WINE & CAVA
The wine route
Catalonia is Spain's leading producer of quality wines and one of the most important wine producing areas in Europe. Wine has been a feature of the Catalonian landscape since ancient times. Catalonia has eleven denominations of origin: DO Alella, DO Catalunya, DO Conca de Barberà, DO Costers del Segre, DO Empordà-Costa Brava, DO Montsant, DO Penedès, DO Pla de Bages, DO Priorat, DO Tarragona and DO Terra Alta. If you want to find out about the exciting world of Catalan vine growing and wine making, take a trip round the towns and villages, wineries, specialised establishments and museums to be found throughout Catalonia.
One country, twelve Denominations of Origin.
• At present there are twelve protected Denominations of Origin around Catalonia, some of which are small while others cross county lines. The first ten are: Penedès DO, Pla de Bages DO, Alella DO, Priorat DOQ., Montsant DO, Conca de Barberà DO, Tarragona DO, Terra Alta DO, Costers del Segre DO, and Empordà-Costa Brava DO.
• The eleventh Denomination of Origin is Cava DO, which will be dealt with separately, owing to the importance that cava has acquired in the last few years. The last DO is the Catalunya DO, which covers all of Catalonia. The INCAVI (Catalan Institute of Vines and Wine), an organisation registered with the Department of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries of the Catalan government (Generalitat de Catalunya), controls and manages the system for protection of quality wines, as well as experimentation in the area of viniculture and oenology, the organisation of courses for professionals in the sector, and product promotion.
• Over the years, the production, development and marketing of Catalan viticulture products have given them a leading position in international markets. Nowadays, Catalonia is Spain's largest producer of quality wine, with 180 million bottles sold annually. The industry employs about 22,000 people, has more than 400 wineries, and is the third most important sector in Catalan agriculture.
• The varieties of grapes traditional to young wines, which come from the last vintage, are Chardonnay, White Sauvignon and
Macabeu, for white wines, and Tempranillo (ull de llebre) for red wines. Crianza wines are full-bodied wines that have been aged in an oak barrel. The Gran Reserves come from the best vintages and are normally aged for several years in the barrel.
At many wine making centres in the Penedès DO visitors can learn about what happens to the grapes from when they arrive at the winery to when they are made into wine. Many of these centres are featured in the Wine and Cava Routes, a network of itineraries that are part of the wine tourism project of the Alt Penedès Consortium for the Promotion of Tourism. Other wine tourism options include staying in rural tourism houses on estates where wine is made or visiting the two information centres that are in the area: the Vineyard and Wine Workshop (l'Aula de la Vinya i el Vi) in Sant Pere Molanta, and the Wine Museum (Museu del Vi) in Vilafranca del Penedès.
Pla de Bages and Alella
There are areas in addition to El Penedès that have strong wine making traditions. A good example is El Pla de Bages DO, which has won international awards in recent years. There are wineries that offer tours, such as the Celler Cooperatiu d'Artés, the Masies d'Avinyó winery in Santa Maria d'Horta d'Avinyó, and the Jaume Andreu winery. An excursion through the area will also show visitors the old vineyard huts - small, simple stone structures that were used by local peasant farmers to store their tools. The administrative headquarters of the DO Regulating Council is the Casa de la Culla in Manresa, an old farmhouse where wine tasting courses are also given. Mareseme is home to the Alella DO, the smallest denomination area in Catalonia. The Can Magarola farmhouse in Alella is the administrative headquarters of the DO and also houses a wine museum.
Wine and Cava show
In 1980, the Catalan Institute of Vines and Wine (Institut Català de la Vinya i el Vi) held the first Catalan Wine and Cava Show and it has now become one of the traditional activities of Barcelona's Festa Major festival, held during the month of September. This event is one of the most important for viticulture enthusiasts, yet it is not the only one. Others that are held in Catalonia include grape harvest festivals in Sitges and Bellmunt de Priorat, wine festivals in Alella and Batea, and wine and cava shows in L'Empordà and Falset.
Priorat and Montsant
The wines from the Priorat DOQ (Qualified Denomination of Origin) and the Montsant DO are increasingly well-known, and their reputation and quality have already made their mark abroad. Wine experts from around the world come to visit to find out the reason for their high quality. On a trip through the Priorat DOQ a must-see are the Cartoixa d'Scala Dei ruins at the foot of the Montsant mountain range. In the Montsant DO, which covers part of El Priorat and La Ribera d'Ebre, a visit to the Capçanes winery, where among other high quality wines kosher wine is made in accordance with Jewish tradition, is highly recommended. The Priorat Tourism Bureau offers visits to thirteen wineries belonging to the two denominations of origin.
