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It’s almost the end of October the time when I gird up my loins and visit the local Agricultural Fair. It’s strange really because I have not liked fairs since I was in the RAF and visited Marlborough Mop. Here I walked in at one end with a wallet and out the other without it. But these fairs are different. They are a mix of fun fair, stalls, bars and farming equipment spread out around the streets of Mora La’Nova, and who knows we might just have a go on some of the rides….

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We wandered in and came to this little ride.  We stood and watched it being loaded  “do you want to go on it?” I asked my wife “yes but I want to see what it does first” she said.  Am I glad she did!  As you can see it looks lovely and calm with the arms down, but once it got going it not only went up and round IT BOUNCED!!!! ohhhh I could see us both throwing up.  It was fun for the youngsters they squealed and laughed then a big sigh came as the machine stopped and the lights went out, next minuet it started going again BACKWARDS.. bouncing, spinning in the dark, well we may not have been on there but just watching was fun.

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We went to have a look at the horse shed and this little chap caught our eye.  Although they are all together there is plenty of room and lots of hay in the racks.  None of these horses were undernourished, the one thing the people here are fond of are their horses. In fact I would say they were a little over weight. It’s just that with the wire fence – to stop people being kicked – and a horses bum nudging him he did look fed up.

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There were quite a few makes of tractor on display but I noticed that John Deer did not seem to be represented. Now this is strange as last year they had quite a display.  But then I noticed tucked at the end of the line two Lamborghini’s, the sports tractors of the tractor world? Where are Top Gear when they are needed….

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Just opposite the tractors were the various bits of equipment needed to farm here. Compressors, sprayers, rotivators generators, tree shakers and much more.   I am not sure what the large machine is but as you can see it is rather like and octopus with its 8 arms.

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We walked on and came to some rides we thought we could go on. This was a particular favourite unfortunately we were to big but there was no lack of fun for the youngsters.  One of the rides was mechanical bulls.  Three abreast and could seat around 6 people, it started up moving back and forwards then it gave a lurch and the riders all fell off onto the cushioned floor.  The laughter never stopped. So being two big for the rides we wandered off to the other side and the wine section.

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We visited the hall where dried meats, stalls for household stuff were on display and in the middle of these I found ‘Celler Maset Del Lleo’ and yes I hope to visit.  Then out into the balmy night and the entrance to the wine section.  People were crossing the bridge to this area to buy their tickets – which includes a glass – so they could taste the various wines of the exhibiting Cellers.

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I went to visit Pascona’s stand but unfortunately could not get near enough to talk or take a picture as they were busy selling their reds.

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We could see Batea was in the same situation and were reminded that Gandessa Wine Fair is on this week, so more visits. Such a wide range of wines here.

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Now with the harvest just finishing – due to the cool weather at the beginning of the year – I had visited El’Masroig and learnt they have two new wines for export being launched soon.  So when we arrived at their stand we had to wait as people were busy tasting and buying wines.  It is so nice to see old friends and even better when you find they have won awards. The nuclear plant in Asco had given them 4 awards for their wines, wonderful.  There is another visit on the cards so I am looking forward to that.

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To reach the wine area you can either cross the bridge or, as we did, walk round past the church. Here we found some craft stalls and a few more tractors.  Also spread out along the street were traditional wood burning fires, plus new ones especially for burning the new pellet type of fuel which is made from the husks of almonds and the residue of the olives. Here you also find a small bar with it’s tables and chairs set out in front and across the road next to a stall selling Iberian Ham and cheeses. It was to here we came after walking round and decided to have a couple of glasses of wine whilst trying some of the ham and cheese.

It was fun sitting there watching as people came and went moving the tables and chairs to make bigger seating areas. Once or twice friends would turn up invite others join them at their table. So without hesitation table, chairs and drinks would up sticks and march to join the party, I do love this country.

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After this we decided to head home so took a leisurely stroll back to the car park.  I noticed how few people were around although this large eatery was doing very well. When we reached the car the reason was made clear, when I turned the engine on the clock said it was just past midnight.  So although the Agricola section was shut the fun fair, bars and eateries were going strong.   Here’s to next year.

(c) Michael Douglas Bosc

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“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.

First Carbonic Maceration:

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.


The traditional method:

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.

Open top method:

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 celler@cellermasroig.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.

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I had been promising my wife we would take a trip to the Delta to try for some photographs of birds and other things for a story I’m writing. So when we woke and found that although very windy the sun was shining and it was warm we decided to go. On the way we passed through an avenue of  Beech trees, it is, in my opinion, a typical continental thing. When they are in leaf  it looks very pretty.  We should have had a warning of what was to come as there were bits of tree’s in the road.  Further on as we neared one of the roundabouts the police were directing all the lorries into a side parking area, ah we thought they are doing a road inspection wrong…  Approaching  the road to go round Amposta, we found the traffic slowing, police and workmen were by the bridge that crosses it and there at the side of the road was the direction sign from the bridge – wind had blown it over the safety rail and down onto the road. 

