Family Wine tours in Catalonia
Wine Tours Catalonia Style
Kids and wine; they might not normally be a good combination but they’re not as mutually exclusive as you might think. Not in Catalonia anyway, where the organic wineries are coming up with some novel and educational wine tours. Leading vineyard owners across the Costa Barcelona province are individually offering a mix of education, exercise, food and wine (or grape juice) in a great day out for all the family in your own language. You can pretty much spend a whole week learning about how the grape is transformed into red, white or fizz, while being creative and getting fit.
Here are two examples of organic vineyards offering a quality family experience. There are many more. Read on and then visit the Costa Barcelona website for more news about the region and its vineyards.
Eudald Massana Noya in Penedes
We could bike, electric bike or ride Segways around part of one of the largest wine producing regions in Spain, but instead we opt for a walk through the countryside. We stroll down green lanes through the pretty villages of Penedes, west of Barcelona, with the backdrop of the Montserrat mountains. We strike out through endless rows of vines and glorious peach orchards. (Top tip; if you buy a peach at the local market in the village of St Pau they give you free glass of cava with it.) But the leisurely pace is deceptive; all the way we are learning how wine is made and how organic vineyards operate. And when I say wine I mostly mean Cava; Catalonia’s popular sparkling export.
Our guide this morning is the knowledgeable Albert Noya. He runs all manner of vineyard tours under his company Vicicling But his vast knowledge of production began with his parents and their vineyard where he helps when he’s not pedalling or stomping with visitors over fields.
Quite fittingly the first thing we learn about is the grape. Albert lifts the leaves to show us the difference between Macabeo, Xarel·lo, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Vines flourish in the Subirats vineyards in a mostly clay soil mixed with limestone. “A long time ago this was all ocean; when it dried up they excavated fossils, seashells and snails. The soil here is very mineral.” says Albert. There are almost 300 wineries packed into 15 villages locally, reaping the benefits of this mineral soil. You would probably recognise the labels on some of the hundred million bottles of Freixenet produced each year, as well as the 50 million bottles of Codorniu.
This is the land of the robust organic winery. Irrigation is prohibited here, no chemical products are used, and much of the cultivation and pruning is done by hand. This makes the fruit more dense and less watery than non-organic production methods. We watch as workers prune the weaker fruits in a peach orchard and leave the strong on the trees. As tractors buzz past we about the Filoxera problem that seriously devastated the vineyards of both France and Spain, “The worst pest virus we ever had,” says Albert sadly. We hear how the only solution to the bug attack even today is to graft the vines and we watch as Albert gives us a demo. We learn how in the 19th century the blight meant the region had to start again with production; which gave wineries the chance to reinvent themselves. And their wine.
Ninth generation producers
We wind up at Eudald Massana Noya, an atmospheric winery dating back to the C18th with views stretching as far as The Pyrenees, the sea and the Montserrat mountains. The estate is run under the watchful eye of Eudald, the ninth generation of the family to be in charge of the land. He comes to meet us for a tasting and his team explains that the winery works to a schedule dictated by the phases of the moon, producing 10 grape varieties and 120,000 bottles a year, of which 80,000 are Cava; the speciality of the region. Bottles of Catalan fizz are exported from here to 14 countries.
We have a tour of the cellars “Where Grandpa first decided to produce wine.” and the bottling areas. We marvel at the massive silver tanks that climb into the clouds. And we handle the bottles and the corks. And of course we taste. Kids have their own special grape juice tastings so they don’t feel left out. This is a true family business, who understand families and how they operate. They encourage all manner of activity from tours led by Eudald himself sometimes including breakfast in the family home to campervan stays on the estate.
“It is our responsibility to own the winery and not to leave it to sink,” says Eudald shaking our hand as we prepare to stomp back across his fields.
Alta Alella estate in Alella is a different proposition. Situated north east of Barcelona, just 2 km from the sea between the towns of Alella and Tiana, it has much more of a Mediterranean feel. From the vineyards you can see both the sea and the spires of Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia. But it does have something in common with the winery we just visited; in the second half of the 19th century the three existing wine designations of origin; Alella, Penedes and Catalunya became united by the production of Cava, which today has its very own designation of origin.
Alta Alella is the culmination of a family project that began two decades ago when Josep Maria Pujol-Busquets and his wife Cristina Guillen bought the nineteenth-century estate Can Genis. It was the closest cellar to Barcelona and its organic wines star on the menus of some of the best restaurants of the world; including London. Its new cellar of natural organic wines will allow it to produce even more quality wine.“Now we are consolidated we will have an enterprise producing about 350,000 bottles a year,” says our guide.
This winery is a real success story for the smallest region of wine production in Spain. And it is clearly doing well; with a modern and striking new hospitality area and shop that offers delicious local food along with the wine tasting. They also have novel ideas for entertaining kids. They take them off to paint with wine while the adults do the tour. And they turn the education into a theatrical experience through actors and a fairytale performance. They are also very happy to march everyone off Nordic Walking in the fields. We are handed two poles each and off we go.
How does your garden grow?
The soil here is characterized by its acidity, sandy texture and low levels of active lime, organic matter and water retention. The hillsides are steep, with the vines laid out neatly on the slopes.
“On our left is the Chardonnay grape. The leaf is smaller and more elegant. And on our right is the Planta; the baby grapes have a lot of space between them.” We admire and photograph and then stomp on. You have to work for your supper at Alta Allela winery, but it’s a beautiful walk, past rows and rows of sun weathered cacti as well as the neat vines.
We have a tasting at the top with the grapes stretching out before us and Barcelona in the distance. Never did a glass of wine taste so good.
If you visit Barcelona, this summer, be sure and get out into the countryside. Alta Alella is only 20 minutes from the capital with the Penedes/Subirats around half an hour’s drive if the traffic is flowing. The air may be cooler; the wine is better and mixing the kids and the Cava (but not in the same glass) could give your family holiday that little bit of sparkle it needs.
Disclosure Note: Thanks to Costa Barcelona es Moltmes for helping us to bring you this post. As ever, the views, the experience, the Nordic walking and the wine drinking are all our own.