Pares Balta & Harvest Crush

Thank God for September, there's a bit of holiday left but the temperatures are down to a much more sensible 25 degrees, blue skies and cool breezes, ideal cycling weather. Harvest Crush suggests a bit of late summer romance, being packed tightly together or grapes meeting their end in a press. Our day in the company of the vineyards and wines of Pares Balta produced all of the above and a bit more.

Most of the group were an attractive 35 to 45 with a few spotty persons falling below that golden age. Almost certainly non had ever picked grapes before and some weren't entirely at home on a bicycle. One intrepid gentleman brought his English fold-up bike along, the sort that slips in a briefcase and inspires pride and loyalty. It completed the route with top marks. All in all a typical harvest crush bunch cycled out of Torrelles de Foix for a gravelly, winding, rolling run along the foothills of west Penedès.
First stop was Cal Miret, a grand old country house that sits close to the mountains between Torrelles de Foix and Guardiola de Font Rubi. It is one of the six estates of Parés Baltà, our winery of the day.

Cabernet, Merlot and some low lying old vine Parellada are grown around the old mansion. There are still quite a lot of old vines about although the march of replanting and suspended vines is inevitable. New vines benefit by being well up off the ground, any rain or moisture that might cause mildew dries quickly and the increased surface area increases yield and improves ripening of the fruit. Last but not least it's a lot easier to pick manually or by machine.
The old vines form branches very close to the ground that rise in the shape of circles of dancing figures and rarely reach higher than the waist. The clumps of grapes are well entwined and picking is a question of first finding the bunch, inserting your clippers to snip it off while your other hand attempts to grab or catch them. It is surprisingly easy to snip your own finger.

Picking grapes your hands get sticky, but you soon disregard this and other trivial discomforts as you immerse yourself in one of the oldest activities known to man or women. The pleasant hum of human company around you, a natural reflex makes you stop, stretch and observe the surrounding nature, talent and chat , a lot. Our task for the day was to pick enough grapes for every pair of crushers. Between the chat, the good weather and the good company it took an effort to stop picking and get back on route to our crushing and eating destination, Can Festís. We were back on the bikes for about another half an hour before it was time for refreshments, backy and photos for our now well seasoned group of grape pickers on the terrace of Cal Pau Xim in Guardiola de Font Rubi.

To add some challenge there was a bit of a climb out of Guardiola and across the mountains through wood and almond orchards before descending into the once important paper making town of Sant Quinti de Mediona. The paper making industry has mostly dried up and 5 years ago the main road from Igualada to Vilafranca (and the port of Vilanova) was diverted, leaving an already quite end of the world even quieter. I highly recommend the cycle from Les Lambardes through Mediona, Sant Joan de Mediona and Sant Quinti. About 25 km of winding downhill roads with spectacular picture postcard views of Montserrat (Montse is most attractive from the Penedès side). Another 3 kms. down the road Can Festís beckoned with snacks and a refreshing wine tasting from the collection of Parés Baltà.

Honeymoon, a 100% old vine Parellada white originates in Pontons, behind Torrelles de Foix. At an altitude of 700 mts the grapes mature slowly, developing the more delicate aromas and flavours this variety is known for. Following a late harvest, the grapes are lightly macerated with the skins at low temperatures. Fermentation is stopped before all the sugars are converted to alcohol. The resulting residual fruit sugars contrast perfectly with the acidic notes of the wine. A rare style of wine in Penedès, this was really appreciated by many in the group.
Tasting notes: Straw yellow with shades of bright gold. Excellent intensity of bouquet, with floral notes combined with very mature white fruit pear and peach. Price 5.00 eueos
Ros de Pacs is a rosé made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot
Tasting notes : Charming cherry pink colour. elegant original aroma with notes of cherry and wild strawberry. Presence light and fresh with good acidity. Price 4 euros
Mas Irene Created with Merlot and Cabernet Franc this fine crianza is harvested in late September/early October. The vineyards have poor rocky soils that strain the vines and directly affect the yield and of course the concentration and quality. Aged in new French Allier oak barrels for 12 months followed by a further 12 months in the bottle. It presents a deep red colour. Full-bodied and smooth, with excellent structure. A forest of fruit, toast and spice notes on the palate.
Awarded a gold medal as one of the best red wines of the Penedès region by "Vinos de España" 2.003, this wine has recently been notching up awards in Germany, London and Slovenia. Price 15 euros
Cava Brut de Pacs A classic traditional blend of Macabeo, Xarello and Parellada and a good way of checking out the foundations of any Bodega. This is by no means the flagship of Parés Baltà and it was well appreciated. A cava with a young and fruity character, it rests for 12 months in the cavas before final corking with no addition of finishing liquor.
Tasting notes: Pleasant aromas of biscuit and yeast combine pear and apple. Fresh and lively in the mouth with fruit flavours predominating. Light and soft, nice elegant finish. Price 5 euros

Having relaxed by the green green grass of Can Festís the time had finally come to roll out the barrel and begin the grand harvest crush. The idea is teams of two get a box of about 10 kilos of grapes to press and extract as much juice as possible in 3 minutes. Luckily one of our international clan (Morocco, Ireland, Britain, Belgium, the States) had a watch. Everyone was very much in the mood and encouragement in the form of instructions, time calls and abuse were hurled at the contestants. Some were on hands and knees squeezing the last drops of juice out of the barrel and into our measuring pitcher. No surprise then that they started pelting one and all with mushed grapes. There are more ways than one to appreciate the medicinal and cosmetic benefits of grape juice.

What do you do after you've ridden across south west Penedès, climbed a mountain, ruined your hair-do, chewed gravel, danced in a barrel and generally had a serious reality check? Enjoy a very very extended late lunch prepared by Stefan Lismond, the King of Can Festís. The patio garden is a perfect setting, shaded by the main house, a 15th century wine farm and massive trees. Salads, grilled meats and sorbete de cava washed down with a complete selection of wines from Parès Baltá.

Happy Harvest and plenty of crushes to all.

Paddy Mannion: [email protected]
Cavas Parés Balta:
Can Festís rural hotel/restaurant: (check Catalunya) 93 897 22 07
STA Excursions & Equipment: 93 317 41 60
El Molí Bike Tours: 93 897 22 07