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Journey To A Dream

In May 2002 my wife and I journeyed from Huddersfield in England's industrial north to rural Galicia. Join us on our journey and immerse your senses in the sights, sounds, and tastes of this remote and little known region of Spain.

From Vine Watch to Wine Watch - Un año fatal (a disastrous year)
24 September 2014

Here in Galicia, the annual grape harvest is a time for celebration; the culmination of six months hard work. This year is different. Many growers are counting the cost of un año fatal.

For many, the season began back in February or early March. Last year’s fruiting canes were pruned ready for the coming season.

By the beginning of April the first buds had begun to burst into life.

From busting buds to bright-green foliage; by the end of May the vineyard looked full of life.

The end of June saw young grapes swell in the warm sunshine.

Unseasonably damp weather in mid July brought with it black rot, the vinicultural equivalent of the Black Death. Facing the prospect of a complete loss we worked tirelessly to save what we could.

The final cost of this destructive disease resulted in an 80% reduction on last year’s yield. For us this is heartbreaking; for others, financially disastrous. Some have fared much better but others, even worse.

Work began early on harvest day (vendimia). We woke to a bright and dry morning. Thin veils of mist clung to low lying valleys as the morning sun struggled to break through wispy clouds. The previous day we’d collected the empty fruit crates from the bodega (wine cellar), ready for the day ahead.

Armed with a sharp pair of secateurs the picking began. The ground was damp from a night-time downpour, so too was the foliage. The slightest tug on overhead vines brought with it a shower of water droplets.

By 10:30 am the red Mencia grapes were picked. We packed them into the trailer and sped off to the bodega. I couldn’t wait to use my new machine: crushing and destemming in one process. I only wish there’d been more to crush.

Once the must (grape juice) is safely stored in the vat the science begins. From a sample of juice I tested the sugar content (brix): a little low but easy to adjust, next the TA (tartaric acid) and finally the pH. Two years ago I inadvertently put my decimal point one place to the right and killed 180 litres of white wine. I checked my result; then double checked, just to make sure. A solution of potassium metabisulphite stuns the natural yeast. Twenty four hours later I added commercially produced wine yeast to kick-start the fermentation process.    

For the time being, work in the vineyard is at an end. The vine leaves will soon turn rusty-red and golden-brown before falling to the ground. Weather permitting there’ll be one final tilling of the soil before year end.

Attention now turns to the fruit: from grapevines to delicious wines. The disappointing harvest is history; the next challenge lies ahead.

Copyright © 2014 Craig Briggs

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Craig and Melanie own and operate a luxury farmhouse rental property called Campo Verde. To find out more about a stay at Campo Verde and Galicia in general, visit their website getaway-galicia

Craig’s book, Journey To A Dream, is available exclusively from Amazon, to purchase your copy click here for your national Amazon store.

Find out more about Craig, and Galicia or look him up on Facebook



Like 0        Published at 10:35   Comments (4)


Castro Caldelas – A town with a view
17 September 2014

Many borders are simply lines drawn on a map, but not in Galicia. The canyon of the river Sil, dividing the provinces of Lugo and Ourense, must surely be one of the most spectacular borders in the whole of Spain. Watching over this impressive geological fault line is the town of Castro Caldelas; its medieval castle dominating the surrounding area.

There’s something quite appealing about scaling ancient ramparts and re-enacting medieval battles, albeit in ones imagination. When the opportunity arose, we jumped at the chance.

The drive from Monforte de Lemos to Castro Caldelas is one of the most spectacular in the area. The route took us south along the LU-903 to the village of Doade. Staring out across the valley, the town of Castro Caldelas is clearly visible on the other side of the canyon. From Doade the road drops steeply down the side of the gorge, twisting and turning as is carves a route through terraced vineyards.

Once across the river the scenery changes: ancient woodland clings to the side of the valley. Vineyards are rare; restricted to a few south-facing patches of land. As the road climbs we passed through the picturesque villages of A Abeleda and O Pomar. The final few kilometres are by far the steepest. After about half an hour we entered the town.

On our left was the Santuario de los Remedios, a 19th century church featuring impressive twin towers. Opposite this is the Praza do Prado. We parked in the square and made our way through the narrow, paved streets towards the castle.

Legend has it that the ruler of this ancient fortress or castro lost a battle to the Lord of Lima. In order to save himself and his family, the defeated ruler offered the Lord one of his three daughters to which he replied ¿cal delas? (what of them); from that day forth the place has been known as Castro Caldelas.

Legends aside, this mountainous area has been inhabited for over 4500 years: a fact supported by the discovery of megalithic burial chambers.

During the Roman occupation, between 137 BC and 19 BC the town became an important stopover on the Via Nova (The Roman road from Braga in Portugal to Astorga in Castile & Leon).

The centre piece of the town is a medieval castle, constructed by Pedro Fernández de Castro between 1336 and 1343. Its strategic importance is clearly illustrated by the number of previous owners. Over the entrance are no fewer than four different coats of arms; the Osorio (two wolves), the Castro (six circular forms), the Kingdom of León (a rampant lion) and the Kingdom of Castile (a castle). Even the Greek letter tau, symbol of the Order of the Knights Templar, is inscribed on the clock tower.

The views from the castle walls are stunning: mile after mile of rolling hills, deep valleys, and distant mountains fading into an endless sky. From the clock tower on one side to the keep on the other, every aspect affords outstanding views over the Ribeira Sacra and the Sierra de Mazaira mountains.

The torre or keep, houses the oldest written document in Galicia. Dated 1228 and signed by Alfonso IX, it granted certain privileges to residents of the town. Its discovery was extremely significant. All other documents relating to the town were destroyed in 1809 when Napoleonic troops set fire to the castle in retaliation for a local uprising.

The roof of the torre is probably the best place to appreciate the Iglesia de Santa Isabel (Church of St. Elizabeth). Dating from the 16t century, it’s the oldest church in the town and stands at the edge of an outcrop overlooking the Sil canyon.

Today, Castro Caldelas is a quiet, friendly town with breathtaking views over the surrounding countryside; but its long and turbulent history makes it a fascinating place to explore.

 

Vine Watch – week 24

After much deliberation and days of testing, we’ve chosen the date for this year’s vendimia (grape harvest). We are gearing up for Sunday the 21st of September. The only obstacle might be the weather. The forecast is not favourable but meteorologists are not renowned for their accuracy.

It’s said that Melbourne in Australia can experience four seasons in one day, here in Galicia those same seasons can occur within an hour. Keep your fingers crossed. The countdown has begun.    

Copyright © 2014 Craig Briggs

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Craig and Melanie own and operate a luxury farmhouse rental property called Campo Verde. To find out more about a stay at Campo Verde and Galicia in general, visit their website getaway-galicia

Craig’s book, Journey To A Dream, is available exclusively from Amazon, to purchase your copy click here for your national Amazon store.

Find out more about Craig, and Galicia or look him up on Facebook



Like 0        Published at 11:29   Comments (0)


In Search of Paradise
10 September 2014

Does paradise exist?

The council of Sober certainly believes so. Their latest tourist guide proudly boasts, ‘O Paraiso Existe’ (Paradise Exists). Its publication coincided with the completion of a series of upgrades to the nine viewing platform along the river Sil.

If their dower, green leaflet was anything to go by, it seemed unlikely that we would discover a portal to the Promised Land. Undeterred we decided to test the council’s claim and headed out in search of paradise.

Travelling across the municipality from west to east, our journey began at Xabrega. Here, a narrow staircase of natural stone climbs around the hillside. Oak trees provided shade from the afternoon sun and fallen acorns cracked underfoot as we climbed the steps. As we reached the top the vast panorama opened out. We clambered past a small vineyard and up to a low walled viewpoint. From here we stared out across a small lake, formed by the Santo Estevo dam. On the far shore, pine forests and deciduous woodland blanket the valley.

So far so good: Sober’s claim was living up to its billing.

Second stop on the tour was Os Chancis. When it comes to this location, we’re a tad biased. After all, this is the site of our favourite summertime bar. The viewpoint is situated on the hillside, just above the bar. A steep pathway leads passed terraced vineyards and up to a wooden pergola. The view from here is breathtaking.

If ever there was a roadmap to paradise, we were surely on it.

As the crow flies, or in this case a soaring eagle, the next viewpoint at A Cividade is just over 2 kilometres upstream. By car it’s 18: the last 3 of which are along an unmade track. This modern viewing platform was designed by the architect Isabel Aguirre in 2012. The structure overhangs the canyon like a giant diving board giving visitors spectacular views both upstream and down.

A short drive from here is the platform at O Boqueiriño. On the opposite side of the canyon is the abandoned Monastery of Santa Cristina, its conical spire and red tiled roof appear to be floating in a sea of ancient woodland.

