courtesey of Nic Myers

Here are a couple of videos of the Fiesta Mayor de La Llacuna:

Theater: Dance of the Devils:





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:





Wine Bike Tour & Wine Pleasures in the High Penedès

28 06 2009

foto16A cycling tour of the Catalonian countryside interspersed with a visit to local sights and a regional winemaker; sounds ideal doesn´t it? Cycling up undulating roads through the pine trees of the high penedes overlooking the Montserrat mountains, sipping wines and seeing local sites of interest seems like the perfect way to spend the day.

Our group of five set out at half past nine for the start of the day. Combining a passion for wine and cycling, the plan was to cycle to a nearby winery, stopping along the way to take in the feel of the place. I was lucky enough to be in with a group with a real knowledge of wines; two locals who were researching local winemakers and a former wine exporter. All were keen to experience products direct from the source with descriptions from the people who make them.

But there were many stops to enjoy first along the way to the winery. Our first stop was La Llacuna, a traditional village with small windy streets leading to a picturesque courtyard. A crowded restaurant overlooks the plaza, spanish chatter filling the square. The village square, dappled with bright light and with olive tree dotted about, is where the summer fiesta takes place, when the fountains water is changed to cava. Sadly that was not the case on that day, so on we cycled. Biking through the village and beyond, past old buildings and tiny churches, it´s hard to believe that busy Barcelona is only thirty-one miles away.

Wine & bike webA dusty track lies to the right of us, we turn and suddenly from the tall trees we have moved into fields of wheat and poppies growing wild, the smell of hay wafting from the grass. The sound of crickets and birds are in the air and the weather is phenomenal. I can´t work out why everyone else isn´t out here too, experiencing this for themselves. The track gets smaller and smaller until we reach an opening, which winds us down to sheltered and secluded spot to rest in during the warmth of the day. In between the trees there lies a pond created by a spring of fresh mineral water, with a young family playing nearby. Here we stop and take the opportunity to refill our water bottles directly from the mouth of the spring. The water tastes unbelievably cool and fresh, invigorating us on this hot summers day.

After we manage to tear ourselves away from the spring, we head towards the winery. We spot vineyards hidden through the hills, sudden pockets of order in the wild countryside. Lavender bushes lined the roads up to the winery, creating not just an exqusite smell, but attracting clouds of butterflies overhead. The actual wine visit I won´t describe here, as it has been depicted in past blogs. Suffice to say, the location was stunning, the host genial and the wines delicious. After some Montenegro, Riesling and Merlot it was back on the bikes for the final leg.

rentadorsThere was a final stop on our way home, the old communal washing site of Sant Joan de Mediona where women would gather to chat and socialise during their chores. Women could work together by the river and collect water from the village fountain next door. At this point the sense of past and present intermigled, and it was easy to believe that women even now oculd come here to wash their clothes. After taking plenty of photos we journeyed on, where we knew food and drink would be waiting. 43

Finally, our cycling finished, all that was left to do was enjoy the nibbles, sip the cava and reflect on the wonderful views and experiences of the day.

Amy Wilkerson, Wine travel writer for Wine Pleasures.