The weekend was a bit of rigmarole with Southwest Trains managing to make me miss my flight back from Southampton to Bergerac on the Sunday. I managed to fly back on the very early flight from Exeter to Bergerac on the Monday morning and arrived safe and sound around 11am. I was due to pick up a hire car and meet Beth Willard our new buyer in Spain to finalise a blend of Garnacha for a new wine from Calatayud.
The drive from Castillon is around six hours so I needed to make progress quite sharpish. So I’d called and left a message with the hire car the day before (Sunday) to make sure the reservation was all ok but they were closed and my flight left before they were open on the Monday. However, by the time I arrived at 11am, the hire car company told me they had cancelled my hire car as it was August and with the French holidays in full swing, they’d decided to give it to someone else.
I finally managed to get a car by 4pm and headed off towards the Spanish border from where I would turn left to Pamplona then onto Zaragoza before finally turning south to Calatayud. I arrived just after 10pm and it was still 32°C! I was kindly put up by my good friends Norrel and Sharon who live and work in the region, Beth arrived around the same time by train and we actually had an early dinner by Spanish standards!
The following day the blending session was held at the San Gregorio winery. It’s a relatively small winery with young growers averaging 34yrs old, one of whom I have visited before. It seems the full circle has come around as this was where Tony bought some of his first Spanish wines many years ago! The DO Catalayud appellation was created in 1989 and has both slate and clay limestone soils but the key here is the altitude of between 664-830m which gives the superb freshness to the hot climate fruit. We visited the clay soils in the area known locally as Armantes. The air temperature was now 43°C and the dry red soils and barren surroundings made it look Mars-like!
The heat was becoming unbearable so we took refuge for a typically late Spanish lunch at the brilliant El Ciervo (The Stag) restaurant.
The restaurant serves local dishes with flavour-packed simplicity. It reminds me of our old Voyageur restaurant in Castillon. Just like the Voyageur there is no menu, mad staff, mad chef and organised chaos. The etiquette of the lunch is to start in the downstairs bar with either a beer or a homemade punch with warm torreznos (huge strips of thick pork crackling) before (and might I add an hour later) heading upstairs for the actual lunch.
Lunch started with a ripe tomato salad, followed by fresh succulent runner beans and artichokes. The main was tender beef cheeks with homemade chips and a glass of cold local red wine, perfect. We headed back into Calatayud to get ready for the evening where we would be attending the opening of the five-day San Roque Fiesta!
It was my first time and each person must be part of a Peña (a local club). I was inducted into the prestigious Garnacha Peña which was quite a privilege due to my love of the Grenache grape. Big thanks to my friends Norrel, Sharon and their two boys James and William who invited me into the Peña. I was issued with my purple Garnacha T-shirt and we headed into town to meet the Peña. We arrived to a sea of purple and all ages were out dancing to the trumpets, tubas, bugles and drums of our Peña band!
Everyone was dressed in the colours. We had some local policemen, vineyard growers, bank managers, even the kids who were being issued with balloons, cans of foam, flour and sweets. The adults got beer and we danced behind the band who slowly (very slowly) led the way to the main square.
The streets were narrow and as we met other Peñas we played and shouted louder, pushing them back until things became very congested indeed. I do not advise wearing flip flops. In fact I was the only person wearing flip flops and a few members of our Peña seemed rather worried for the welfare of my feet … but we eventually managed to push through to the main square with our hundred or so members. We were a few kids down but nobody was worried and everybody was confident they would turn up at some point, and they did!
The opening ceremony took place in the square and once the Fiesta de San Roque was declared open the whole place went ballistic! We had Darth Vader to lookout for us but being new to the scene I almost copped it!
Suddenly we were back on the move to head to our makeshift Garnacha Peña headquarters where the gigantic Paella awaited us. Eventually (after about two hours!) we made the 300m to the entrance of our Peña and sure enough the Paella was waiting. The river of purple flowed into the marquee and suddenly beers were flowing again and tables being set ready for dinner. The place was buzzing and everyone was so friendly. Even Darth Vader was a big (very big) softy! The tables were tidied away as swiftly and quickly as they were put out and the disco began!
Everyone, the grandfathers, grandmothers, and the small children walked home together at around 4am! Fortunately the following day was a bank holiday in France so I made my way safely back home to Belves de Castillon. What an amazing experience but that was day one. Can you imagine four more? Apparently the following day the Garnacha Peña was holding a Bavarian fancy dress lunch and a pirate costume evening! Viva España!