Avenue of Beech Trees

The drive down there is pleasant. You follow the river Ebro to Tortosa, then on through some of the rice-growing finca’s untill turning right on to the road round Amposta. After this you travel the N340 to St Carles de la Rapita. This is a pleasant little seaside town with a marina, good beaches and some nice restaurants and bars.  We have a favourite Tapas bar and beach bar. So looking for a coffee we headed first to the beach bar which was shut and had also had some slight wind damage. So after watching the men cutting up the tree that had been blown over, we turned and headed along the water front to the Tapas bar, passing the marina and its occupants.

Go Find Your Own Bar

 

At the bar we had Patatas Bravas, Calamari Romanos, sausage’s, spiced and prawns.  Then we drove out to the Delta and the sea. The route we took was an arc, taking pictures as we went.  Driving along we saw the tractor that is used to plough the rice fields a strange contraption, a sort of military vehicle with slatted  wheels. But it travels over the paddy fields with no problem unlike a normal tractor which would soon get bogged down.  

Rice Tractor

My wife spent a lot of time trying to get a close up of a Marsh Harrier much to our glee it proved to be a real task.  When she crept towards it waited until she was close enough to get a good shot then took off, again and again.  She did get a few distance ones but not close up.

Marsh Harrier

 

We then came across  this water-mill. Instead of a windmill with sails to pump the water these are in the form of an Archimedes Screw, which pumps the water round the water beds and ditches.  With the little house painted white,  they are both cared for and in working order. It sits on the bank near to an observation hide where you can watch the various birds on the marshes.

Archimedes Screw

The wild life was fascinating.  The shots of waders, flamingos, ducks, heron and seagull were taken from the viewing hut. Several more were taken as we drove back towards the main road, so all in all it was a success.  I even managed to get a shot of the long-horned cattle that graze there.

You Really Wanted a Seagull

 

 All in all it was a pleasant if windy day.  The Sun was out it was warm 17c and relaxing. So when we reached the N340 we found the wind had picked up a little.  Well, that was an understatement, it had picked up a lot and we had not gone far when approaching a bridge saw just how much.  There on their side were two lorries, a small one and an articulated one. The articulated lorry was on the barrier of the bridge with its window screen smashed from the outside so I suppose they had to get the driver out that way.  I really hope he was ok.  We finished the journey on the flat using the El Perello pass, seeing all the windmills feathered against the wind.   

This brought home just how powerful nature is.

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As I think I have mentioned before up here in the forest we have to be self sufficient. Our electricity is supplied by solar so we only have to get our water delivered.  Now we have lived like this for over 6 years and are quite happy, we chose this farm for its location, charm and peacefullness, knowing full well that we would have to have delivered 5,000 ltrs of water every 3/4 months. When we first moved here we were told about Mannell the local `mad tractorista’, a jolly chap always smiling and ready to help.  So Mannell has delivered our water since then with many a laugh and the odd whoopsy. 

He drives a rather smart blue tractor that pulls the water bowser around, and he like all our neighbours does not go slow.  The first year he tried to deliver water he had a puncture at the start of the track and ended dumping all the water. The next day tyre fixed he delivered our water during a small storm water, water, everywhere, laughing at the  situation. But had a friend with him in a van with a spare tyre just incase, the track was not as smooth as it is now.  Mannell has become a friend over the years and nothing seems to frazz him, if we are out when he delivers (as has happened) he simply fills the cisterna leaves then we have to wander round to find him and pay for it, knowing I am at the Petanca courts nearly every afternoon he waits for us to find him.  

Take last winter. We had snow here which normally lasts around a day or so, this time however it lasted for nearly a week and was several inches deep.  We had ordered a delivery before it arrived, and Mannell was not surprised when we cancelled it as the cisterna was full.  Then last year on our last delivery there was a small whoopsy, backing up to the cisterna the bowser caught the edge of it and partly demolished the corner.  It was an accident no real damage done, I have since rendered the corner and all is well. 

So when Mannell delivered the water this time I let the wife direct him in, no problem, a big grinning face greeted us with the words “sin nieve” and lots of chuckles, he had not forgotten.  As the water was pumped in I talked to Mannell about the new cisterna I was thinking of building.  “No, no, no need to do that cost you a lot of money. I would simply get two more tanks like this (we have a 2,000 ltr header tank) and place them side by side, link them with a pump and all will be fine”. We went on to discuss the pros and cons of this and  where I might better place these extra tanks. I like Mannell he is pleasant, cheerful and always waves or speaks when we see or pass him in the car.

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