13-08-2012

Wines from the wind

It’s not terribly easy to explain the Tramuntana, this northern wind that blows heavily across the Empordà counties in Catalonia, the northeast corner of Spain. Sure, it’s a wind, but it’s not just any wind. During the winter, it can gust up to 200kph wreaking all manner of havoc in the area. In the summer, while not as strong, it can whip up fires and either decrease or amplify the heat depending on its devilish mood. But, about the only way to see it in action is in a video like the one I shot some time back during a tranquil summer day in Figueres. While it’s running about 3x normal speed, you can see how the Tramuntana blows down from the mountains (on the left), across the plain, and out to the sea (on the right).

But, this isn’t a website about meteorology, it’s one about wine and this Tramuntana wind is a defining aspect to the wines made in the Empordà and Costa Brava region. We saw it firsthand with visiting the vineyards of Hugas de Batlle when we were nearly knocked off the slopes. But, that wasn’t the only time as whenever you visit one of these wineries in DO Empordà, you’ll most likely find this wind blowing.

It was a constant narrative thread while we were writing the enotourism guide (which is now available in print and digital) for the region. Of course, while you can taste a different type of soil that vines feast upon, can you really taste this wind? In an indirect way, most definitely. You see, it helps the winemakers to grow higher quality grapes without the use of chemicals and other screwy, less than awesome things that many modern wineries do. Many of them are organic or even biodymanic (like Mas Estela) because this massive degree of wind keeps down pests and tosses the leaves around, helping to prevent mildew. Martí Fabra and Roig Parals are two other excellent wineries that take advantage of this as well.

Sometimes it can be a hindrance as it will snap the vines just as the grapes are at their fullest. Or, in the case of Can Sais, it can thwart the intentional onset of Noble Rot, thus making it impossible to create a specific type of dessert wine. Of course, it’s a decent trade off if that means you don’t have to be out in the vineyards, flooding them with pesticides.

The Tramuntana doesn’t guarantee that the wines will be perfect. Naturally, a great deal is left to the winemaker. But, it goes a long way to helping build a very solid foundation and uniting the wineries that call Empordà home.