Since our launch on August 1st of 2014, it’s been one heck of a whirlwind ride around Catalunya. We’ve met so many amazing people, so many amazing vineyards, and shared some incredible experiences. We don’t often get to share what goes on behind the scenes, so here, in no particular order are ten of my favourite memories of 2014.

Michael speaks with Christopher Cannan, a man who has been a large part of the success of Priorat.

Michael speaks with Christopher Cannan, a man who has been a large part of the success of Priorat.

Life and Philosophy at Clos Figueras

Our first trip to Clos Figueres in Priorat was an interesting time. We ended up arriving the same weekend of the 25th anniversary of the four vineyards which rejuvenated winemaking in Priorat (Clos i Terrasses, Clos Mogador, Mas Martinet, L’Ermita) and it was a crazy weekend in the hub of Gratallops. Clos Figueras and Cal Llop made us feel comfortable during this time, and it was then we met Miquel A. Compte, Christopher Cannan’s general manager at Clos Figueras. After the crush of activities at Clos Figueras related to the anniversary events. Miquel sat down and talked life, wine, politics, philosophy and history over a period of two hours. His knowledge of all is deep, and it created one of the most engaging conversations of my recent memory. We discussed literature, wine history, Catalan politics, European business history, and quite a bit about life experiences. A great conversation over wine (their Viognier in Font de la Figuera is incredible) with a man who truly defines what it is to be a gentleman – refined, elegant, intelligent, and considerate. The fact we enjoyed several glasses of wine and incredible food from their restaurant didn’t hurt either. If you have the opportunity to have lunch or stay at Clos Figueras, Miquel will certainly make the experience a memorable one.

Cooperativa Garriguella

We were supposed to spend our standard two to three hours at Garriguella, but instead stayed almost nine, and it only seemed like a couple. Hearing the history of the founding of the cooperativa from one of the original founding members was simply riveting. A story that involved bullying business owners, a letter to General Franco, banks, and other sensational historical recollections would make for a Hollywood thriller, let alone an article for us. The members and the staff of Garriguella are such an interesting group, and we got to get to know them over food and wine at lunch, travelled extensively through the vineyards of president Guillem Peralba, and even did a 4×4 journey over a few hills. To see a cooperative be such a key part of a town and a region, and still give as much as they can to the members was such a rewarding experience. Plus, the grocery store featuring local products is open on Sundays.

Michael reflects on a spectacular visit while enjoying wine and cheese.

Michael reflects on a spectacular visit while enjoying wine and cheese.

Pals wine festival

Spending time at this Baix Emporda festival was such a great experience with Celler Can Sais, *Lavinyeta, and Cooperativa Garriguella. We had an opportunity to discuss wine with wine astute locals, shake a leg on the dance floor to an old timer on a piano, check out local businesses selling artisan products, food, and other locally made products. We made some good friends which we still keep close to this day. We’ll be back in 2015!

Hiking up to Sant Antoni at the Scala Dei vineyard

Okay, so my fanboy tendencies towards Cellers Scala Dei are well documented, but Ferran Mestre challenging us to do the climb up 500 metres to Masia Sant Antoni, behind the Scala Dei monastery to take in where their single estate Garnaxta is grown for the eponymously named wine was an experience that ties the best of wine altogether. History, spirituality, physical activity, nature, and a communion with all in a quiet place with a spectacular view is something I’ll never forget. You can’t help but say prayers when you sit cross-legged on a cliff looking out across Priorat while snacking on a few grapes, almonds, apples, and sipping on one of the best wines ever. I may drive Ricard Rofes (winemaker at Scala Dei) slightly bonkers with my continual overtures to sell their wine in our shop (Codorniu deals make it slightly impossible to do anything but buy the wine at retail at the winery), but here’s fair warning I probably will keep going because of my love for what they do with Garnaxta. Sorry Ricard, in advance.

Tasting Morenillo for the first time

Batea is quite a distance, by European standards, from Barcelona, but by North American standards it’s a typical morning commute in L.A. traffic. The trip to Celler Piñol was noteworthy not only by the brilliant scenery of Terra Alta, by the impressive winery, but also because Juanjo (owner of Piñol) gave me my first taste of Morenillo. It wasn’t from a bottle of their remarkable 2011, but from the barrel of a more recent vintage doing its ageing. Juanjo may get tired of seeing us in 2015 or maybe not.

Drinking cava at Alta Alella

The staff at Alta Alella went out of their way to partner with us on several different projects, and give us great access to their vineyard for filming. It’s a testament to the dynamite job communications director Valerie Vellieux does at Alta Alella. From organising events, fundraisers, and other unique promotions in the wine business, Valerie is one of kind, just like many of the staff and its owner Josep Maria Pujol Busquets and his daughter, (who is following in his footsteps) Mireia. It shows in the brilliant cava they produce, including my favourite, Bruel. There’s nothing like sipping a cava on the terrace of Alta Alella’s tasting room which has one of the best views of the Mediterranean. It’s so good, the view is our twitter icon.

The ticket office during normal hours.

The ticket office during normal hours.

Mestral at Celler Can Sais

This white wine, Mestral, is my favourite white wine. Finally, the Catalan wine guide gave it the recognition it deserves this year. If it’s on the menu at any restaurant I’m visiting, I tailor my meal around it, and I’m not joking. Tasting it at the winery is an intimate experience everyone should have at least once in their life. It reminded me of the best moments of one of my favourite movies, A Good Year (the part where everyone is sitting around a table eating dinner under the stars). It’s like you can taste the family history of Can Sais (generations upon generations), the Mediterranean, and the landscape in every drop of every sip of Mestral. Michael and I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing during our entire time at Can Sais.

Interviewing Josep Maria Albet i Noya

Josep Maria was completely different than I expected. Instead of rehashing why, just read my article about the experience. I think it sums it up best.

Touching Dali

I got to touch writings and drawings by Dali at Torre del Veguer. The uncle of the owner was friends with Dali. It’s not often you can do this in an environment that isn’t a sterile museum with security guards. This, topped off by a great time with Joaquin (and we’ve had more since) made this visit extra special. And the castle at Torre del Veguer? It’s straight out of France, more Chateau-like than castle-like and something that is not too common in these parts of Catalunya. You must go.

Marion Harper’s musical performance at Hard Rock Cafe

Mark my words, this lady is going places. Down to earth, hilarious, and one of the more talented musicians I’ve met in a long time, and I’ve met many in my travels throughout the years. I’m going to look forward to seeing what she does in 2015.