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Stories About Spain

A Family Vendimia

Written by: Don Harris

family gathering grapes in the vineyardOne of the best times to visit Spain is in the autumn. The tour buses are long gone, Spaniards are back at work and there is a certain air of expectancy – especially in the countryside. For this is the time of the harvest, when the fruit of a summer of labor is gathered and celebrated. Of course we have our own harvest festival on Thanksgiving Day in the United States, with its turkey and pumpkins and apple pie. But for the Spanish farmer or vintner it is not just a day, it is a whole season.

Spain is the world’s largest producer of wine – ahead of even France and Italy. So a great deal of attention is focused on gathering the grapes from the vines and beginning the process of making wine. Much of the wine is produced by large wineries, but there are also thousands of families across Spain that make wine in their neighborhood or homes each fall. It is a family event with a lot of excitement. This season and celebration of wine is called the Vendimia.

During my travels I have met many fascinating people. I last introduced you to Jorge Lancho, a young man who became a friend of our family. We met him while we were learning about the Ibérico pigs living on the dehesa in Western Spain. In that case we grew in knowledge of the jamón business. He and his father produce some of the finest Ibérico ham in Spain in their small family curing house, and they shared with us their expertise and friendship.

Another young man who has become a good friend is an extremely interesting young man from Galicia, the Celtic region just north of Portugal.
man with baskets of grapes
Pablo turns out to be a very bright and inquisitive person of many talents: a web-designing, motorcycle-touring, photography-loving martial arts master and a student of current events – but most of all he loves to combine photography with his love for his native Galicia.

When Pablo and I first made contact I was on the quest for the perfect bread, which allegedly is baked in the tiny town of Cea. As luck would have it, Pablo’s grandmother lived very close to this hamlet and Pablo, along with his girlfriend Marina, volunteered to guide us there the next time we came to Galicia. My wife Ruth and I took him up on his offer and we had the most fascinating time, which I wrote up in a previous essay - you can find it here.

Since then Pablo and I have been in weekly contact and he has sent along a remarkable collection of photos taken near his hometown in coastal Galicia, as well as his motorcycle trips with Marina.

Just a few weeks ago he set the most fascinating photo essay on his involvement with the Vendimia – grape harvest. I share it with you because this is the real down-to-earth description, not something you would find in National Geographic or on Wikipedia:

Pablo writes:
workers harvesting grapes from the vines
“I know you are a lover of Spanish traditions, and as you already know, there is another “hidden" Spain, which is far away from the topics that are widely known. I mean, for example northern Spain, which is more intimate with a colder climate, and without flamenco, bullfights, and other festive events of southern Spain. That is because the history of northern Spain is closely aligned with a strong Roman tradition, which became mixed with Celtic roots instead of the Arab ones that are predominant in Andalucía, for example.

Well. As you know, Galicia is a land of wines. It is a place for the famous big vineyards of Albariño, Ribeiro, and the famous wines associated especially with Galicia. It goes without saying that wine making is ingrained as a family matter. A lot of families from rural -and not so rural- areas, and independently of their main activity, have set aside part of their own terrain to be dedicated to vines, and the making of homemade wine. This usually becomes a big family event.

And even bigger! Because traditionally, often the neighbors helped one another with their grape wine harvests in the same way that is done with the corn and wheat harvest. In particular the annual "matanza" (the pig slaughter) might involve the whole village.

Well, a few days ago we were in Rosana's family house, helping with their grape harvest. I remembered that when I was a kid I did so at my grandparents’ house in Ourense. A funny time for a kid, working "hard" with adults, a lot of grapes eaten, usually stomach aches the day after, no worries about the totally dirty clothes, caused by stepping on the grapes in the "lagar" with your cousins.

