For the first weekend in may Falset becomes the wine capital of Catalonia when it celebrated their 14th wine fair. Priorato and Montasant are the remote and arid areas which became one of the poorest parts of Spain after the lead mining industry closed down in the 1970's and agriculture was always marginal at best.
Until a few brave and visionary souls decided to recover the old vines and plant new ones in the 1980's and 90's there was very little reason to come here other than for the mountain scenery and general tranquility of the villages.
Now it is recognised as producing some of the most exciting wines in Spain, with prices, in some cases, to match. Like most luxury goods, the last ten years has seen some real booms and these fashionable wines were leading the pack. Now comes the reality that from a dozen wineries to 82 registered with the regulatory body there is bound to be a pretty brutal shakeout process.
None of this seemed to worry the crowds who poured into this sleepy farming town for the festival to try the wonderful olive oils, varied local foods and of course the wines.The weather was truly summery and added to the festive spirit. Salud as they say here!
Penedes is only just over an hour away from Girona but it feels more like France with impressive wineries (Bodegas) dotted around and vines everywhere. They are better organised than in our local Empordà wine area where wine routes and visits are strictly for those that are well informed and have a good guide (which I am so you will see winery visits here over time.)
Vilafranca is the capital of the Penedes and has an interesting old town and a wine museum as well as a tourist information office which can provide all the maps and recommendations you will need.
We headed for the biggest Spanish brand for wine, Torres, which is only a few kilometres outside Vilafranca surrounded by vineyards and with a well organised tour which leaves every hour. The Bodega itself is massive but more interesting is walking around the grounds following one of many marked paths past an old mansion which emulate the great French chateaux and is still lived in by the family.
The main problem with the Penedes is that climate change may make its wine producing capacity decline, something that Torres has been anticipating by planting new vineyards in the Pyrenees foothills a few hours north.
For passing a few pleasant hours wandering around vines, stopping to eat in a good restaurant and trying some of the local wines, this area is perfect, SALUD!