Monterosso Val d’Arda Festival 2013


To celebrate the Monterosso Val d’Arda DOC, the producers of this region held a festival last weekend in  Castell’Arquato, about 30 minutes from Piacenza.  The program, slightly altered because of the inclement weather, consisted of several formal tastings led by a sommelier and the producer, as well as a salon with a couple dozen local producers who presented around four wines each.  Coupled with the sociability of the winemakers in this region, even this small salon made for a busy afternoon of tasting.


We started with a guided tasting of wines from Tollara, including a Spumante (Méthode Champagnoise) and their “I l Giorgione”, which is made from surmature grapes of the Bonarda variety,  along with a generous plate of local charcuterie.


A sampling of some other wines we tasted and particularly enjoyed :

Nontiscordarimé (“forget-me-not”) – Il Rintocco (DOC Monterosso Val d’Arda)

Colli Piacentii – La Boca (DOC Monterosso Val d’Arda)

Ortugo – Azienta Vitivinicola Pusterla (DOC Colli Piacentini Ortugo)

Antiquum – Cantine Campana – (DOC Colli Piacentini Gutturnio Classico Riserva)

Barolo Wine Museum

Last weekend, while I was at the Collisioni festival in Barolo, Piemonte, I visited Barolo’s Wine Museum, housed in the sumptuous Falletti Castle overlooking the vineyards of Barolo.  

Interestingly enough, for me at least, the museum prides itself on the way in which its designer and curator François Confino “has designed a stimulating voyage that combines scientific content and poetry.”


The curation of the museum was fascinating, as it uses very simple displays to portray its vision.  Unlike many wine museums, it is sparse in its use of language, rather relying on imagery and sensory experience to send a message to visitors.  This approach serves to educate the visitor, but in a subtle way, preferring to suggest than to inform.

My personal favorite exhibition was one dedicated to the hands that produce Barolo wine.  The walls were lined with gorgeous black and white photographs of hands working in all aspects of wine production, all in a room containing only a player piano, meant to elicit an appreciation for the hands that are integral but invisible.  I thought this was a beautiful and simple concept, and paired with the stunning photographs left a lasting impression.

There was also, to my pleasure, an entire floor of the museum dedicated to wine in culture – art, cinema, food, and literature, which, I think, encourages visitors to appreciate the impact that wine has had in all facets of culture, due to its importance and interrelatedness with history, to which the museum also devotes considerable space.


Celebrating Wine

On Saturday I helped pour wine at the Wine and Food Festival in Christchurch. I was stationed in the Riedel-sponsored seminar tent (and for a wineglass nerd like me, it was quite a spectacle just to see the sheer number of glasses used for this event – and knowing their retail value this made my head spin a bit – but I do believe we went the entire day without a single broken one!), which played host to several New Zealand wine experts, including Bob Campbell, Jo Burzynska, Yvonne Lorkin, and Garth Gallaway.  The seminars were intended to be fun and informal, with themes ranging from playing up New Zealand whites other than Sauvignon Blanc to learning how to pair wine with music (interestingly, the only time I heard scientific studies mentioned at any point in the day was in this seminar taught by Jo Burzynska – the juxtaposition of music- undisputably an art, with science in this seminar was certainly not lost on me, though in this case the science was used in an attempt to lend validity to the assertion that music can affect the taste of a wine.  Honestly though, to me, trying it out for myself* was far more convincing than hearing about a tiny smattering of scientific studies on the subject).

(“Riedel Seminar Lounge”)

Over 50 South Island wineries were also represented at the Festival, and I had a chance to briefly meet a few of these people (including people from The Crater Rim, Pyramid Valley, Neudorf, The Third Man, Pegasus Bay, and Allan Scott) though most of my day was spent pouring wines for the seminars (this also meant that I did not have the chance to hear any of the Kiwi bands that played, but getting a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at an event like this was worth it).

*Possibly an interesting experiment to try at home?  The idea is basically to taste a wine in silence as well as with a few different styles of music, and see if you get different aromas/flavors/associations from the same wine in the different auditory environments.

**Of the couple bottles of leftover wine that I brought home and took to a friend’s birthday BBQ the next day, the favorite actually happened to not be a New Zealand wine but a Portugese bottle called DouROSA from the winery Quinta de la Rosa in the Doura region.

A La Mer!

