A day in Catalunya

3/12/19 -

This winter, after weeks of tromping around France visiting winemakers and attending wine tasting events, I attempted to take a very short vacation in Barcelona. I had promised Manel Arinyó from Clos Lentiscus that I would visit the next time I was in the area, so I reached out to his US importers, Ana and Alvaro from Selections de la Vina. As it turned out, Alvaro was going to be in Barcelona for the same weekend, and he had no plans on Saturday, the day I had put aside for a visit to Manel. Alvaro suggested we visit Manel in the morning and then swing by Partida Creus as well. For those who are not familiar with the estate, it was started by two Italians - Massimo Marchiori and Antonella Gerona - who moved to Barcelona around 2000, and then to the countryside in the Massís de Bonastre (Penedes). Though they are "outsiders" in Catalunya (let alone in Spain), they love the region and are committed to preserving indigenous grape varieties that are systemically being torn out in favor of international varieties. They also don't seem to care what anyone thinks of them, so that helps! Both of these estates are responsible for some of the wildest and most deliciously pure natural wines of the region, and hence have contributed to countless joyful evenings with friends, so I was of course delighted to have the chance to get to know them!

The centuries old home and winery
Vines in the winter and a view from the top of the hill.

The Clos Lentiscus estate is located just south of Vilafranca del Penedès, and is situated in the middle of a national park. The winery is housed in a 14th Century building and is surrounded by vineyards and forest. It's a rugged and wild terrain, as I can personally attest from riding in the back of Manel's Land Rover to the top of the small peak overlooking Penedes and the Mediterranean Sea. There are wild herbs and flowers growing everywhere, and the smell is this wonderful combination of garrigue and sea salt. 

The house is a maze of bottles and barrels, with sparkling wines resting on the lees, demijohns strewn about, pot stills, and tanks of various sizes and shapes.

Barrels and tanks aplenty

There are also some really nice paintings and an old library.

The nice paintings I mentioned


After the visit to the vineyards, and the top of the hill, and a tasting of pretty much every wine Manel and his daughter Nuria make, I didn't want to leave! But alas, it was time to continue on to Partida Creus!

After another bumpy ride, we arrived to find that Massimo and Antonella were hosting an afternoon party that happens around this time in Catalunya. Fresh spring leeks are charred on the fire and then pulled out of their husk, dipped in romesco, and consumed by holding them in the air and lowering them into one's mouth. Having been introduced to this pastime by Pepe Raventos a few years ago, I jumped right in, much to the surprise of some locals who had never seen an American attack leeks with such gusto. 


To be fair, it wasn't all fun and feasting. We did tour the winery, and Massimo spoke about their commitment to local varieties like Garrut, Sumoll, and Cartoixa, while a group of visitors tasted wines from barrel. Philosophy was shared and questions were asked, and then the magnums appeared!

Tanks and a tour of the cellar with Massimo at Partida Creus

Finally, the sun set and we packed up and headed back to Barcelona. This most beautiful day made quite an impression on me, and left me feeling like we had stepped back in time. I was already a fan of the wines and the winemakers from these two estates, but I came back from Penedes with deep respect for what these humble people have done to preserve local traditions, and for the simple and inspiring lives they lead.

For more information, we highly recommend checking out the winemaker bios for Clos Lentiscus and Partida Creus on the Selections de la Vina website.

-Eben Lillie

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