The last Pagès.


The words peasant and pagès are sometimes understood to mean disadvantaged rural people. They are definitely hardworking, honest and closely linked to the land which these days makes them very rare and some indeed are disadvantaged given current prices for grapes. I see them as the inheritors of the wisdom of country life with all its experience in self-sufficiency, patience, independence and the knowledge of nature.
The house I first lived in Penedès was a masia. Juan the owner lived in Vilafranca but would come out while he could still drive to enjoy a Ducado under the fig tree. He had a small dog and once while we were talking, it started to bite and tug at the end of my jeans. When I gestured to the dog, Juan said matter of factly not to worry, that the dog wouldn’t eat or kill me, a typical good sense of humour. Not far from our house there were 4 or 5 other masies and farming families. Thirty years ago they would have all made their own wine and stored it in the bodega on the north side of the house. All of them kept rabbits, chickens and ducks. They canned and stored olives, tomatoes and any surplus from the vegetable garden. In short they were completely self sufficient. Today, none of their children will have anything to do with the farm.

When I moved to Penedès it was motivated by city fatigue and I needed somewhere to work on my collection of older mechanically propelled vehicles. Unsurprisingly, I was soon gripped by the gardening bug. My neighbour, Sr Pulido quickly explained to me that a bag of potatoes or tomatoes in the supermarket would work out a lot cheaper and far less time consuming. On the basais that no tomatoe tastes as good as your own, I persisted for one season before the speed of the weeds ravaged my enthusiasm. Last week our local newspaper printed a breakdown of the costs involved in cultivating a hectacre of vineyard and the story is the same. It costs 3000 euros/hectacre/year to maintain a hectacre of vineyard in Penedès and the reward is an income of 0,16euros/kilo x 12.000kgs or just under 2000 euros/hectacre, a net loss of over 1000 euros /hectacre. Wine growing has a long history and there have been hard times before but now there is pressure for industrial and residential use from the saturated Barcelona area. Of course, with raw material prices that low there isn’t a better time to get into bottling your own label or perhaps now is a good time to think about that masia with 10 hectacres in Guardiola de Font Rubi! -south west facing, well drained and protected from the north east winds, the area is particularly suitable for cultivation Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. A couple of years from now it could be producing between 30 and 50,000 bottles of very fine quality wine. As the last of the pagèsos dies off , who will take up the hobby of maintaining the garden of Penedès?