The Harvest – at El Masroig
by Michael Douglas Bosc
“The two tractors pulled up side by side, two elderly farmers discussing the harvest, and the effect of the weather on the grapes. Their trailers, one full, one empty, who’s grapes were already being crushed and filtered finished their conversation and departed on their John Deer tractors. Now is the important time of year, grapes picked by hand under a relentless sun, the pickers sweat flowing into the dry soil, this is harvest Catalan style, this is what makes such excellent wine.”
We arrived at El Masroig Celler to be greeted by Eulalia, a cheerful young lady who is in charge of the marketing for the Celler and a daughter of one of the growers. She told us she had been helping her father with the harvest on her day off, something she has been doing for a long time.
We started our tour with a visit to farmer Josep Tost and his son Marc who were busy picking Syrah grapes in the traditional method – by hand. When we arrived the sun was beating down, but these cheery hardworking farmers along side their pickers were working away. Their grapes were also suffering from the lack of water, it has not rained since the middle of July, normally we have a few storms in late August early September but this year nothing. But the grapes were sweet and yes the wine will be of good but short on moisture. The people here are very aware of their heritage and traditions and the land dictates that these will survive.
When we returned to the Celler we were introduced to the Wine Maker Carles, who was a mine of information on both the wine and history of the Co-operativa.
Masroig is in some ways a microcosm of Spain, during the Civil War there were two Co-operativa’s, some were supporters of the Republicans others of the Nationalists. Nothing is ever clear-cut always a mixture, then the two Co-operativa’s joined together, a small village re-uniting, coming together again. They decided to use one of the Cellers for production and the other for storing the barrels whilst the wine was maturing and ageing. Working together they have invested and grown, no grand Cathedral of Wine here, but every few years, as they have grown so they have built another section.
This year 2011 they will open the latest, a large bulk storage and bottling plant. It is a new modern building which looks rather strange beside the original ones, but inside there are concrete vats beneath the ground, traditional techniques are still being used. As well as modern stainless steel vats, are French Oak Barrels, seeing the creamy coloured barrels in this setting looks somehow comforting even though they are brand new.
So it is the 14th of September, 11.00am and we are now going to take you on a journey as we see exactly how the grapes are processed.
We started the tour where the tractors bring in the grapes. First they drive their trailers to a small platform. Here a young man took a long metal pole with a juice sampler on the end, and plunged it into the grapes. He turned it then took it out, then plunged it in again, this was done several times. He then took the liquid to a table where it was analysed, showing the sugar content and likely alcohol level.
Next the tractor and trailer are driven onto the ‘weigh bridge’ where the weight is noted, the farmer has to stay on the tractor whilst this is done, he then drives the trailer to one of the hoppers. There are three of these: one for the Carbonic Maceration process, the other two are for the traditional method where the stalks are separated and taken for fertilizer.
There were two trailers waiting
to unload their grapes. One was at the hopper on its way to the traditional processing the other was at the hopper for Carbonic Maceration, so I will start there.
At the hopper the grapes, complete with stalks, are emptied onto a conveyor belt which takes them to the large rocker tanks. When these are half full they are sealed and CO2 is pumped in removing all the oxygen.
These vats lie on their side with a motorised chain attached which rocks them back and forth while the alcohol ferments inside the grapes. When they start to burst the vats are emptied into a conveyor which carries grapes and juice to the press. Here the skins are removed, and the juice pumped into the underground concrete vats to mature, whilst the skins are conveyed to a large container which once full is loaded onto a lorry and sent for recycling into alcohol.
Here the hopper was full of the Grenache grape with another trailer waiting to unload. The hopper is started and two screws push the grapes into the crushing chamber where the stalks and grapes part company. From here the Wine Maker sends the grapes down long plastic tubes to either the large cooled vats for fermentation, or to the open top vats.
This is something new to the Celler, but it is also a traditional way of fermentation, those familiar with the Australian way of wine making will recognise it. The grapes once crushed, are placed in an open topped vat which is kept cold by a water jacket and left to ferment. The skins float to the top and forms a ‘crust or lid’ which keeps out bacteria preventing them from going off. Every so often they are sprayed so that the grapes on top are dampened down preventing bacteria from breaking through. This process takes around 10 days, then the juice is transferred to barrels for maturing and ageing.
The main grape here is the Carignan then comes Grenache and Syrah with small amounts of others. The fields we visited were growing Syrah.
The red wine is aged for between 12 to 15 months depending on the type of wine being made. The white wine made from the Grenache grape is matured in French Oak barrels for around 6 months. Personally I prefer what we refer to as Vino Tinto which is a red wine slightly lighter than a Negre which has a deeper colour and more body. I have two favourites from the Celler:
Tinto Joven: This is a pleasant young red, smooth with a cherry colour with a hint of soft fruits. It is made from carignan, grenache and tempranillo grapes, and the process used is 80% traditional fermentation and 20% carbonic maceration.
Tinto de Crianza: This wine has a deeper colour, and I find this a full flavoured wine to drink, with for me, a smoothness that I am sure comes from maturing in oak barrels. It is made from carignan and red grenache grapes, and the process used is 100% traditional.
My wife likes the white wine made from the grenache grape which spends 6months maturing in the barrels.
There are a lot more wines from this Celler as I mentioned in my last article ‘An Age of Wine’, if, like me, you would like to try some, and I can recommend their Cava, you can contact Eulalia on email@example.com you will not be disappointed.
I would like to say thank you Eulalia, Carles and the staff of El Masroig for taking the time to show how their wine is made and to Josep for letting us interrupt his harvest. I hope you have enjoyed the tour as much as we did, and gained a small insight into the fascinating world of wine making.
By Michael Douglas Bosc