I have a WSET certificate from the days of my food and wine diploma at Leiths. Despite this, I remain hopelessly insecure about wine deferring to whoever I’m with an “I’ll have what you’re having”. If anything learning the fundamentals of wine exposed me to how much I don’t know on the subject.
When I received an invitation from Chateau Jean Leon for a weekend experience with them I wrote to a friend in the wine world and asked her opinion.
“Jean Leon? Are they good? Should I attend this?”
“Absolutely!” she replied.
Which is how I find myself car sharing with a local lifestyle blogger called Patry (Sabores y Momentos), North of Barcelona, fields of vines on either side. We turn onto a road flanked by olive trees and drive up the hill to a modern building: Chateau Jean Leon. It’s still morning. There is mist in the valleys and tall swirls of insects, their wings catching and reflecting the sunshine.
Patry and I are joined by another 15 bloggers and journalists and introduced to Asier Vivanco who is our host for the day. We start with some background about the founder of the vineyard: Ceferino Carrión who emigrated to the US in the 1940’s where he lived out the American dream. Becoming a taxi driver in New York, then a waiter at Frank Sinatra’s restaurant befriending the stars of the era, before opening his own restaurant: La Scala.
Then in 1963, this self-starter returned to Catalunya to create his own wine – not with local grapes but with the French varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay. While I muse over the unlikely inception of this vineyard, Asier declares we are to set off on an exploration of the grounds on a “burricleta”. “Burri” from the Spanish word for donkey: “burro”. Burricletas, it turns out, are electric bicycles – a gentle pedaling is all that is needed for the bikes to propel us up the slopes we encounter.
The terrain is stunning. Row upon row of vines. Oranges, ochres and red foliage because it’s autumn and we are inland. Noisy insects. Unfamiliar earthy smells. Members of our group keep stopping to take pictures of it all. “Let’s get going!” Asier chides us. Up a hill we follow him, where he dismounts and begins to walk up a steeper hill. There, with verdant valleys on one side and the moutains of Montserrat on the other, a table has been set with snacks and two large bottles of Jean Leon. Asier becomes instantly animated telling us to consider the “acidity, tannins, alcohol and the intensity and persistence of the wine”.
“Make sure to eat something! This wine will knock you off you burricleta if not.” he warns us.
We make our way back for lunch where a long table has been set. We try a full-bodied, oaked Chadonnay: Vinya Gigi, so distinctive, I buy one at the end of the tour (€19), a Merlot called Vinya Palau and finally a Cabernet Sauvignon with its label designed by the artist Modest Cuixart.
As we eat, the clouds swallow the sun and a breeze starts rattling the leaves around us. Everyone is engaged in a typical Spanish sobremesa, so I go off in search of the loos. Inside, I find one of our waiters kneeling on the ground, taking a picture of something. I walk over to look: it’s a large praying mantis, as big as my hand. Large enough that I see its eyes turn to look at me. It strikes me then: the fields buzzing with insects, this creature here – Asier told us that this vineyard is ecological, the plants are not treated with the chemicals and have not wiped out insect life.
Patry and I leave feeling satiated with food and drink of course but also with beauty. Infected by Asier’s enthusiasm and the small team putting their all into maintaining this vineyard and developing it with Enotourism.
On our way out Patry suddenly yells: “STOP”! I slam on the brakes and look to where she is pointing. Two squat trees heavy with persimmons. We wade through the mud, sacrificing our shoes. The trees drip persimmon juice on our heads as we fill our bags with fruit.
An unforgettable day.
* I was a guest of Chateau Leon. All views expressed here are my own. For more information on Wine Tourism events, including cultural ones, look at their Facebook page.