Note: I don't know if you know what is a "lagar" is in Galicia. Not sure about the translation, maybe "winery"? It is an enclosed space, like a little pool where you drop the grapes to smash them by traditionally stepping in. This makes the juice to go out to begin fermentation process.
buckets filled with grapes
When I was kid, in my house there was a lagar, about 2.5m x 1.5m (and all the kids were waiting to be let in). It was the most fun in houses where the production area was very confined, or no space at all so that a press was used.”

Through our friendship Pablo has opened my eyes to yet another tradition of Spain, the kind of ritual that honors the bonds of family and community. I hope that you have a warm and nourishing time with your loved ones over Thanksgiving – both in the bountiful meal and in the strengthened relationships with family and friends.

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"How very interesting to find this information where my Mother and Father were born so many years ago. Celtic heritage explains so much of who we are. Thank you La Tienda "
November 2015

"Dear Mercedes, Galicia is a wonderful place to visit and to enjoy the amazing seafood, and warm and friendly people. Some of whom, undoubtedly, must be distant relatives. It is really worth the trip. If you have not done so already. Abrazos"

"WoW! I didn't know that this went on in Spain with families, making wine for the family. I've been an accomplished home wine maker for many years, having won awards from local county fairs along with several awards from the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, which are my pride and joy. Friends who have tasted my home made wine can't believe it's home made, until I tell them, it's gotten that good over the years. Although not a professional winemaker, awards from the Sonoma County Harvest Fair are awarded to home winemakers utilizing professional grading standards, so a medal from that fair is something to brag about. Hopefully in the near future, I will be moving to the wine country north of San Francisco and getting into the business on a professional level. "
November 2015

"Thank you for your comments. You must be a real wine enthusiast! Where in the wine country will you be living? Many, many years ago when I was a student. I used to go with my professor to Louis Martini in St. Helena. He was a friend of the owners so we would go out in the vineyard with a loaf of Colombo bread and some Pinot Noir – – it was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Best wishes for your move. Tu amigo"

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Una Vendimia Familia

family gathering grapes in the vineyardUna de las mejores épocas para visitar España es el otoño. Los autobuses turísticos ya son cosa del verano que se fue, los españoles han vuelto al trabajo y hay una especie de expectación flotando en el aire, especialmente en las zonas rurales. Es esta la época de la cosecha, en la que los frutos de un verano de trabajo se recogen y se celebran. Por supuesto que nosotros en los EEUU también tenemos nuestra celebración de la cosecha en el día de Acción de Gracias, con su pavo, sus calabazas y su pastel de manzana. Pero para el agricultor o vinicultor español, no se trata de un día aislado, sino de toda una estación.

España es el mayor productor de vino del mundo, por delante incluso de Francia y de Italia. No es de extrañar, por lo tanto, que se le da gran importancia a la recogida de la uva y a la puesta en marcha del proceso de elaboración del vino. La mayoría del vino lo producen las grandes bodegas, pero también hay miles de familias por toda España que cada otoño elaboran su propio vino en sus barrios o en sus casa particulares . Se trata de un acontecimiento familiar muy emocionante. Esta época de celebración del vino se llama vendimia.

Durante mis viajes he conocido a muchas personas fascinantes. La última vez les hablé de Jorge Lancho, un joven que se convirtió en un amigo de la familia. Le conocimos cuando estábamos investigando el mundo de los cerdos ibéricos que viven en las dehesas del oeste de España. En aquella ocasión ampliamos nuestros conocimientos sobre el negoción del jamón. Jorge y su padre elaboran uno de los jamones ibéricos más maravillosos de España en sus secadero familiar. Compartieron con nosotros su gran pericia y su amistad.

Otro joven que se ha convertido en un buen amigo es un joven extremadamente interesante que viene de Galicia, una región celta justo al norte de Portugal.
man with baskets of grapes
Pablo ha resultado ser una persona brillante y curiosa con muchas habilidades: diseño web, travesías en moto, amante de la fotografía, maestro en artes marciales y estudiante de los acontecimientos actuales, pero lo que más le gusta es combinar la fotografía con el amor a su Galicia natal.

