Second part of a Wine Pleasures winery visit programme I was lucky enough to witness.
Our visit to Parés Baltà was the complete antithesis to Rimarts. For starters, Parés Baltà is an older (established in 1790), much bigger winery with a staff of over fifty and five estates. Rather than wandering around the depths of the cellar, a visit to the grounds and vineyards was the order of the day. Piling into the sturdy and muddy landrover, we went around one of the five estates, seeing innumerable types of grapes as well as some breathtaking vistas. Some of the sites of the vines had been vineyards for thousand of years, since pre-roman times.
As we travelled around the estate, our guide Sylvia let us into the secrets of grape growing. There are many factors that effect the grapes. The first, and most important, is climate. Sylvia explained that though it can sometimes rain heavily, often there are long periods of little rain. When this happens they don´t water the grapes and just let nature take its course. This seemed counterintuitive until Sylvia argued that by watering the grapes you are influencing the wine and so the wines no longer reflects the environment it is grown in. Pares Baltà want their wines to be completely natural, a philosophy that is assuredly organic. The second important factor is the soil type. Over the estates the soil quality varies hugely. I picked up many soil facts as we went, for example with clay, colour doesn´t matter to the grapes. The clay colour is the result of mineral make up and the key factor with clay is the lack of water.
Many of the grapes we saw were being grown for experimental reasons, to see how they´ll turn out and if they can improve their wines. Many of them are not yet on the wine list: as Sylvia puts it- grapes need to learn to make good wine. She claims to have caught the winemakers talking to grapes, giving them advice and encouragement. Some of their grapes are grown on land that is protected, meaning they have to work around the forest, using the land around the trees. During Eagle nesting time they can´t make any noise and have to wait to carry out any work on their grapes. Luckily the eagles weren´t nesting while we were there so up we went to investigate. The terrain by this time was getting rockier and rockier, the car lurching about as Sylvia attempted to get us to the peak. After a couple of tries we managed it, but it was a real taste of extreme wine tourism. Nestled at the top were the company bees, which were angered by our tour. Safe in the car, we learnt that the bee´s have an influence area of 10km. This means they can track their hives close to patches of rosemary and thyme and the bees will carry the aromas down to infuse the wine as they pollinate the grapes. The bees are not the only animal workers on the vineyards; sheep are also kept purely to eat the leaves after harvest and keep the plants healthy.
As Sylvia chatted about her work and her home I really got a sense of wine as a way of life. Or, as Sylvia puts it “Everyone round here has wine in the veins.” Sylvia has worked at Parés Baltà for three years and has lived in the area all her life. Her childhood experiences are entwined with the area and the wines, with an open bottle of cava always on the table and the summer highlight of going through the grapes after the pickers had gone and bringing home brimming baskets of leftovers.
By the end of the day I felt that I´d had a real back to nature experience and a reminder that the wine you see in a bottle has a natural beginning. And talking of wines you see in a bottle, we fit in the time to taste a few bottles before heading to the restaurant for a feast of a lunch. We tried Absis (2003) a 88% tempranillo, 12% cabernet sauvignon mix. There was a sense of caramel on the nose, smokey. The finish was subtle and complex. Oaky spicy yet chocolately, with a tanginess at the top of the lip. This wine is eighteen months in the barrel and solely hand harvested. The soil where the grapes are grown is poor and stony so the grapes are concentrated and have a low yield per acre.
We also tried the 2008 Calcari, made from a native and typical grape variety- Xarel-lo. With a grassy quality on the nose, it was creamy and tasty. Not as fruity as many of the wines I´d tried.
Amy Wilkerson. Wine Travel Writer for Wine Pleasures
Here is a video taken during part of the extreme wine tour visit. Enjoy!
Wine tasting in Parés Baltà with Sylvia and Joan: