Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Day 9 - February 23rd

From the Mediterranean to Granada

After a day of haze caused by airborne sand from the Sahara, we were rewarded by clear skies and a spectacular sunrise over the Mediterranean at Almunecar. Most of us took advantage of the clear skies to capture some memories for family and friends back home. One or two brave souls even ventured into the water for a very brisk dip.

After breakfast we boarded the bus and headed north to visit the winery of Senorio de Nevada near Granada. Wine production is extremely important to the ag economy on the Iberian Peninsula. Our host Fernando gave us the most extensive explanation of vineyard management and winemaking that we have heard so far on our trip.

Senorio de Nevada grows several varieties of grapes, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Tempranillo. He explained that their primary objective is not maximum yield of grapes. Instead they focus on optimizing the quality of the wine they produce and have designed their management practices in the vineyard with that goal in mind. Fernando explained that their soils and micro-climate provided two key advantages in producing high quality wine. Well drained soils promote deeper root growth and the hot, dry days combined with cool nights result in improved wine quality as well as minimizing fungal disease pressure.

They typically harvest their grapes in September. We were surprised to find out that one of their more serious pest problems came from birds. He told us that birds destroyed nearly all of their Tempranillo production last year, in spite of using many IPM techniques to deter birds from attacking their grapes.

After showing us the vineyards, Fernando explained the winemaking process to us. The grapes combined with yeast ferment for 14 days in large stainless steel vats. After that period nitrogen gas is used to exclude oxygen. In this winery, white wines are produced from white grapes that they grow. Red wines are fermented with the skins; to produce rose wines the skins are removed after four hours. They press the skins of the red wine to extract the remaining wine and flavors.
Some wines, particularly the rose blends, are intended to be served the year they are made. Those wines go directly to the bottle with no additional aging. Their red blends are aged for one year in oak barrels and for an additional 3 to 4 years in bottles. Aging wine in oak barrels introduced additional flavors and aromas to enhance the quality of the wine. Confirming what we had learned in the cork oak forests, high quality corks are also very important to prevent oxidation while in storage. For their highest quality wines requires an incredible time investment. The red wine blends they are currently selling came from the 2009 and 2010 crop years.

Finally, Fernando gave us a short lesson in wine tasting. He talked to us about using the senses of sight, smell, and taste to evaluate wine. We've had multiple opportunities to sample the various wine options in Portugal and Spain, so his advice should prove to be useful as we near the end of our stay. Fernando even graciously allowed the SDARL class to put our names on one of the barrels being aged now.

From there we traveled to visit La Alhambra in Granada. The Alhambra has been designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO and nearly every travel guide lists it as a must-see when visiting Spain. It is a palace and fortress complex built by the Moors during the 13th and 14th centuries. It includes extensive mosaics, arabesque designs, and gravity-fed flowing fountains.

These pictures barely do the palaces and gardens justice. The architecture and designs combined with the various gardens were simply incredible, and it was very difficult to effectively capture that with a camera. Our tour guides did an outstanding job of explaining the story behind the palaces and helping us to get a glimpse of what life was like then.

One of the aspects they showed us was that there were elements of Islamic, Jewish, and Christian peoples reflected in the design of the buildings and courtyards, and that in many cases they were living in close proximity to each other. We have often discussed as a class how different cultures view each other over the last ten days. We've had the chance to observe and make judgments about European culture and to get a glimpse of some of the stereotypes that other cultures have about Americans. We hope that this experience helps us realize that painting with broad strokes about another society is seldom completely accurate.