The Cava Connection – Barcelona Es Molt Mes:
I have a particular love of sparkling wines. And, while champagne will probably always be top of my wish-list, I’m really partial to a chilled glass of Cava – Spain’s own method champagnoise wine. About 95% of all cava is produced in Penedès area of Catalonia to the west of Barcelona. While the two major producers are Cordorníu and Freixenet there are a host of smaller vineyards (more than three hundred in total) and a rapidly developing wine tourism industry. Want to find out for yourself? Walking or cycling around Subirats with Albert Massana, the founder of Vicicling is an excellent way to discover a little about the area. Albert, who comes from a family of wine makers, is knowledgeable with a true passion for his region and provides a great introduction to cava.
In my case, walking was the order of the day mostly due to complete paranoia about getting on a bicycle for the first time in over twenty years. The area is dominated by vineyards which produce the three main grape varieties used in Cava production – Xarcel lo, Macabeu and Parcellada. But much of the farming is organic which means that wild flowers line the fields, in early summer providing a brilliantly colourful display. Explore for yourself and you’ll find peach and almond trees breaking the seas of vines, a gentle, hilly area which is both peaceful and unspoilt.
The soil, a mixture of marine mineral laced clay and limestone has similarities to the Champagne terroir, but the climate of course is very different. I’m fascinated to discover that Cava was first developed when the vineyards of Penedès were devastated by the phylloxera plague. At that time the predominantly red vines were replaced by large numbers of vines producing white grapes and, thanks to the work of Josep Raventós, Cava was created. Josep had been travelling around Europe promoting the still wines of the Codorníu Winery in the 1860s and developed a fascination with Method Champagnoise. Given that everything had to be started from new, the timing was perfect to experiment and so, the devastation caused by phylloxera had a silver lining for this region at least.
Albet i Noya was the first of the vineyards to adopt organic farming principles and the whole area is now dominated by organic vineyards. It’s to Eudald Massana Noya that we head for a tour of the winery and caves. There we meet the eponymous owner whose family have farmed the land for nine generations, originally selling their grapes to other wine makers before the winery was developed in 1975, as Eudald told us because he wanted to ensure the highest quality product.
Now they produce organic and biodynamic cava and wine from 40 hectares of vineyards exporting 40% overseas to Japan, China, Belgium, the Netherlands and the USA. We hear that their wine tours are carefully adapted if there are children in the group – so that the kids can learn the principles of wine-making, while their tasting at the end is of grape juice. And, of course we taste for ourselves – a light, minerally cava that would be a perfect drink on a hot summer’s day.
Later our trip involves learning Nordic walking through the vineyards of Alella. Needless to say, even though I thought I’d done this before, I discover that was not the case. And, that I am disfunctionally un-coordinated to the point of despair. Despite the fact that I’m trying very hard. Apparently Nordic walking trains 90% of the muscles in the body and provides an excellent form of aerobic exercise. That is of course if you can manage to match poles with legs and arms…
We find out more about the activities on offer. The winery at Alta Alella seems to be taking wine tourism almost as seriously as making the cava itself, although it’s a winery that has some award winning production and supplies to some of the top restaurants in the UK.
We learn that apart from our Nordic walking experience, the vineyard also offers guided tours in Spanish, Catalan, English, French and Italian and a whole range of personalised experiences including picnics, yoga, story telling for children and even a helicopter trip.
And of course there is wine and food matching and a chance to sample some of the award winning wines. This year Alta Alella was awarded two medals at the International Wine Challenge – a Gold for the AA Privat Laieta Gran Reserva 2010 (which also took the Spanish Sparkling Trophy) and a Bronze for the Dolo Matero 20. The wines here are all aged and use more of a mixture of French grapes with indigenous varieties. Award winning Privat Laieta for example is a chardonnay and pinot noir blend, aged for 36 months. All grapes are hand picked and there’s an almost experimental feel to the range – with natural wines and even an attempt to make an ice wine.
I’m impressed by both vineyards and wineries and given there are over 300 wineries in the region all just a few miles from one of my favourite destinations, Barcelona itself, it can only mean one thing. I need to go back and find out more.
Check out the Costa Barcelona website for more information.
We travelled with Vueling