The Cava Trail and the Catalan Grape Harvest
Row upon row of dusty vineyards form the only landscape visible just 50 kilometres outside of Barcelona. The Penedes region, south of the city, is one of the nearest and best known wine producing areas in Catalunya. Sant Sadurní d'Anoia, a small town with fewer than 10.000 inhabitants is indisputably the capital of wine producers in the Penedes. October is an important time for Sant Sadurní d'Anoia as "La Verema" (the grape harvest) comes to an end. Festivities that celebrate the final days of the grape harvest take place as tantalizing tasting sessions from recent produce meet eager lips.
With more than 80 producers in the area, Sant Sadurní produces 90% of all Catalan Champagne, known as Cava. This sparkling white wine is normally drunk in Catalunya with the dessert course on special occasions. There are many different varieties of sweet and brut Cava, ranging from prices as low as 2.95€ and escalating up to more than 50€ a bottle. Documented references situate Sant Sadurni's origins in 1080, and its economy has always centred on viniculture, boosted by exports to the United States in the 18th century. A visit to this town should centre on the vineyards, many of which are architecturally stunning.
The wine producing company Freixenet offers standard vineyard tours without admission charge in English, Spanish and Catalan. The drive leading up to the building has a number of designer theme cars parked outside, in the shape of Cava bottles. A promotional video played in Freixenet's own small cinema starts the experience. Guides explain the Cava-making process before a miniature train whizzes round the extensive cellar areas. At the end of the tour all visitors are taken to a large Cava shop, where souvenirs, wine (marginally cheaper than in a supermarket) and glasses are on sale. Afterwards, people are taken through to a plush lounge area with a free glass of Cava and nibbles.
(www.freixenet.es Joan Sala, 2, Visiting hours: Monday to Thursday: 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 4pm and 5pm, Friday: 10am, 11am, 12pm, and 1p. Week-ends and holidays from 10am to 1pm.
Tel 93 891 7096)
The Cellar tour of Codorniu, the company who produced the first glass of Cava in 1872, is also highly recommended. The cellar complex is a national and historic landmark, designed by the modernist architect, Josep Puig i Cadafalch. The characteristic stained glass, ceramics, and iron work are visible throughout the construction. The visit is similar to the Freixenet tour, although it also includes a small museum of grape pressing artefacts that were historically used in the wine making process. (Avda. Jaume Codorníu s/n, Visiting hours: Monday to Friday: 9am-5pm, Saturday to Sunday: 9am-1pm, Tel 93 891 33 42)
While Freixenet and Codorniu are the biggest manufacturers of Cava in the area, many of the smaller producers offer free tasting sessions in a more personalized atmosphere. For information about different vineyards in the area, with visiting hours, you can consult the English section of www.enoturismealtpenedes.net, or follow the sign posts on arriving in Sant Sadurní. It is always advisable to phone beforehand.
In the second week of October Sant Sadourní celebrates La Setmana de Cava (Cava Week) during which a series of events take place, such as the crowning of the Cava Queen, admission of new members to the Cava Brotherhood and many Cava banquets. One of the most exciting events during La Setmana de Cava is when the Cava train makes its way from Barcelona to Sant Sadourní, accompanied by troops of dancers and musicians, as it gives away free bottles to spectators. On the 12th of October all vineyards are open to the public, free of charge. For more information about this event, and about the history and tradition of cava you can consult www.confrariacava.com
Other towns across Catalunya celebrate the end of La Verema during the month of October. In the past, festes de la Verema, that marked the end of the grape Harvest season, were often held in private farm houses or masies, and were not open to the public. Increasingly, however, towns or individual grape producers hold public festes that anyone is free to attend. At these celebrations, people can see traditional demonstrations of the wine making process and grape trampling competitions obtain liquid “Most” that is used to make wine. Large lunches are also part of the celebrations that include copious quantities of wine swigged directly from the traditional purró, a corked glass container with a spout that is used to pour wine directly into the mouth and passed amongst friends.
Verema festivals can be experienced in the following locations:
The Festa de la Verema del Bages during the first weekend of October (www.ajartes.com/);
The Festa del Vi at Verdú, Urgell on the 12th October (www.geocities.com/bacusverdu/);
The Festa del Most at Font-Rubí, Alt Penedes on the 15th and 16th October (www.geocities.com/bacusverdu).
While a Verema festa is definitely an experience to be savoured it is a good idea to consider carefully your form of transport, and to make sure you know who is driving on the way back if you are going by car. Increasingly, random police stops obligate drivers to carry out breathalyzer tests and, if over the limit, people run the risk of losing their licence. Not wanting to dampen spirits (only palates!) please be safe and not sorry!