Cuando Pablo y yo tuvimos nuestro primer contacto, yo estaba en mi búsqueda del pan perfecto, que supuestamente se cuece en el pequeño municipio de Cea. Quiso la suerte que la abuela de Pablo viviera muy cerca de este pueblecito y Pablo, junto a su novia Marina, se ofreció voluntario para llevarnos hasta allí la próxima vez que visitásemos Galicia. Mi esposa Ruth y yo aceptamos su invitación y nos lo pasamos estupendamente, experiencia que narré en un ensayo anterior. Pueden encontrarlo en Quest for Great Bread.

Desde aquel entonces Pablo y yo hemos mantenido un contacto semanal y me ha enviado una extraordinaria colección de fotos tomadas cerca de su localidad natal en la costa gallega, además de otras de sus viajes en moto con Marina.

Hace tan sólo unas semanas, me envió un ensayo fotográfico de lo más fascinante sobre su vinculación con la vendimia. Lo comparto con ustedes porque es una descripción de lo más auténtico, no es algo que se pueda encontrar en el National Geographic o en la Wikipedia.

Pablo escribe:
workers harvesting grapes from the vines
“Sé que eres amante de las tradiciones españolas, y como bien sabes, hay una España “oculta”, que dista mucho de los estereotipos que todos conocen. Un ejemplo es el norte de España, que es más íntimo, con un clima más frio y sin flamenco, sin corridas de toros y sin otros acontecimientos festivos propios del sur de España. Esto se debe a que la historia del norte de España está estrechamente vinculada a una arraigada tradición romana, que se mezcló con las raíces celtas en vez de con las árabes que eran las que predominaban en Andalucía, por ejemplo.

Bien, como sabes, Galicia es una tierra de vinos. Es el lugar de los famosos viñedos donde se producen el Albariño y el Ribeiro y vinos de renombre que se asocian a Galicia. Ni que decir tiene que la elaboración del vino se vive como un asunto familiar. Muchas familias de zonas rurales y no tan rurales, independientemente de cual sea su actividad principal, reservan una parte de sus tierras a cultivar uvas para elaborar vino casero. Esto normalmente es un gran acontecimiento familiar.

E incluso mayor, porque tradicionalmente, los vecinos solían ayudarse los unos a los otros con la vendimia del mismo modo que se hace cuando llega la hora de cosechar el maíz o el trigo. También está el caso de la matanza, en la que se involucra el pueblo entero.

Hace unos días, estábamos en la casa familiar de Rosana, ayudándoles con la vendimia. Recordé que cuando era niño hacía lo mismo en la casa de mis abuelos en Orense. Una época divertida para un niño, trabajando “duro” con los adultos, comiendo muchas uvas – hasta el punto de que te dolía la tripa al día siguiente- sin preocuparse por la ropa llena de manchas que salían de pisar las uvas en el lagar con los primos.

Nota: No sé si sabes lo que es un lagar en Galicia. No estoy muy seguro de cómo se traduce, quizá “winery”. Es un espacio cerrado, como una pequeña piscina en la que se meten las uvas para aplastarlas pisándolas. Lo que hace que salga el zumo para empezar el proceso de fermentación.
buckets filled with grapes
Cuando era niño, en mi casa había un lagar de unos 2.5 metros por 1.5 ( y todos los niños estaban deseando que les dejasen meterse). Era lo más divertido de las casas en las que la zona de producción estaba muy restringida o no tenia el espacio suficiente para usar una presa.”

A lo largo de nuestra amistad Pablo me ha hecho caer en la cuenta de otra tradición española, la clase de ritual que honra los lazos familiares y comunitarios. Les deseo que tengan momentos felices y gratificantes con sus seres queridos en Acción de Gracias, tanto por lo abundante de la comida como por el enriquecimiento de las relaciones con sus familiares y amigos.

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