Grape Harvest along the Camino de Santiago
What comes to mind when you thing about Spain? Fiesta? Running of the Bulls? Food – tapas and pintxos? The Siesta? and of course, their marvellous wines! La Rioja, La Navarre, Tierre de Leon and Bierzo – the Camino de Santiago passes through each of these wine regions as it meanders west across Spain.
Walking through La Rioja was stunning. The red earth contrasting with the earthy greens and browns of the vines, fruit literally dripping form every vine. The fruit were bursting to be harvested, but I passed through this region a little early. There was little to no activity in the fields beyond the pilgrims. As I entered La Rioja, you could see pilgrims jumping into the vineyards, cameras snapping as they photographed their walk for friends and families back at home. Of course, there was plenty of La Rioja to sample as pilgrim menus throughout La Rioja featured their local wines. It was a delight to sample the regional wines and sample I did! The rich flavours of the wine complemented the food and it was easy to enjoy night after night. La Rioja has a wine to be proud of – a wine to be enjoyed with friends and stories of the day. (Check out What is the Flavor of Rioja for more insight into the region.)
As I entered the Tierre de Leon and Bierzo a short time later, the fields were abuzz with life – the Grape Harvest was in full swing. Basket upon basket of grapes, both red and white, were being loaded into trucks, cars and tractors, hauled into town and ready for pressing. Older wines, planted in a more “free” fashion that the newer, orderly vines, were being carefully tended to by the grape pickers. The quiet backroads of the Camino de Santiago became a super highway of pilgrims and grape transport, dust floating in the air along the dusty tracks. The smells of wine floated in the air as I passed one truck, an older man in rubber boots quietly stomping the grapes before loading into the van. (I asked to take a picture, however he declined. It would have made a great shot but I had to respect his wishes.)
For those not familiar with the Region of Bierzo, I borrow these words from the Wine Spectator:
“The climate and land are exceptional,” says Ricardo Palacios, looking over his vineyards in Corullón clinging to a steep hillside shimmering under the summer sun. “It’s like Burgundy here, with warm summers, cool nights and plenty of precipitation — and we think we can make Burgundy-style terroir wines.”
A little further up the road, as I was nearing Ponferrada, I asked 2 men if I could take their photo with the grapes. A little confusion ensued over the request and response, but before I knew it, they came back to me with a gift – a bottle of wine from last years harvest! What a treat. Delighted, I accepted their offering, knowing that it would be put to great use that evening for a picnic of local cheeses, choriza and fruit was already dancing in my head.
You could see the pride and passion in the eyes of the people in the who lived along the Camino and the same could be said of the winemakers. There is so much history in both. For years to come, I am sure, I will remember the generosity and hospitality of the locals as I walked the Camino de Santiago, and the sights and smells of the grape harvest as I walked through wine country.