We are trying to take in the view. The wind is whipping the translators hair into a unruly mess as we look worryingly out at distant hills vanishing beneath a dark, rolling mass of cloud and rain.
The translator, an attractive 30-something American, makes a passable explanation of ‘brass monkeys’ that raises a smile to my hosts chilled face. It is north-west Spain in May and about the coldest and wettest week anyone can be bothered to recall.
The view from Castro Ventosa, here in the heart of the Bierzo region at Cacabelos, is made more dramatic with the dark grey backdrop. Castro is Pre-Roman Celtic for fortified village, this one has little remaining apart from weed infested walls rising over the plain, just one of several valleys that comprise the Bierzo wine-growing region Leon. The region itself is often cited as a transitional area between Galicia to the West and Castilla-Leon proper to the East.
A spread of poppies shimmer in furious, frivolous excitement. Such a contrast against those chunky, gnarled stumps of vines. Many have seen over 120 years of productive life their roots thrusting deep to counter baking sun and lean rain, which is the norm I’m informed.
They must be the oldest vines I’ve ever seen. The first stirrings of this years growth has topped them with vibrant green shoots. The one nearest to me appears like a swimmer half-way through a butterfly stroke – he is throwing those tendrils back like fingers on muscular arms, high above his shoulders, as his head plummets back into the stony soil.
The vines, of a variety that is going to get the grape-nerds amongst you scrabbling for the reference books, are Mencia
, a red grape unique to the area. There is no trellising across these undulating vineyards, vines this age are all bush trained and hand picked.
They produce three distinct styles of wine – young, fresh and very Beaujolais-like due to the carbonic maceration process and ‘normal’ wines that have either seen some oak ageing or not. The former are the least successful in my view (who needs more Beaujolais?), with oak ageing Mencia becomes more serious, robust but fruity and not too heavy. Full of character too.
White wines are made in Bierzo. I was looking forward to trying some golden hued Godellos for example; the planned tasting hastily re-scheduled by mobile phone as we scurry back to the mini-bus escaping the first drops from the storm.