Where I’m from men drink beer, or they drink whiskey or tequila. They don’t typically drink wine unless it’s at some event or party their wives or girlfriends have dragged them to and requires them to wear clothes who live in the back of the closet in a glass case labeled, “break in case of emergency.” So any man who would willfully reach for wine as his preferred poison of choice could be regarded as “different.” Some might even say he’s sophisticated. If he’s “not from ’round here” he would most likely be categorized as one of those “fancy east coast boys” or maybe a “liberal west coast nut job.” Or Michael.
So now imagine trying to convince a man from where I’m from to visit Spain and go on a wine tour or vineyard visit. Even if “that dog did hunt for him”, it would have to be one hell of a special “grape farm” for him to set foot on it and allow any witnesses to survive. But what if I told you I’ve not only found such a vineyard, but one a man from where I’m from might even admit to visiting and even allow himself to be photographed visiting. This one hell of a “grape farm” is Loxarel in Penedes.
Our visit to this fifth generation 40 hectare classic DO Penedes vineyard in Vilobi del Penedes began oddly but fittingly with a security check conducted by an old surly hound that would fit in perfectly to a Clint Eastwood western. Our host and vineyard owner, Josep Mitjans, was running slightly late returning home, so naturally we had to be vetted by someone. Through his firm “you don’t pet me, I sniff you policy” we eventually passed inspection and were shepherded around back of the family house Cal Mayol to be officially greeted by “reception”.
Now we’re no suckers, but all the street smarts in the world couldn’t have prepared us for what came next. Our welcoming party was two donkeys. However, this makes sense given that Loxarel is a totally biodynamic vineyard and all harvesting is done by hand and hoof, without the use of any machines.
We approached completely unknowing “the con” was on. The quiet charmer, aka Garnatxa the burro, moved forward nodding invitingly to let us know we were welcome. We took the bait — hook line and sinker — and we were immediately descended upon by the smooth talker. What seemed like a genuine hello “eeeoor” was the old “where you boys from?” shtick (You can see the introduction in the video above for the record). Timmer was halfway to believing he had a new best friend when I noticed the other burro’s mug halfway into my partner’s jacket pocket. As I heard the the charming roper thinking “silly guiris, works every time”, I knew who the real jackasses were.
After being bested by beast, our host Josep joined us with a warm greeting and then immediately took on a tour of the processing and fermentation facilities as well as the barrel room with such fervour, it was obvious he is passionate about what he does. Now at the risk of sounding like I watch the Lifestyle Network, I love the interiors at Loxarel. If you want old world rustic charm, this is the place. It has stone and wrought iron for days, featured by a giant candle chandelier which will invoke your inner swashbuckler, plus a guide rail fashioned from a giant anchor rope leaving you wishing you had calluses hard enough to be worthy.
Here we were also treated to tastes straight from the barrels, amphoras, and steel vats, (I think we set a record for most tastings in a visit) which was highlighted by sampling Loxarel’s “Gal Rosat”. Now I’ve had my issues with rosats in the past (see previous editorial), but this gal rosat doesn’t know it’s a gal. 100% Merlot and harvested in mid October it is the darkest “pink” wine I’ve ever come across. If you drink this blind you will swear it’s a red wine, and a really good one. I can honestly say that I’ve finally found a rosat that doesn’t threaten my middle American (Kansas specifically) sense of manliness. I just might even take a bottle with me hunting for ‘coons.
Josep, however, was holding out on us. He next took us into the family home where we expected a cozy sit down to discuss Loxarel’s biodynamic philosophy. Instead, he took us downstairs to another time, a time when men put their lives on the line to fight for and defend what they believed in, not what a government sold them on believing.
Cal Mayol once served as the command center for a key Republican airfield during the Spanish Civil War and below it still perseveres the connected tunnels and chambers that served as shelter during the Franco fascist regime’s bombings. Being down there is truly connecting with history and is enough to make any Hollywood location scout go nuts from its authenticity. Somebody get Oliver Stone on the phone! You can imagine the dust and fragments falling on your head as the earth rattles from shelling above. If only these tunnels could talk.
Today these corridors and underrooms are the resting place for the wonderful multi-varieties of sparkling wines that Loxarel produces (formerly known as “cava” in these parts). Sparkling wines, known as “Classic Penedes” is the center piece of this cellar, with each bottle aged for no less than 15 months and up to 109 months with its creme de la creme “109.” Covered in dust, without a pretty label and caged with a weathered single band of iron, each vintage of 109 waits with ghosts of the past for its day to be remembered, rediscovered and celebrated.
As we climbed stairs leading from the main tunnel to a heavy metal door that indeed looked like it could withstand a blast, we thought the best of our visit behind us. Yet as we stepped through to daylight to find ourselves standing in the middle of a vineyard that was once the before mentioned airfield we immediately knew we were wrong. Waiting for us fittingly, after having no real sense of how far we had travelled underground in this refuge, was a bottle of Loxarel’s Refugi with three glasses. Now it was time to man-up and enjoy a flute of 36 month bottle aged peace on earth and thank our host for a truly fantastic visit… Yet at the risk of sounding like an infomercial during an all night Bond marathon, wait there’s more!
Josep invited us back to Cal Mayol to break bread over a generous spread of meat and cheese. Then he returned our gratitude with the uncorking of a bottle of the… wait for it, wait for it… 109! This coveted jewel of Loxarel is a cava that even the manliest of men would be proud to be caught with. It’s unfiltered, murky golden goodness possesses a flavor as rich as the vineyard is in history. The fact that Josep opened this for us makes that the wine equivalent to being gifted a bear pelt by a Navajo warrior as far as I’m concerned.
Take it from this one time west coast nut job and temporary fancy east coast boy, but always and forever prairie son, Loxarel is a man’s vineyard and like the history that marks this remarkable Penedes gem we’re going to remember our visit here. We encourage you… to hell with encourage, we dare you to visit Loxarel and when you do say hi to the donkeys for us. Just keep an eye on your wallet.