It’s crush time on the Utiel-Requena region (Plateau de Requena y Utiel). Prime Valencian wine country. But then growing grapes is something the Spanish have been doing – and doing well – for thousands of years. I love this time of year! I lived in Northern California wine country for several years and September is a special time.
September is the moment when all the work that was done last winter and spring, and all the waiting through the summer for the grapes to mature, comes to fruition (actual fruit). Its the first step in the long process over the next 18 months to 2 years before we can purchase the results in a store. How will it go? Only the Gods know. But there are early indications on the potential.
Today, I went with my friend Johan and a group of people to the Vera de Estenas winery in Utiel, where we toured the winery and learned all about their history going back to the 19th century.
This year there was hail in Spring. It killed many of the first blooms on the vines. So, according to Eduardo – the grandson of the current iteration of the winery’s owner – this year will be ‘Not so many grapes, but the grapes we have are good quality.’
I asked him, while walking down through the vines, if he thought this would effect the price of his wine and he just shrugged.
‘No. We don’t change the price. We will just make less wine.’
He didn’t seem concerned at all. But then why would he be? He lives in a beautiful place. He works in a gorgeous vineyard. Life is good. Some years more than others. Being a wine maker is being a farmer. You will always be at the mercy of the weather. And some years the fates are with you, and others they’re not. Eduardo understands this.
We went out into the vines and picked grapes. Then we took them up to stomp them in tubs below the courtyard in front of the winery. This is where the trouble started. We loaded our grapes into the tubs and then two by two we would get into the tub and stomp the grapes. Barefoot, of course. It’s nothing like the huge vat that was used for Lucy Ricardo on t.v. all those years ago. But I had dressed for the occasion in loose linen that could easily be hoisted up to avoid grape juice. I was prepared. This was not my first stomp.
It looked straight forward. Piece of cake! So I got in and then another woman got in. We were supposed to hug each other and sort of dance in a circle. Theory didn’t meet practice. After an unsteady start we took a tumble. Damn! Our futures as fully qualified grape stompers slipped through our grasp.
Was it ridiculous? Of course it was. We knew nothing about what we were doing and we had fun not doing it! But that’s not why any of us were there. We were there to have the wonderful lunch and taste some wine.
I’ll admit that my favorite wine is a Provencal French rose’. If I could never drink another type of wine, and just enjoy that wine for the rest of my life, I would be happy. Of course, I would prefer that I was sitting under plane trees with a cool breeze on a sunny day while doing it. But these wines weren’t bad and for people I know who enjoy a Bobal or one of the other wines from the winery, I purchased a few bottles.
What I really love about these kinds of outings is that I get to meet new people. Today was no different. It’s fun to hear the stories of those from places like Turkey and Mexico. Canada and Ireland. One woman who was born in Malaysia but is now a full Norwegian citizen speaking fluent Norwegian. And we had a famous journalist at our end of the long table at lunch.
Living in Valencia is a little like wine making. The experience varies from year to year. You have no idea how it’s going to go. But it’s the people that make it so special. And it requires a little alchemy. But the longer we’re in Spain the more we’re glad we made the leap. And we’re never looking back.