The Rhythm of Penedès/ The Rhythm of the Vines

As soon as you cross the Port d’Ordal on the N340 or past the peaje at Martorell on the A7 motorway, the vineyards and landscape of Penedès unfolds and invites.
I came to Penedès for a barbecue sometime in ’94. Friends Jill and Wilkie had moved from the Born in Barcelona. They lived in a typical masia, surrounded by vineyards and a generous front garden complete with shady fig tree, pomegranate, almonds and ancient olive trees that guarded the gate. The house was reached by a long gravel lane with no walls or fences and vines grew right up to the road. The house had 5 bedrooms and ample outhouses to park and work on cars. When I discovered that Jill and Wilkie were planning on moving to Ireland I was sure the rest of their friends would be fighting to get their hands on the house. I suggested they might consider me as their successor just in case and like a dream come true, no one else was interested. My car collection and I moved in a short while later.
Contact with the cavas began soon as various language classes and private students came with the house. In Penedès everyone is related to the wine industry. Head down any interesting lane and you’ll bump into a bodega. I’ve been bumping into them for 8 years. Penedès is full of interesting wines. The cava is well known and getting better all the time. Try Gramona, Pinord, Llopart, Colet, Ventura and Privat. About 25 years ago producers began to take an interest in red wines again. Penedès was once famous for its reds and today Bodegas Torres, Jean Leon, Can Feixes, Puig i Roca and Albet i Noya to mention just a few, are winning prizes all over the world. There are still some wineries I don’t know but we want to leave something for future generations. Right now I’m chasing greener pastures and the wine regions to the south, Conca de Barbera, Priorat, Montsant and Terra Alta, each with a style of its own.
My arrival in Penedès was quickly followed by marriage and children. A family means another level of integration, a slower but deeper process in the country. When we arrived home with Clare our first child, the neighbours insisted we relax and eat in their house. When Tommy was born we had just moved into El Molí which had been derelict for 15 years, again our dear neighbours wouldn’t hear of us returning to such a house and Mandy and the children were accommodated for a number of weeks. On the hill behind Can Teulera there is another wonderful family, Erasmus, Rosa, Nuria the grandmother and 4 girls and a boy. Theirs is a genuine Catalan farmhouse with tractors and jeeps in front of the masia, horse, ducks, rabbits, chickens, fish pool and vegetable garden surrounding the house. This became Clare and Tommy’s home from home. When I would come to pick up the children, Tommy would be following Nuria around the rabbit hutches while Clare would be sitting in front of the open fireplace.
After 4 years in Penedès we began looking for a place of our own. We weren’t optimistic as prices for masias were already too high for us. Then I spotted El Molí, the locals called it “ l’antic cuartel de la guardia civil” which could mean a lot of people had lived there, mainly police and their families, or that it was very old. In fact it was many things. When we entered the house we could see old bedrooms, kitchens, sheds and storerooms, but in my head I was thinking of my little hotel, restaurant, school, workshop and home.
Pruning, thinning., trimming, ploughing, picking and pressing. Work in the vineyards never stops and with the exception of harvest at the end of the summer the rhythm remains exceptionally calm. Perhaps its because its been developed over hundreds of years. I may not be driving a tractor but I absorb that feeling of maximum speed, 35 km/hour on the fast stretches. I feel it and it suits me just fine. I’m not a great walker but I love pointing a Citroen 2CV down an undiscovered lane.. I just enjoy the surroundings and allow my nose to lead me. I like meeting people with individuality and passion, a lot of people involved in wines and cavas are like that. It may be over 800 years since the Christians drove the Moors out of Tarragona but there is still that feeling of frontier country about Penedès and the regions south to the Ebro. Waiting to be discovered.

Accommodation and eating.
Penedès was alive with small posadas and hostals a hundred years ago but the Pilgrim route dried up and until about ten years ago it was very difficult to get a simple room for the night.
Tourism is a still fairly new word and is being encouraged as a supplement to agriculture. (prices for grapes are at an all time low) Restaurants exist as they always have to cater for workers and big family occasions. The food you will find is pretty much the same hearty stuff everywhere. Adventurous and Vegetarian are very recent culinary concepts.
Accommodation can be divided into established hotels, small rural hotels, farmhouse accommodation and hostals. Information on most is available from the tourist office in Vilafranca or Sant Sadurni but a few new or independent establishments are not listed.
The first group of hotels include the “Carlos III” , “El Domo” and the “Alfa” all in Vilafranca del Penedès. The “Sol i Vi” is an interesting alternative on the road from Vilafranca to Sant Sadurni.
These hotels are dear during the week but have interesting discounts at weekends

Can Festís is run by a Belgian Couple, Stefan and Karen Lismond and is located close to Vilafranca and Sant Sadurni. There are apartments and bedrooms, dining room, bar and plenty of gardens. 93 899 70 65.
Cal Mossen is trickier to get to as it lies in the hills between Penedès and Alt Camp, behind Torrelles de Foix, but good if you want to be away from it all, nice designer touches. 977 26 89 88
The “Associació de Residències de Cases de Pagès de l’Alt Penedès” or Masies Penedès
Produce a information leaflet with most small and large independent farmhouse accommodation, Most offer bed and breakfast, some include swimming pools.

Prices for all of the above are around the 35/45 euro/night mark. If you decide to book yourself be prepared to communicate in Spanish or Catalan as the only person in the house is often the grandmother.

On the food front there are quiet a few modern restaurants in Vilafranca, Cal Ton is an excellent standard bearer. La Fabrica is a fusion of Japanese and Catalan. Casa Joana guards the Catalan high ground and requires booking. Outside of Vilafranca the best names are Cal Xim, Sant Pau d’Ordal, 93 899 30 92. El Celler in Aiguavives, 977 26 81 04. Cal Recolons 93 899 10 20 and Masia Aran 93 899 01 50 both in Sant Marti Sarroca. For a more extensive guide purchase the local newspaper of Penedès “El 3 de 8” Gastronomy is on the inside back page.

Alternatively for any information or booking in Penedès contact Paddy at El Molí, He knows where everything is and with some idea of what you want will save you a lot of time at no extra cost

Paddy Mannion
[email protected]