Category Archives: Albariño Wineries

FALL 2019: Meeting Pilgrims

Saturday-Monday, September 28-30, 2019

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA

We arrived in Santiago de Compostela around noon to await the appearance of two special pilgrims:  my sister Betsy and her friend Missie. They had begun their trek on the French Camino September 15 in Ponferrada, Spain.

From there they trekked over 135 miles–some a bit more strenuous than others…

to reach Saint James’ final resting place in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Max began identifiying the possible directions from which they’d appear. He then staked out a hidden position to alert me so I could document their final steps into the square.

Under a glorious blue sky and a perfect early Fall day these two tired, but exhilarated, pilgrims arrived!

After some celebratory beers with two rather dazed pilgrims

we drove them to their next destination, one that they were more accustomed to…

and one where I was fortunate to share some girly time with both.

The next morning found the three of us back at the Cathedral’s square in now rainy weather

where Betsy and Missie saw the true end of their camino (St. James’ tomb). Some candles were lit for special folk

before heading back to the hotel where these two pilgrims enjoyed a much deserved glass of vino

and well-earned good night’s rest, demonstrated by my sister sleeping like, well, like someone who’s walked 135+ miles.

FINISTERRE

On Monday Max picked us up for a pilgrimage (by car) to Finisterre. Max, our friend Robbie, and I had sailed by this ‘end of the earth’ point and anchored in the Ría de Corcobión earlier this summer; but, we hadn’t actually gone to the final site for those walking beyond Santiago.

In spite of the fog the four of us joined other visitors wandering around in the gray mist. If you happened to be a legitimate pilgrim who had walked to Santiago you could pay a euro to receive your final stamp.

As you can see from their booklets they acquired these badges of “I was here” along their camino but opted out of some due to the long lines at key locations.*  Can’t blame them. I’d do the same if it meant standing another three to four hours on tired peds.

*They described one city where busloads of people were dropped off in Sarria, exactly 100kms from Santiago. This distance qualified as an official camino. However, Betsy and Missie said the walk changed drastically from one filled generally with contemplative souls to a gaggle of chattering, wanna-be pilgrims, some disrupting the tranquility with boom boxes and FaceTiming. 

After receiving their stamps they told us it was the first time they had to pay for one, meaning he shouldn’t have charged. Their saying that made me wonder how many entrepreneurial souls were out there flashing some ‘official’ stamps and ink pads along with a collection purse?

After portraits

and some lunch in the nearby town of Corcobión, we returned Missie to the luxurious hotel where she’d begin her travels back to Cincinnati while Betsy accompanied us back to JUANONA for a short stay. And, I say short because she manages to time her boat visits based on the number of days between showers.* Fortunately, for her, during her time with us we managed to include a night in a hotel :)

And, just so you know, Missie walked an earlier part of the French Camino last year and may walk another one next year (!). That’s a heck of a lot of trekking.

*When we’d told her we showered every five days due to possible issues filling JUANONA’s water tanks north of the Arctic Circle she managed to fly in and out for exactly five days, i.e., the length she’d go showerless.

Tuesday-Saturday, October 1-5, 2019

SOUTHERN GALICIA

Since Betsy hadn’t seen this province of Spain we spun her around the southwest part of this Galicia.  We visited sites Max and I hadn’t seen before as well as some we had.

Here’s a quick description of our touring:

PARQUE NATURA MONTE ALOIA

Making our way up to Mount Aloia Natural Park we stopped in at the information desk where an avid young staff member eagerly greeted us. During his 15-minute introduction to the park he ensured we knew its history (a park as of December 1978), the distinction of it being a natural vs national park (not quite sure as both protect the environment), and the importance of conserving its flora and fauna.

I admire the passion some bring to their work but sometimes a little goes a long way, so we were thankful when a couple entered into his sphere and we could gracefully exit. Continuing up to the top we took a short stroll around snapping panoramic views at look-out points.

Our stop was a nice place to stretch our legs but not a ‘must-see’ destination unless you really plan to follow paths around the park, which we didn’t.

TUI

Sitting across the river Miño from Portugal the Galician city of Tui offers the perfect site for perusing a medieval city. Starting with the Romans Tui grew into a strategic fortress under the Spanish king Alfonso IX. And, proof of this is the Santa Mariade Tui Cathedral begun 1120, completed 1180, and consecrated 1225.

With a facade more akin to defending a town than worshipping in it, the cathedral stares down at the medieval streets ringing its exterior, all once enclosed by a wall.

Lunch at Ideas Peregrinas, a cafe offering vegan and other healthy options for transiting pilgrims,

reminded us we were at the first stop in Galicia for those on the Portuguese Camino. As did the universal camino arrow pointing the way.

Luckily our  own camino only required circling around the cathedral on lovely stone lanes.