Conca De Barberá, Terra Alta & Tarragona
Neighbouring El Priorat are the Conca de Barberà, Terra Alta and Tarragona Dos which cover a large area of the Tarragona. demarcation. The histories and traditions of all three are closely entwined with wine and a variety of viticulture visits can be made, especially to the Modernist wineries built by the architect Cèsar Martinell. Several co-operatives created at the beginning of the 20th century in La Conca de Barberà have wineries of this type, such as the Pira, Montblanc, Barberà de la Conca and Rocafort de Queralt co-operatives. Just to the south lies the Tarragona DO where one can visit the Muller winery in Reus and the Tous Andreu winery in Pont d'Armentera close to the Santes Creus monastery. Also nearby is the Celler de Nulles, a winery built by Cèsar Martinell, as well as the Granja Montalà Wine Museum in Valls. Then there is the Terra Alta DO consisting of seventeen municipalities and in which its capital, Gandesa, has a leading role. Indeed it is in Gandesa that one can visit the Modernist winery also built by Modernist architect Cèsar Martinell. The same architect designed the Pinell de Brai co-operative, nicknamed "the wine cathedral".
Costers Del Segra
A denomination of origin usually corresponds to a delimited part of a territorial area. However, this is not the case of Costers del Segre, which includes the whole of the province of Lleida and is divided into six sub-zones extending from Artesa de Segre to El Pallars Jussà. Hence there is a wide range of wines produced in different wineries, such as Castell del Remei which offers guided tours, and Raimat where a wine harvest festival is held every September.
Empordá - Costa Brava
Located north-east of Girona, the Empordà Costa-Brava DO consists of 5,600 hectares of vineyards. Historically it was centred around the ancient Greek city of Empúries, which inherited vine growing and wine making from its original inhabitants. There are several wineries in the area, and one of the most traditional and famous is at Castell de Perelada. For making white wines, varieties of Grenache, Macabeu, xarel·lo and Chardonnay grapes are grown. The most widespread variety used for red wine is Carinyena, though of late the Grenache, ull de llebre (Tempranillo), Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot varieties have become quite important.
With its own DO, the origin of cava is associated with the splendour of Catalan viticulture in the middle of the 19th century. Its production area includes 160 towns. The wine-making county of El Penedès contributes more than 95% of the total, and its highlight is the town of Sant Sadurní d'Anoia that turns out more than 75% of the almost 200 million bottles produced per year. The first bottles came out in 1872, and in 1972 the Sparkling Wine Regulatory Council was established, to be followed in 1993 by the first Cava Regulatory Council. A good way of finding out about how cava is made is to visit one of its numerous production facilities.
Cava production has a long history in this area. In fact, the origin of cava is associated with the splendour of the Catalan viticulture of the mid 19th century and with the fame that champagne gained at the end of the 18th century. Louis Pasteur's microbiological research applied to wine enabled control of the second fermentation in the bottle, and the invention of the cork stopper meant it was possible to avoid losing the bubbles that wine produces. This marked the birth of the traditional or champenoise method. During the 19th century, a number of families in Sant Sadurní d'Anoia began to research into this new production technique and applied it to the produce of the region. Based on the research and trials carried out in conjunction with the prestigious Institut Agrícola Català (Catalan Agriculture Institute) in Sant Isidre, they decided to produce native white grape varieties. In 1872, Josep Raventós of the historic Codorniu company produced the first 3,000 bottles of cava using the method of second fermentation in the bottle. His son and heir, Manuel Raventós, began the expansion and consolidation of the company. At the same time, other producers in the town also began to make cava and turned Sant Sadurní d'Anoia into the nerve centre of the cava industry. During the 1920s, cava gained a foothold in the Spanish market and took off during the 1960s, while it achieved international prominence in the 1980s. Today it is one of the most dynamic viticulture sectors in Catalonia, with an annual productionof more than 200 million bottles.
Sant Sadurní Dánoia
If Vilafranca is the wine capital of the area, Sant Sadurní d'Anoia is the cava capital. Here and throughout El Penedès, a large part of the land is furrowed for vineyards. The wineries, or cava-production centres, are scatteredaround the countryside and offer the visitor the opportunity to gain insider knowledge of what happens to the grapes from when they arrive at the winery to the time they are pressed, left in the cellars and bottled. However, in Sant Sadurní d'Anoia a visit to the Codorniu winery is a must. It is located in a building built by the Modernist architect Puig i Cadafalch, and has 26 km of underground cellars of which only a small part is open to the public. A tourist mini-train follows a route that includes a visit to a museum with presses, barrels and tools used during the long history of the winery. While in Sant Sadurní visitors can check out other wineries such as Freixenet, Torelló, Raventós i Blanc and Gramona. Before leaving the town, it is a good idea to take a stroll through its centre to look at fascinating examples of Modernist architecture such as thehouses designed by Modernist architect Lluís M. Güell and the Santacana Roig warehouses built by Domènech Boada, an instance of Modernism applied to industrial buildings.
The Cava Route
The routes signposted by the Alt Penedès Consortium for the Promotion of Tourism, called the
Wine and Cava Routes, make it easy to visit other wineries in the county. Six of them can be followed by car and on foot through some of the municipalities of the county, calling in at their most emblematic wineries, towns and monuments. The seventh features a tourist bus that leaves from Lavern coach station. The routes go through vineyards, especially those containing the Pansa Blanca (xarel·lo), Parellada and Macabeo varieties which are the ones used to make cava, and also to various wineries such as Giró Ribot, Llopart, Rovellats, Canals Canals, Eudald Massana Noya, Nadal and Alsina & Sardà which organise guided tours.
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