THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Through the Rioja country to Zaragoza
Spanish wine

Homage to Catalonia

2016 September Porrera-001I rose early in Zaragoza to rendezvous with my host in Catalonia at noon. Things didn't go well. My splendid modern hotel was in the part of town developed for Expo 2008 and none of the roads were in Speranza's database. Her satellite navigation system is a banal piece of software. It can be user-upgraded when installed in lesser machines but Ferrari has inexplicably (a) blocked the necessary downloads and (b) failed to issue any updates itself. Spain has spent a lot of money in upgrading its infrastructure recently. I have spent a lot of time in the last couple of days crossing what my system thought were open fields!

I managed to get myself lost for a while until I realised that all I needed to do was follow the signs for the autovia to Barcelona. I made matters worse by not understanding that the rather clever Spanish roundabouts have a road through the centre but require you to exit if you actually want to use the junction. I didn't grasp that until AFTER performing a – probably unauthorised, though not expressly forbidden – U-turn somewhere in the suburbs to get me back on the right path.

All this  ineptitude cost me my effort in rising early (and sacrificing breakfast not to rise even earlier) and put me under time pressure. Nonetheless I stuck to my plan to get off the autovia and drove to Catalonia on two lane highways meandering through hills, forests and beautiful countryside. A few "Ferrari moments" to overtake trucks struggling up steep hills put me ahead of the game again and I arrived twenty minutes early.

Then I had another bout of ineptitude to make Enzo's ghost cringe. While admiring how much her language sounded like an odd meld of Spanish and French, I almost entirely failed to understand some directions from a kindly local. I drove through the winding, uneven and constantly narrowing streets of the village where I am spending the weekend until a brief moment of connectivity with Google Maps showed me my hotel was down a lane to my left. I could see what looked like garage doors at intervals, including one at the far end where the hotel was. If the locals could manoeuvre into their garages, I reasoned, I must be able to drive down their street. Wrong. My host, whose winery I am here to photograph, arrived to find me stuck. Laughing, he told me that the "garage doors" were entrances to workshops and/or wineries. No-one had ever tried to drive down there before. Less than ten minutes after arriving in town, I was a local celebrity.

With my friend's help I reversed gingerly back up the steep hill, folding in my wing mirrors just when I needed them more than ever, and succeeded in escaping without a scratch. I parked in the car park outside the village and headed off in my friend's car to begin my photo-assignment.

La Priorat is home to one of Spain's only two DOQ wine appellations – signifying the highest quality. Rioja is the other and better known. An old business friend from my days in Poland now lives in Barcelona and, among his other ventures, is co-owner of the region's most modern winery, producing splendid whites and reds. Speranza being safely parked for the day, I had occasion to sample rather a lot of it in the course of the afternoon. My friend hauled my equipment around on a fun, all terrain, diesel powered buggy that could climb the vineyard's steep terraces. I now have the keys for that so that I can get about tomorrow.

The harvest is in progress. My immediate task was to photograph the staff sorting the grapes – the only process that won't continue over the weekend. I was then shown around the estate and talked through the production process so that I could understand what I was photographing. The passion of the young man in charge – a PhD in chemistry – for the scientific execution of his ancient task was impressive, as was his connection with nature. He's a happy, relaxed and sociable guy, more than happy to explain everything to a viticultural novice, but he confessed he had not been sleeping for the last few days because of the harvest. The crop is good and his vines are groaning with high quality fruit but all it would take was a hailstorm and one was forecast. As we worked, there was a magnificent thunderstorm in progress and his anxiety was a tangible presence. The threatened hail didn't turn up, fortunately, and the vines welcomed the heavy rain.

I had great fun with the photography, with catching up with a friend I haven't seen for fifteen years and with getting to know the young winemaker. Exhausted, we locked up the premises and adjourned to a local hostelry to sample Catalonian cuisine. The chef had – as her husband confessed in waiting on our table – an obsession with making "marmalade" out of odd ingredients to garnish her dishes but despite that affectation the fare was rustic, tasty and wholesome. My friend and I had every more abstruse discussions about politics, science, philosophy and "spirituality" (though we never succeeded satisfactorily in defining this last) over a great meal and terrific local wine.

I retired happily to my bed in the heart of a beautiful medieval village having enjoyed a fun, civilised evening. Life is good and – for all the discontents usually paraded here when the blog is not in travel photography mode – I am a very lucky man.

Comments