Not only did we see remnants of Roman drainage systems

catch mesmerizing views across to Portugal,

but also watched Max re-enact an encounter Max, Robbie and I had with a disgruntled señora in  Camariñas.

Along our walk signage identified buildings associated with Tui’s Sephardic Jewish citizenry.

Once a vibrant segment of Spain’s culture, this changed with Spain’s 1492 Edict of Expulsion. The law required Jews to convert, depart, or die; and, some of those who did convert (Converso Jews) were later convicted of continuing to practice Judaism.

I was aware of the ugliness of the Spanish Inquisition formally established by King Ferdinand II (1452-1516) and Queen Isabella I (1451-1504) but had never heard of two items displayed in the cathedral’s museum:  sanbenitos. Later I read those accused of heresy but who had repented wore these yellow and red cloaks and a conical hat while being paraded through the streets (usually with no clothes on below the belt) in disgrace. The cloaks also served as banners in the church reminding parishioners of the dangers of heresey.

I guess, though, the wearers of these cloaks were the lucky ones. They returned home. The unrepentant heretics adorned with the black cloaks ended up at a human BBQ. Lovely.

An intriguing footnote to this 1492 edict is Spain’s vote on a law 522 years later offering citizenship to the descendants of those Sephardic Jews forced to flee. To read more here’s a recent article describing this endeavor a heck of a lot better than I could ever do: “Spain’s Attempt to Atone for a 500-Year-Old Sin“.

A GUARDA

We spent the night in A Guarda known for its cluster of hill-top castros of Santa Trega.

Here early settlers established a fort and village. Dating from over 2000 years and occupied into the 1st Century these granite ruins (along with a renovated unit)

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can be found throughout Galicia, yet this was the largest yet we’d visited.*

*In previous posts I’ve said these are Celtic settlements; however, some say a better description is Castro settlements to avoid defining these inhabitants definitely as Celtic (the Celtic-Galician connection has been disputed over the years). 

Built when people in the Iron Age began settling down, the locations changed through the centuries from defensive to more sheltered and close to crops and grazing lands. Either way they’re impressive.

The darkening sky provided dramatic lighting and an eerie atmosphere as we walked around the empty grounds. It was a relief to return to the car for a drive to the town and our hotel. And some Spanish vino :)

OIA

The next morning we followed the coastal road north stopping at the Santa María Monastery.

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The Cisterian monks (a branch of the Benedictines) established this site in the 12th century, the only Cisterian monastery built on the sea. Strategicially located, the monks here sometimes served as fighters, such as when they repelled Turkish pirates in 1624. This earned them the distinction “the artillery monks”.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t tour the monastery (now a private building) and the parish church was closed. But, we could still admire its uncompromising stance right on the edge of the sea. Which one of us had to see just how close.

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BAIONA

As we continued north we diverted from the coast to inland. Max, especially, had been looking forward to traveling through this area ever since he had read some friends’ cruising notes describing wild horses roaming the hillsides.

The moutain horses of Galicia evolved from the practice of the Catholic clergy being allowed to own the horses but not take care of them (a bit odd, don’t you think?). Yet, when we had asked about these horses at a tourist information center the staffer laughed, then kindly explained they aren’t exactly wild. They’ve been tagged and often vaccinated during the annual Rapa das Bestas (Capture of the Beasts). That still didn’t affect Max’s mission to discover these fierce and independent equines.

We avidly searched the countryside as we climbed into the countryside. Initially we saw roaming sheep and roaming cows, even ‘Watch Out For Horse’ signs,

but no roaming horses… until we reached a broad expanse where all three of us excitedly yelped, ‘Look! a horse!’.

We quickly began scouting out a possible turn-off so we could document our lucky find. Unsure of how the wild animal would react Max took full precautions…

because, as you can see, this horse was, indeed, a most dangerous stallion ready to charge:

I couldn’t resist snapping a shot of the intrepid photographer while my sister calmly rolled down her window and opened the door to look at the horsey. I can only imagine the thought bubbles the cartoonist Gary Larson would use to animate these two scenes.

After spotting our first one or two of these terrifying beasts plenty more came into our view as we headed down towards the coast and Baiona, JUANONA’s southernmost port of call this summer.

This lovely resort town sported an elegant marina, a replica of Christopher Columbus’ 1492 PINTA, and a parador, one of the government-run hotels showcasing Spain’s scenic/historical treasures. We toured Betsy around the marina then ended up eating a late lunch on one of the parador’s terraces overlooking the bay. The view was a bit better than the lunch, which appeared a little singed. And, yes, it’s suppose to have the window to the fried egg…

ALBARIÑO WINERIES

Fully sated we returned to our car for the our next destination:  Granbazán, one of the many wineries found in the Rias Baixas (Southern Rias) along the Ruto do Vino (Wine route). Both this bodega and Paco & Lola, a more recent and modern winery, had been recommended by a cruising friend whose notes have guided us to many favorite spots during our Galician cruising.

