The Iberian Peninsula’s earliest vineyards were planted by the Ancient Greeks upon their arrival in the Gulf of Roses in the sixth century BC. Nowadays, the ruins of their former colony of Emporion constitute Catalonia’s top archaeological site, with the vineyards just as important a part of the local landscape as the mountains and the sea. If you enjoy a glass of wine or two with dinner, you’ll no doubt be aware that the flavour of wine depends on the grape variety and the time it rested in the barrel. The climate the vine grew in and the terrain are also just as significant, as is whether the vine is north or south facing. Even the direction of the wind and the frequency of rainfall and fog play their part. In planning our itinerary around Catalonia’s wineries, we’ve taken all this into account, aiming to choose companies of similar prestige yet highly distinct among themselves, each with their own way of making wine. Follow the entire itinerary to discover the region’s finest bodegas and delve into the subtleties and secrets of this noble vocation.
Josep Maria Pujol Busquets Camps and Cristina Guillen Soldevila took over the sunny home of Can Genís and its adjoining vines almost 25 years ago. Getting the business up and running demanded hard work of the couple, who renovated the house, tended to the old vines, planted new vines and built a modern factory. When deciding what kind of grape to plant on the first six hectares of their land, José Maria and Cristina opted for the Pansa Blanca and Mataró varieties. Pansa Blanca white wine is cultivated in the barrel and stands out for its pronounced aroma of baked apples, while the Mataró variety, almost forgotten about after the most recent phylloxera plague, may be recognised by its bouquet of wild berries. The sandy soil of Alta Alella is ideal for these varieties, as are the local climatic conditions. The Alta Alella brand’s first wines were produced in 2001, with the family currently possessing 60 hectares of land under the D.O. Alella and D.O. Cava labels. Various cultivation methods are used, refraining from the use of pesticides and all in respect for the local flora and fauna. While the ripe grapes are collected by hand and placed into small boxes, the wines are kept in stainless steel tanks and new French and American oak barrels, with 47 types in total. You’ll sample the finest in a tasting session accompanied by a sophisticated selection of dishes such as tuna tartare, tapas with eel and roast steak with asparagus. Alta Alella wine cellar is open not just to adults, but also to children, thanks to a special programme devised by local sommeliers teaching them about the adventures of a small grape, taking them out for a walk and letting them taste freshly-squeezed grape must.
Carlos Esteba decided to take over his grandfather’s farm, known as Can Ràfols dels Caus, in 1979. After purchasing his brothers’ shares, he restored the old country house and turned his hand to winemaking. The land he had inherited was challenging, as the Garraf massif is formed of low valleys, steep hills, white and grey rocks and mountains up to 500 metres above sea level. The chalky soils harbour the remains of shells, proving that millions of years ago all of this beauty was part of the seashore. Despite all this, there is nowhere better to produce lively, clean, mineral and deep wines. In selecting grape varieties, Esteba skillfully banked on practicality and experience, planting Xarel·lo and Macabeo in most of the terrain and successfully experimenting with Sumoll, a wine with delicate cherry notes. Foreign varieties are also represented, with Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc, normally planted in France and South Africa and rarely in Catalonia, all taking to the chalky soils. Carlos now owns some 700 hectares of land with the vineyards taking up 90 hectares and a minimum of 28 varieties. Eschewing the use of chemicals, Esteba opts for organic fertilisers and harvests the fruit by hand, with the relief of the land making other methods impossible. Can Ràfols itself is also worth special mention. As something of a hermitage, the building uses high-tech yet ecological methods and is hidden within an enormous rock. In contemplating the stone walls, pillars and heavy doors, some guests say they feel like they’re in a majestic cathedral! We can make our own mind up while sipping a divine Cava Paris Gran Reserva Extra Brut 2002!
The owners of Finca Parera are father and son team Jordi and Rubén Parera, who have carried on with the agricultural traditions established in the area at the end of the nineteenth century by close relative Faust Parera. With one of the finest wines named in his honour, Faust Parera began cultivating wine in a winery located at the foot of Collserola in Barcelona in the belief that his son and grandchildren would continue with the business. And that is exactly what they did, merely changing location! Finca Parera is located in the Alt Penedès region, of stunning natural beauty with its pines, olive trees and wheat fields and an almost imperceptible human presence. An ideal place to put Austrian thinker Rudolf Steiner’s theory of biodynamic agriculture into practice, instead of fertilisers, the family use herbs or mineral extracts, with the focus not so much on increasing plant productivity but on creating optimum soils for growth. Dates for planting and harvesting are also determined by astronomy rather than the calendar or climate. Jordi, Rubén and colleague Iñigo Ochi also show the same respect for permaculture, with this cultivation method based on the natural relationships between ecosystems. If a plague of beetles devours the vines, for example, they plant more peach, pear or plum trees in the garden to attract birds and other animals that feed on the beetles, instead of turning to pesticide control. It might not sound like a serious business technique, but the results of such a focus are no joke. The vines of Finca Parera are also home to the Xarel·lo, Sumoll, White Garnache, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon varieties, with the wines served in Spain’s finest restaurants and even winning awards at international contests.