We have made a lot of winery visits in our day, in many places around the world, but our visit to the Penedes region outside of Barcelona marks the first time a winemaker took us to see a new vineyard on the back of his antique tractor. Oh, and when we got to the top of the hill where the vineyard was located, he then proceeded to produce a bottle of his cava, glasses and a plate of cheese. I thought that maybe we have now seen it all, but that was before our subsequent lunch largely made by the winemaker’s mother. It doesn’t get much better than that. It reminded us of our earliest wine-touring experiences in Napa Valley, when you could still meet the actual winemaker and talk. Before it became an “entertainment destination.”
The experience was part of two days of food and wine focused touring guided by Guillermo of Barcelona Slow Travel, the touring company he runs with his wife Cristina. We opted for a morning food and market tour, followed by a day-long trip to the Penedes wine region, best known as the home to makers of cava, Spain’s version of champagne. Both tours were immersive experiences. As private tours they were pricier than the group variety, but well worth the cost in our view.
The food tour took us through the Gracia neighborhood, which was just a short walk from our hotel but in many respects a different world. The tours attempt to take you to places not frequented by the many tourists who flock to Barcelona.
Guillermo was a bit shocked to find other small tour groups in some of the spots he took us. It appears we were wrong about the level of visitation at present; it’s exploded in the last month and is easily back to pre-pandemic levels, if not higher. Pat planned this trip for over a year, but obviously we weren’t the only ones thinking of visiting, though other Europeans are the bulk of the travelers.
We started with a traditional Catalan breakfast at a small cafe for our food tour. It featured very fresh and perfectly cooked fried eggs (soft yolks being perfect in our view), bread, a couple different kinds of sausages and a tomato/vegetable mix similar to ratatouille but with different flavors. We skipped the option of having wine with our breakfast, but we noted a number of locals were imbibing to start the day.
We moved on to one of the local food markets where we were able to taste a a variety of olives and, most surprisingly, marinated garlic cloves that had lost all of their potency but had a wonderful, unique flavor. We also visited an olive oil specialty shop and a cheese shop where all of the cheese is made on premises. It’s run by an Italian named Francesco who was quite the piece of work.
We wrapped up with a tapas lunch at a place that still sells some wines in bulk out of barrels that ring the small space. We were sufficiently sated after lunch that we sat in the park below for nearly an hour after lunch just watching the world go by. Slow travel, it was great.
The Penedes tour took us to two small producers that were on the opposite sides of the valley where the large cava producers grow acres and acres of grapes. (Outfits like Freixenet, for example.) Our first stop was at VallDolina, which is large enough to have some distribution to Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe. The only customer of its wines in the U.S. is in Michigan. It’s a shame because the proprietor, Raimon Badell i Roses, produces some very good wines. We tasted two of his sparklers, a very tasty white wine from grapes native to the area, and one red.
Stop number two was at an even smaller property, Can Vich, that produces just 10,000 cases a year, which is not a lot. All of it is sold regionally; none of it is shipped. Here is where the tractor in the title comes into play. In a move that surprised our guide, the proprietor, Lluis Vich Sastre, suggested we climb into the back of his vintage tractor to see a new vineyard he had planted. (That’s the Catalan spelling of his name. It’s Luis in Spanish.) He didn’t speak much English, but like most locals can switch back and forth between Catalan and Spanish without thinking. He spoke in Spanish so Pat could pick up some of his explanations.
So off we went. Below is a brief video I shot catching part of the ride up the hill. The opening image is a still image of the tractor — it is not brand new — with us enjoying a taste of his cava. People have been growing grapes and making wine in this region for centuries and Lluis’ new vineyard is an attempt to reclaim former grape-growing land that had gone out of production.
The visit included a walk through the old farm house where his ancestors used to make wine. It also included a lovely lunch that was largely prepared by Lluis’s mother. After some heavy meat-focused tastings we were happy to see more vegetables.
Lunch featured a Catalan salad of white beans, salt cod, onions, tomatoes and olives that was delicious. There was also roasted vegetables and another local staple: bread smeared with the pulp of a special local tomato and then drizzled with good olive oil.
Lluis’ mother also made a traditional Spanish omelet that is often served at room temperature. There were also some sausages from a local shop, and cheese, which is another staple. (I’m going to have to go on cheese detox after this trip.) We tasted three of his red wines over lunch, all of them lively and fresh.
For anyone thinking of traveling to Barcelona we would recommend checking out Barcelona Slow Travel for a good introduction to local food culture.