The Vilafranca jazz festival, Vijazz, is in its third year and has gone from strength to strength. This year the organisers are expecting 45,000 people to descend on Vilafranca to take advantage of this free festival to see performers that would normally be charging €50 a ticket.
We arrived in the square in Vilafranca and were immediately greeted by the enthusiastic jazz fusion of Spyro Gyra warming up for their evening gig. Amid the bustling hive of activity as they prepared for the events of the night, we were lucky to bump into Francesc Palau who was free for an interview. It was from him that I learnt of the attempts of the Penedes region to establish itself as an important wine tourism destination. The jazz is used as an enticement to bring visitors and the wine is the reason they stay; hopefully once the visitors leave, they´ll take with them a new appreciation of the wines of the Penedès.
As well as being an opportunity to taste a huge range of cavas and wines, the festival was a social atmosphere that allowed me to get to know the personalities of the winemakers and personal stories behind some of the wines. Earlier in the day I had inquired after the meaning of the name of one of the Parés Baltà wines to be told ´Mas Elena´ translates from the Catalan into ´House of Elena´ in honour of one of their winemakers. The personal story helped to link the winery to the people that work there and establish it as a family business, despite its larger size. This impression of Parés Baltà was furthered when I had the chance to really talk to some of their staff at the festival. For example, Marc, who was talking me through some of the wines they had on offer, had just completed a masters degree in wine management. On top of this, Marc had spent 22 weeks travelling through the primary wine making regions of the World (both old and new), spending time in, among other places, Italy, France, South Africa and Australia. The enthusiasm he had for wine was evidently not just a job, but a passion. Even if I did not like the wines, I would have been won over by the passion shown by those who make them.
Moving onto the Emendis stall, I tried the Nox wine, named for the latin word for night. As might be expected by this rather gothic name, the grapes (90% merlot, 10% pinot noir) are picked only once the sky is dark, the theory behind this being that the lower temperature allows the flavour of the grapes to come out. The smell of the Nox would seem to bear this out, with a strong and distinctive aroma of sour fruits; of strawberries and raspberries. On the tongue it had a strong body with a bitter aftertaste. Overall it was a complex and enjoyable wine. But with so many stalls still to visit, I had to move on. At the Loxarel stall I tried the Petit Arnau with a cherry aroma on the nose, and a bold, dry taste. Whilst chatting to the owner Joseph, I got to meet Petit Arnau himself, Josep´s young son – I snapped a shot of Arnau with his wine, but he seemed bemused more than anything by all the attention!
Navigating my way past the jazz brass band promenading the streets, I arrived at the Oriol Rossell stall to try their Brut Cava, which came across as a well rounded cava, bubbly and alive with a taste of almond and honey. However, by this time, my impressions of the wines began to blend in much the same way as the grapes and I could no longer trust my tongue to differentiate between the wines. It was time to leave.
Amy Wilkerson Wine Travel Writer for Wine Pleasures
Video interview with Francesc Palau with Spyro Gyra rehearsing in the background: