Mountains, Monks and Wine

On a day trip out of Barcelona we hired a guide to take us to Monserrat and a wine tour in the Penedes wine region — partly because we wanted to see the monastery, but mostly because we wanted to see the countryside, the mountains and become a bit more familiar with Spanish wines. Once again, we lucked out with a charming, knowledgeable and well-connected guide, Emma.

The drive to the monastery was pretty straight forward, although simply getting out of Barcelona and the steep narrow road up to Monserrat convinced us we would never want to attempt this by ourselves.

Montserrat is a working monastery and is considered one of the most sacred places in Catalonia. Destroyed by Napoleon’s forces in 1811, the rebuilt monastery doesn’t wow you as much as the views do—but amazing nonetheless. It is also famous for a world renowned boys’ choir—the boys live and study here—and for monks who still sing the haunting Gregorian chants.

Emma hustled us into the church before mass started when they close the church (if inside, you must remain for the two hour mass). While we aren’t the least bit religious, and after seeing churches in almost every city we visited on this trip we agreed Montserrat was the best—less over the top baroque, fewer tortured Christs, and only one very important Madonna and child. The Black Virgin.

While the Black Virgin is behind glass, for an extra fee you can join the devout and touch her orb.

Even here we couldn’t miss the separatists tension in the Catalonia region—a little pro-independence dressing on some statuary which we were told would be promptly cleared away as soon as a monk spotted it.

We could have ridden the gondola or taken the funicular to the top, but neither of those appealed to us and certainly wouldn’t to anyone with a fear of heights. The mountain is crisscrossed with hiking trails which had much more appeal if we had more time.

And then it was down the mountain to the Penedes wine appellation and a tour of the Albet i Noya winery. Producing about a million bottles a year, this is a totally organic production — using natural fertilizers, relying on rain for irrigation (although climate change means a drip system is being installed) and refusing to use any anti-fungal agents. If the vines get a fungus, production is simply lower. Given the variety of grapes grown, harvest is staggered so only a small crew is needed beyond the winery staff to pick the grapes by hand. It is also a pioneer in developing new varietals resistance to climate change.

We missed the harvest but did get to walk through the process, mostly powered through solar panels.

Watched the local sparkling wine bottled. Penedes is famous for its sparkling wines, cavas, but this winery doesn’t call it’s wine cava because it withdrew from the Cava Association over concerns there were too few controls on quality. Too many bad wines labeled as cava, they said. Have to say their sparkling wine was the best we had in Spain, maybe the best we have had in a long time, cava or not.

The winery was once a farm and today’s winemaker once worked on the farm before starting his winery.

Lunch began with a wine tasting of a couple white wines and then two reds. Not to get too much into the weeds of wine tasting, we were impressed. And impressed enough to go to the hassle of buying a bottle to take home to our Syrah loving friends.

We were lucky our guide knew this winery, knew the winemaker and his passionate staff! Truly one of the best days in our month long trip to Spain. We wished we had connected with her sooner to tap into one of her full day wine tours or her tour to her homeland, Andorra.

One thought on “Mountains, Monks and Wine

  1. I am enjoying your blog and your trip. Such fun to read. My daughter and I went to Montserrat by train and did rid the funicular up the hill! Such a great experience and beautiful place to visit. We enjoyed hiking a few hikes around the monastery as well. Sure wish I’d know about the winery!

    Thanks again for sharing! Penni


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