Wine Tasting in Alt Emporda – Catalonia

One of the societal differences I’ve noticed between Spain and the USA is the lack of commercialization here in Spain.

Jamie and Brent Bookwalter at Camp NouLast year when we went to a Barça soccer game, we were very surprised we could’t buy alcohol in the stadium, Camp Nou. This team is one of the best in the world in the most popular sport in the world, and their stadium is the largest in Europe, with a capacity of almost 100,000 people and it didn’t even have a Jumbotron screen. It barely had ads anywhere in the stadium. It was pretty enjoyable not to be bombarded with commercials, but it was difficult to understand what was going on without a huge screen in your face or an announcer yelling about Coco-Cola and talking about the game. We were able to tell which team got the red card only by the energy in the stadium. (In a side note, it was interesting to note they put the opposing team fan seats in a cage surrounded by guards.) We left thinking if they put an American in charge of marketing things would be very different.

Last year Brent crashed in a race and came home depressed. We decided that drinking his troubles away in public was probably more healthy so we planned the a wine tasting day in alt emporda using a wine tourism book a friend gave us. Alt Emporda is a region of Catalonia north of Girona and south of the Pyrenees. The area is with mineral rich soil that is buffeted by a strong north east wind called the Tramontane. With some difficultly (my Spanish isn’t terrific) I had reservations for three tastings for a Saturday. On a whim, I invited our Catalan friend David.

We woke up early and drove north on tiny roads to Cantallops, a tiny and quiet town situated on dry hills gently rolling up to the rocky expanse of the eastern Pyrenees. We parked outside the town and wandered around in the ancient stone streets looking for the winery. We finally found it, housed in an otherwise normal looking 600 year old house tucked on a street corner. We knocked and knocked on the door, and no one came. Finally, an old lady next door stuck her head out the window and yelled something in Catalan. I thought she was telling us to go away but David translated and said that she was the matriarch of the winery family. She eventually made her way down to the street and let us in.

Half the winery was a museum, where they had artifacts of the family history dating back 600 years. In fact, the whole winery was a working museum. The room where they kept the barrels had been used for that function for 600 years, and they still had ancient, working presses. The matriarch, our tour guide, spoke it rapid Catalan the entire time, and David translated. One of the things she touted in the growth of their 600 years of wine selling was that they used to only sell their wine store in one store in Cantallops. Now, they sold their wine in five stores in Cantallops! Tastings were not offered, but cases of bottled wine for sale for 5 euro a bottle were. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, they did not take credit cards. Nor was there an ATM in Cantallops. We were able to cobble together a few euros and bought some and had the bottle later at dinner. It was great.

Brent Bookwalter in Alt EmpordaWe visited two more wineries that day and had tours given by the owners. The other two actually did offer tastings, and did sell their wine beyond 6 stores, but it was still way more relaxed and much less polished than the typical Napa wine tasting experience.

I think going to the Barça game and wine tasting in Europe is a great example of how marketing is not the strong suit of the Spanish, whereas if you can name it, Americans can find a way to make a dollar off it. However, I think the over commercialization and maximized production of America has a price, and that is the one-on-one relationships and experiences between the consumer and the producer. I don’t think you can go to many wineries in Napa and get tours by the owner of the winery. The wineries are small and take pride in producing a small amount of quality wine. Furthermore, the idea of a distinction between “estate wine” and blends of grapes not grown on site barely exists, as ALL wine sold by the wineries are estate wine. The idea of importing grapes for blends is foreign.

If you get a chance to go wine tasting in Catalonia, I highly recommend it. Just don’t expect a gift shop.

Want to see this for yourself? Join our Catalonia with Craig Lewis trip and ride through these small towns and visit small family-run wineries. Limited places remain on the exclusive trip!