After the end of harvest, I was invited to spend a few days in Brittany (Bretagne in French).  It was truly a vacation from what I’ve been doing, as no wine is made in Brittany (okay, not entirely true – very, very little wine is made there, and no wine that is made there can be sold, as there are no wine appellations in the region).  Instead, regional specialties include lots of seafood, cakes and biscuits (made with as much butter as possible – as Yves said, it wouldn’t be possible to put in more butter), crêpes and gallettes (crêpes made with buckwheat flour and usually have savory fillings, particularly eggs, cheese, and ham), and cider.  There is also a lot of history in the region, which was occupied by the Germans during WWII, and thus retains many souvenirs in the form of forts and other fortifications.  One such structure is the Keroman Submarine Base in Lorient, essentially the only structure to survive when the city was completely destroyed by the Americans in order to liberate France from Nazi control.

I stayed with Yves and Monique, Marine Dubard’s parents (I wasn’t quite ready to leave the family entirely when I left the vineyards last week…) in their home on le Cabellou, a “presque-ile” (“almost-island” or peninsula) just south of the town of Concarneau.  Le Cabellou is a gorgeous little area, and I will soon be posting a little blurb (in English) on the website that Yves has developed for le Cabellou.

One of the many, many things my wonderful hosts took me to was the annual Fête du Cidre, where they had demonstrations of how cider is made, cider tasting, a display of the variety of apples one can find in Brittany, crêpes, and roasted châtaignes (chestnuts).

La Bisbal, Tarragona, i Festa Major

Friday:  Visit to La Bisbal (Rachel’s husband Gerard’s home village) to visit  Àvia (grandma) and Avi (grandpa), and have lunch with the Priest!  He was probably about 25 years old and I never would have known he was the Priest if I hadn’t been told (and he took us to the church to show us the stained glass windows that Rachel did for them).

Saturday:  Jo and I took a day trip to Tarragona – the small city with World Heritage status for its Roman ruins (which I failed to take any photos of… sorry – you can see some here.  We spent the morning wandering around, had a lovely lunch, and spent the afternoon at the beach.

Sunday/Monday:  Falset’s Festa Major begins! The social event of the year.  Kicked off with a major parade (complete with fire-bearing “devils” and dancing Giants), and then the next morning another parade featuring children sprinkling lavender on the streets (traditionally to as odor control after the previous day’s festivities).

Videos from the Festa:

Devils, Parade, etc. (sorry the cinematography is a little nauseating…hadn’t quite figured it out yet)

Giants dancing

Horse dance

“What is nature? It is art and science.”

Yesterday I was lucky enough to tag along on a vineyard tour at Capafons-Osso.  Mr. Capafons is a good friend of Rachel’s, and she frequently translates for his tours, so I had been hearing all about Mr. Capafons and his unique viticultural theories since I arrived (his wine was also the first I tasted when I arrived in Falset).

On the nearly 4 hour tour, he drove us up to his Priorat vineyards (Capafons-Osso is unique in that it produces wine from two wine appellations – the Priorat DOQ as well as the Montsant DO, which surrounds the Priorat – on this map, dark purple = Priorat, light purple = Montsant) where he explained the qualities of his unique soil.  He has a multitude of different types coexisting in his vineyards, including slate (llicorella), clay, gravel, quartz, loam, iron oxides, calcium carbonate (chalk), and more.  He explained the importance of maintaining the soil as is – not plowing and mixing up the different layers – so that the roots are forced to grow deep into the rocks in search of water, picking up all of the different types of nutrients supplied by the various soil types on the way down.

(Mr. Capafons showing the different types of soil)

He also explained his theory about cultivating a rich and aromatic organic layer atop the rock – which he accomplishes by allowing most of the natural flora to grow, particularly the vast array of wild aromatic herbs (which figure prominently in many of the finished wines!).  Any unwanted plants are painstakingly removed by hand to ensure a balance of flora in the vineyards.

He has returned to the old style of planting, as he has learned through experience that the bush vines produce significantly higher quality wines than trellised vines.  One reason he believes this is important has to do with the shadows that the vines cast on themselves.  When trellised, the vines are very tall and narrow, and thus cast a very narrow shadow, which does little to keep the surrounding soil cool.  By contrast, the bush vines cast a wider, more diffuse shadow which keeps much of the soil surrounding the plant cool for the entire day.  He has planted his vines on diagonal lines up the hill at perfectly spaced intervals to ensure that the shadows are not cast onto the neighboring vines, thus blocking their sunlight.

