You had me at Merlot

Parés Baltà is a family owned winery in the Penedès region dating back to 1790.  There, they produce wines and Spanish cavas from the grapes that grow in their own vineyards.  Since the 2004 harvest, the vineyards have been certified as ecological and organic.  The winery is located in Pacs del Penedès, which is approximately 55 kilometers south of Barcelona.  It is a great place to visit to learn how they make their wines, take guided tours to the vineyards and winery and learn more about organic soil and aging that is an important part of the organic wine making process.

There is a third generation of the family that is active in running the winery.  The person who founded their empire is the grandmother who is 97 years old.  The name of the vineyard, Parés Baltà, comes from the grandfather’s name and the wife’s name, Balta.  They have a custom of naming all of their wines after the ladies in the family because the two granddaughters work as chemists, and they make the blends and determine when to the pick the grapes.  IMG_7820Now they are beginning to actually produce enough wine so that they can export to the United States.  They are already in several states including, Massachusetts, New York City, Pennsylvania, Texas and Connecticut.  They are only selling a select number of wines in these states but hope to expand within the next two years.  This vineyard along with the other two that they own, produce almost 300,000 bottles per year. enology-ParesBalta-MElenaJimenez

In the Penedès region alone, there are different types of earth that make up each vineyard that this family owns.  The first is the non-eco system part which is just earth and there they use pesticides.  The second is in the mountains where the earth is made up of a lot of red clay, which creates a different type of grape to be grown.  The third is on their Parés Baltà vineyard farm, which is made up mostly of dirt with a lot of slate, and that slate adds certain chemicals and flavors to the wine.

The vineyards of the Parés Baltà estates extend to a variety of soils with different climates.  The climates are defined by different areas of sun exposure, rain fall, altitude etc.  These climates and soils favor the grapes differently which effects the development and growth of the wine and how it will taste.  This estate is situated on altitudes ranging from 170 to almost 800 meters and is only 10 kilometers from the sea.  In their vineyard, they have a wide range of calcareous soil, clay, areas with important quantities of marine fossils—all of which play an active role and influence on the wines they produce.

The soil is not the only key ingredient but the grapes are also treasured at Parés Baltà.  Some indigenous grapes like the Garnatxa, the Xarel.lo, the Macabeo and the Parellada are very valuable.  With diverse soil and climate, this vineyard also has Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraimer, Pinot Noir, Mencía and Merlot, which are kept, on higher altitude grounds with cooler temperatures.  With warmer temperatures, lower down on the vineyards are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Tempranillo, Muscat, Petit Verdot, and Touriga Nacional.

Pares-Balta-2This winery cultivates the vineyard in an ecological way without use of any pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizer.  Their fertilizing process involves 300 sheep that come down from the mountains and eat the natural grass that is in the fields where other vineyards only use dirt rather than grass.  After this process, they create their excrement or sheep droppings and that goes into the soil as fertilizer. They also use bees for pollination during the flowering season.  No artificial irrigation is done; the only water that the vines will receive comes from natural rain or is taken from the roots.

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Another way Parés Baltà maintains an organic vineyard is they take the dung from cows and fill them in 450 cow horns which they burry into the ground for about 3-6 months.  After the time has reached, they empty the cow horns into a pile and use that as fertilizer.  They mix this waste with water and spray it over the fields.  The reason why they use the cow horns is because the horns contain calcium, and that is one of the things needed to grow strong plants.  The horns are only used about 3-4 times before they start to loose most of their calcium so they grind up the horns or they give them away.  A very interesting thing about the horn is that each one has rings around it and each ring represents the birth of a baby cow.

A final way that the vineyard makes their wines organic is by taking the excrement from the sheep, mixing it with some of the native plants and putting it into barrels that are buried inside the ground.  This process decomposes the excrement in the barrels for about 6 months.  After the time is up, they mix it with water to a very fine mist and they use it to spray on the leaves once the grapes are growing.   This is the same process I described above with the cow waste.

Inside the vineyard, the cellars are 40 feet underground and are in the shape of the Castilian cross and have four chambers, north, south, east, and west.  When visiting the winery, about three of the chambers were filled with cava, a special Spanish sparkling wine that is special to the region and can sit there from 6-30 months.   The cellar has a historical importance because during the Spanish Civil War people were able to hide there from Franco’s army.  The other interesting thing the cellar has is an old fashioned elevator that is over 100 years old.  This is used to lift the barrels.  Our guide explained that because there are no parts available for this old elevator if it breaks, there is nothing they can do to fix it short of replacing the entire system.

The barrels that Parés Baltà use are made of oak and most of which are built in France.  However, the wood that some of them have can actually come from America.  One of the ways that they add a distinct flavor to their wine is they purchase barrels that have been burnt on the inside.  The burnt flavor of the oak affects the taste of the wine.  However, you can only use the same barrel for a few years because longer than that, the oak  loses its potency.  Contrary to other growers, this vineyard does not sell its grapes and bottles, they only sell their wine on the farm.  If taking a tour you will be able to see the various tools used to mix the grapes including steel rods.  Not only do they use oak barrels but they also use some stainless steel silos.

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Cava wines from this particular vineyard and from other wines from this region are equal in ranking by the international authorities as those from the French champagne region.  Parés Baltà, always keeping a high quality as its goal, aims to produce some of the best and most interesting wines in the world with the unique personality that many grapes bring.

 

Parés Baltà is a very special place that offers vineyard tours, wine tastings, and interesting secrets to their underground cellars full of cava.  Through their use of organic soil and grape blends, they are able to create some of the finest wine collections in the Penedès region. If ever in the area, stop by for a beautiful afternoon and enjoy my favorite, the Honeymoon white wine.

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