Granbazán

Named after a noble familly from the area, Granbazán began on a huge estate with the first wines produced in 1989. Located in Val do Salnés, the coldest and wettest of the five DO (denomination of origin designating a quality-controlled wine) Rias Baixas’ sub-regions, the vineyard uses the delicate albariño grapes to produce a light-bodied, citrusy white wine.

Catching the last possible tour an hour before closing time the guide initially appeared hurried; but, the more questions we asked, the more she relaxed into her role. We three, along with a German couple who joined us later, spent an information hour listening to our host.

She began with showing us how they grow their grapes:  trellised horizontally. By keeping the plants off the ground the grapes are less susceptible to issues from too much moisture.

She let us pick one of the green globes to sample. After doing so, it immediately became apparent these grapes had something special to offer winemakers. Not that I’m a connoisseur of grape-testing. They just tasted yummy.

Leading us into the production area, she pointed out three large metal drums stationed off the floor. Here the winemaking begins with cold soaking or maceration:  the grapes are placed in these refrigerated tanks for the initial collection of juice. The grapes slowly press down on themselves due to gravity. They then release their juices meshing with the skins, the latter adding extra flavor (and color) to the extract.

After draining the extract the juice is then fermented in stainless steel tanks standing in the opposite side of the room.

Strict rules regulating production of their albariño wine apply; yet, the authorities allowed Granbazán to introduce a watering system in 2017 due to the extreme lack of rain, a sign of the affects of a changing climate affects on Spain’s wine-making.

The vineyard also produces some red wine with grapes grown in northern Spain. Overall, Granbazán produces roughly 800,000 bottles. Some of them were headed to Texas with a shipping price of over $1,000, including a huge bottle that would be difficult to lift much less pour.

Paco & Lola

The second winery presented a completely different feel from the stately grandeur of Granbazán. Paco & Lola began in 2005 as a cooperative and quickly became known for its polka dots. The modern facility happily embraces its jaunty brand personality, and our guide cheerfully led us through production, shipping and merchandising areas.

When we asked how the wine came to be named she laughed and said it’s completely made up. There isn’t any ‘Paco’ or ‘Lola’ affiliated with the company. The winery just wanted two names that were easy to pronounce and recognizable, i.e., marketable. Increasing their visibility they decided to use the polka dots, which many predicted would stymie this vineyard’s wine sales.

The nay sayers obviously were proven wrong for the wine is definitely one of the more popular (and instantly identifiable) bottles. Plus, with such a large collection of independent coop members and their grape patches, Paco & Lola can produce over 2.5 million bottles a year. That’s a lot of wine being sold, and a lot of polka dots.

She brought out food with which we could sample several bottles. While Max gladly began munching on the sardines,

I kept to the bread and Betsy, after one gulp of a mussel,

did the same.

We liked both bodegas’ wines, purchasing some bottles from each for sipping aboard JUANONA. What we should have done, though, is ship some to Maine because we’ve heard from several different sources Spain keeps the good wine for themselves (!).

PADRÓN

In addition to the Paco & Lola winery our last day of touring included a stop in another town associated with St. James:  Padrón. Here legend has it that the boat carrying his body up to his tomb in Santiago landed here, tied the line to a stone, then began the trek inland to what is now Santiago.

And, where there’s an opportunity to connect with a saint, the residents of Padrón managed to find the exact stone and keep it safe for centuries.

Since Max and I had read about this during our summer in Galicia we felt obligated to see this symbol of Saint James. And, with Betsy, an official pilgrim, we felt even more compelled to stop here. So, the three of us squeezed into a parking space across the river, dodged cars and buses crossing a one-lane bridge, and entered a small church where we gazed upon this sacred item.

It wasn’t quite anticlimatic but I do reserve the right to doubt that this is THE rock. But, hey, maybe someone way back when captured the moment when this happened, put a fence around it, and announced that St. James ‘slept here’ or, at least, laid here (headless, I might add) for awhile.

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA

Saturday, October 5, 2019

We returned to JUANONA for a night of wine tasting and packing up.

The next morning we came full circle, arriving back where we were a week previously when we met Betsy and Missie fresh off their pilgrimage. This time, though, we were saying good-bye. Always difficult but eased by knowing we’d be seeing her in a few months verus half a year.

So, our shared journey ended as she caught her train to Madrid and us, our plane out of Spain, all on to new adventures.

But, before I sign off, I want to post a pic of my sister that caught me up short when I was reviewing photos. Startled me only  because she looks like a blend of our mom and her sister, Lolly. Lucky her. And, them!