(Bush vine with shadow – notice the perfect spacing between vines)

It is a testament to his incredible passion that Mr. Capafons shares all of this information to anyone willing to listen – tourists and producers alike, in hopes that he will spread his philosophies, or at least his willingness to question generally accepted methodologies.  His ideas are beginning to spread, as people are beginning to understand the importance of working with nature rather than attempting to master it.

In response to the question of “Is what you do science or art?” Mr. Capafons replied, “What is nature? It is art and science.  There is no word that can describe anything more important than nature.”

We then returned to Mr. Capafons’ Montsant vineyard and winery (the Priorat vineyard has its own winery, as DO requirements dictate that the wine must be produced and bottled in the appellation it was grown in), and after a quick tour of the barrel room (and lesson on the importance of keeping it clean and dry, using air dryed – to accumulate natural yeasts from the air – medium aged french oak barrels that are toasted using only wood as fuel), fermentation tanks, and laboratory, the tasting began.

(Barrel Room)

Mr. Capafons opened 9 bottles, from both his Priorat and Montsant vineyards.  We started with his whites – the Montsant being 100% white grenache and the Priorat 50% white grenache and 50% viognier.  Then moved to his Rosé, whose label was painted by his son – an artist.  The vine forms the figure of a woman with a bunch of grapes for hair, and the sun causes her to sweat wine into the glass.

(Roigenc label)

Next came the reds – where the herbal and mineral aromas that he takes such care to impart became readily apparent.  His top wine, Mas de Masos, is highly esteemed both within Spain and abroad.  After tasting all of the wines and his delicious olive oil, Mr. Capafons brought out his 2007 Mas de Masos Dulç, a sweet wine produced after a major heat wave hit at the end of August in 2007.  This was the most complex sweet wine I’ve tasted – analagous to the contrast between a spoonful of sugar and a ripe fruit, the minerality and herbaceousness of Mas de Masos remains in this wine, preventing the sweetness from wiping out all of the other elements of the wine.  In all, the experience was incredible and the tasting enhanced by first understanding the devotion, care, and wisdom that goes into each bottle.

I also never posted about the Fiestas in the nearby village of El Lloar the other night.  In the early evening they had an inflatable dragon set up in the square for the children to play on.

(Eduard enjoying himself on the inflata-dragon)

(Baby Gabriel enjoying himself as well)

I took a walk up the road, inadvertently ending up among the vineyards of Torres – the large Spanish winemaking conglomerate that now has an operation in the Priorat.  Very different in planting style from Capafons-Osso, these vines have an incredible view of the mountains.

Later on there was a village-wide dinner in the square.  It was BYO bread and tomatoes (for pa amb tomata – bread smeared with the innards of a halved tomato and drizzled with olive oil and a pinch of salt), and everyone sat down to a plate of various cured meats and cheeses.  We were sitting with winemaker friends, so he brought down two bottles of his wine to have.  Once everyone was finished eating, they brought around a giant peach for everyone, and then came around with a box of coca – a name which apparently has caused some problematic confusion – but really is a pastry with challah-like bread containing a filling made from palm cane and sugar and topped with pine nuts.  They kept it coming – next bringing around a choice of digestif – whiskey, brandy, or a pastis-like liqueur.  Finally they served little packaged wafter cookies for anyone crazy enough to still be hungry.  The meal didn’t end until a quarter after midnight, and we left when the square was still packed with villagers of all ages, chatting and enjoying the cool night air.

Happy 750th Birthday, Torroja!

Yesterday we went to the village of Torroja’s celebration of the 750th anniversary of their town charter.  There was a craft fair, medieval fare served at the bar and swimming pool, and a tour and wine tasting around the town.

Cal Compte— Originally the home of the landowning family of Torroja, now converted into beautiful vacation accommodations (one of the many perks of staying with a tour guide- I am able to see places that would otherwise remain a mystery!)

View from Torroja.  The Montsant mountain range stands guard to the north-west of the Priorat.

Catalonian flag

The locals are incredibly passionate about sharing their wine and their history.  The more I learn about both, the more it becomes clear that these are entirely inseparable.

Inside of a museum of old winemaking tools.  In the back you can see two wooden presses, and to the right of those some baskets to attach to mules for collecting grapes.  This museum was put together by a man who collected all of these items from the trash dump, as much was thrown out when wine production was not doing well in the region – a period that lasted throughout most of the 20th century until the wine revolution beginning in the 1980s.

Porrera, another village of the Priorat.

Bush vines–  the traditional planting method in the Priorat.  Notice that the vines are growing right out of the slate (llicorella)!