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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Parés Baltà open for “extreme wine tourism”

16 07 2009

Second part of a Wine Pleasures winery visit programme I was lucky enough to witness. 

extremeOur visit to Parés Baltà was the complete antithesis to Rimarts. For starters, Parés Baltà is an older (established in 1790), much bigger winery with a staff of over fifty and five estates. Rather than wandering around the depths of the cellar, a visit to the grounds and vineyards was the order of the day. Piling into the sturdy and muddy landrover, we went around one of the five estates, seeing innumerable types of grapes as well as some breathtaking vistas. Some of the sites of the vines had been vineyards for thousand of years, since pre-roman times. 

As we travelled around the estate, our guide Sylvia let us into the silivia1secrets of grape growing. There are many factors that effect the grapes. The first, and most important, is climate. Sylvia explained that though it can sometimes rain heavily, often there are long periods of little rain. When this happens they don´t water the grapes and just let nature take its course. This seemed counterintuitive until Sylvia argued that by watering the grapes you are influencing the wine and so the wines no longer reflects the environment it is grown in. Pares Baltà want their wines to be completely natural, a philosophy that is assuredly organic. The second important factor is the soil type. Over the estates the soil quality varies hugely. I picked up many soil facts as we went, for example with clay, colour doesn´t matter to the grapes. The clay colour is the result of mineral make up and the key factor with clay is the lack of water. 

silviaMany of the grapes we saw were being grown for experimental reasons, to see how they´ll turn out and if they can improve their wines. Many of them are not yet on the wine list: as Sylvia puts it- grapes need to learn to make good wine. She claims to have caught the winemakers talking to grapes, giving them advice and encouragement. Some of their grapes are grown on land that is protected, meaning they have to work around the forest, using the land around the trees. During Eagle nesting time they can´t make any noise and have to wait to carry out any work on their grapes. Luckily the eagles weren´t nesting while we were there so up we went to investigate. The terrain by this time was getting rockier and rockier, the car lurching about as Sylvia attempted to get us to the peak. After a couple of tries we managed it, but it was a real taste of extreme wine tourism. Nestled at the top were the company bees, which were angered by our tour. Safe in the car, we learnt that the bee´s have an influence area of 10km. This means they can track their hives close to patches of rosemary and thyme and the bees will carry the aromas down to infuse the wine as they pollinate the grapes. The bees are not the only animal workers on the vineyards; sheep are also kept purely to eat the leaves after harvest and keep the plants healthy. 

As Sylvia chatted about her work and her home I really got a sense of wine as a way of life. Or, as Sylvia puts it “Everyone round here has wine in the veins.” Sylvia has worked at Parés Baltà for three years and has lived in the area all her life. Her childhood experiences are entwined with the area and the wines, with an open bottle of cava always on the table and the summer highlight of going through the grapes after the pickers had gone and bringing home brimming baskets of leftovers. 

AmyBy the end of the day I felt that I´d had a real back to nature experience and a reminder that the wine you see in a bottle has a natural beginning. And talking of wines you see in a bottle, we fit in the time to taste a few bottles before heading to the restaurant for a feast of a lunch. We tried Absis (2003) a 88% tempranillo, 12% cabernet sauvignon mix. There was a sense of caramel on the nose, smokey. The finish was subtle and complex. Oaky spicy yet chocolately, with a tanginess at the top of the lip. This wine is eighteen months in the barrel and solely hand harvested. The soil where the grapes are grown is poor and stony so the grapes are concentrated and have a low yield per acre.

We also tried the 2008 Calcari, made from a native and typical grape variety- Xarel-lo. With a grassy quality on the nose, it was creamy and tasty. Not as fruity as many of the wines I´d tried.

Amy Wilkerson. Wine Travel Writer for Wine Pleasures

Here is a video taken during part of the extreme wine tour visit. Enjoy!

Wine tasting in Parés Baltà with Sylvia and Joan:





J.Miquel Jané (DO Penedès) to participate in the Wine Pleasures Buyer meets Spanish Cellar Workshop

6 02 2009

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Wine Pleasures Workshop: Buyer meets Spanish Cellar

bernadette1The Winery J. Miquel Jané is located on the heart of Alt Penedès, one of best place to produce wine in Catalonia. The 95ha-vineyard is situated at an altitude of 500 metres above sea level, where the contrast in day and night temperatures is most significant.

 J.Miquel Jané wines are a result of the family’s wine-producing tradition which began four generations ago.

The philosophy of J.Miquel Jané is focused on the production of high quality wines aimed at meeting the demands of an increasingly knowledgeable consumer.

We produce wines from local grapes as Xarel-lo, Parellada or Ull de Llebre, and blends of local and internationals varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot) to create inventive and expressive wines, and being at the same time respectful with the traditional methods.

Our range is small but quite complete with a fresh Blanc de Blanc, an elegant Sauvignon Blanc, a fruity Rose and well balanced Red wines (Semicrianza and Reserva). 

J. Miquel Jané is an international oriented winery,   selling more than 50% of our production in the export market. We are looking for new partners, paying special attention to importers and distributors whose main concern is quality and who would be interested in sharing our philosophy.

Our wines have been rewarded several times at International wine competitions (le Mondial du Rosé, Mundus Vini, Decanter…).

The J.Miquel Jané winery is one of the few wineries in the Penedès region active in wine tourism. The winery, set in the High Penedès  is well worth a visit.

If you would like to contact J.Miquel Jané re their wines and winery visits please do so through their web page. To meet them and taste their wines as a buyer please complete an enrollment form through the Wine Pleasures web site.