Santiorxo marked the halfway point of our tour. Back in July, this viewpoint was the venue for a moonlit concert. The hypnotic melody of a solo cellist echoing across the canyon provided a moment of pure magic. Today we were alone, almost 2000 feet above sea level, staring out across an endless landscape.

By the time we reached viewpoint number six at Cadeiras, we were ready for a drink. An ice-cold beer on a warm summer’s day really hit the spot. It almost felt as though we’d reached paradise but there were still three more to go.

We headed towards the village of Amandi. From here the road winds its way down the valley through row after row of lush-green vines, laden with inky-red grapes. About halfway down is the Os Chelos viewpoint. The valley here is far less severe than downstream; as such, this is one of the few places where vines grow on both sides of the river.

From here we were able to take the Aba Sacra route along the valley. It’s a single lane road that offers travellers magnificent views of the river as it hugs the contours of the valley, twisting and turning as it cuts a path through the vineyards.

Our penultimate stop was Soutochao: a large outcrop surrounded with terraced vineyards rising from the river. A dusty track runs along the top of the ridge, ending at the viewpoint. By now, the afternoon sun was casting long shadows on both sides of the valley with only the most prized vineyards still bathed in bright light.

Travelling from west to east, we’d saved the most outstanding viewpoint until last. All those who visit Pena do Castelo will surely know that paradise does exist: right here, right now.

The area of Galicia known as the Ribeira Sacra is blessed with breathtaking beauty at every turn but if you’re searching for paradise, the municipality of Sober will definitely lead you there.

 

Vine Watch – week 23

This week we took delivery of a brand new destemmer and crusher. Come harvest time, this one piece of equipment will save us over 50 hours of painstaking, backbreaking, mind-numbing work.

In years gone by, we have removed all the stems by hand before pouring the must into the vats. This new addition will crush the grapes and remove the stems in one process. Excitement levels are rising.

 

Copyright © 2014 Craig Briggs

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Craig and Melanie own and operate a luxury farmhouse rental property called Campo Verde. To find out more about a stay at Campo Verde and Galicia in general, visit their website getaway-galicia

Craig’s book, Journey To A Dream, is available exclusively from Amazon, to purchase your copy click here for your national Amazon store.

Find out more about Craig, and Galicia or look him up on Facebook



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The Horse Whisperer
03 September 2014

Horse ownership is on the increase.

At least it is in this quiet corner of Spain. To be perfectly honest, horses aren’t really my thing: a nasty bite from a child-eating donkey put paid to that.

As a boy, growing up in the shadow of Yorkshire’s satanic mills, the last thing on my mind were rosettes and dressage. Horsy types drove Range Rovers, spoke like the queen and doted over daddy’s little princess. The closest I came to the world of show jumping was sitting around the telly at Christmas; cheering Harvey Smith over the great wall at Olympia.

That said, there’s something quite compelling about the raw power, grace, and beauty of a herd of horses galloping free across open countryside.

Melanie on the other hand adores them. As a teenager she would happily work all day at her local stable for little more than a few hours riding. For this reason alone, I found myself agreeing to visit this year’s Feira do Carballo de O’ Saviñao (Horse Fiesta).

As if to illustrate my earlier claim, this relatively new fiesta began seven years ago in the village of Escairon. From humble beginnings, it now attracts contestants and visitors from all over the area. The fiesta is a two day affair. The main spectator events are held on the final afternoon.

As we drove through the sleepy village of Escairon, the only hint of a village fiesta was a sagging banner hanging limply from two lamp posts on opposite sides of the high street. We parked the car and strolled towards the recreation area. Overhanging fruit trees provided patches of shade as we walked along. Fallen figs, squashed under foot, littered the pavement and ripe plums were hanging tantalisingly out of reach.

The focal point for the first event was the village cattle market. A crowd of several hundred were gathered around a makeshift manége. My earlier preconceptions of watching daddy’s little princess, clad in jodhpurs and polished boots; parading around a field, were quickly dispelled.

Within the sandy paddock were half a dozen young men wearing jeans, T-shirts, and their favourite trainers. Two judges looked on as the men walked and then trotted their trusty steeds up and down the paddock. I could tell from Melanie’s facial expressions that most lacked the handling etiquette associated with such events. To the winners went the bragging rights: rosettes were not required.

The next event, El Galop, moved across the road to the recreation area. By now, these same young men had saddled their mounts and were ready to do battle. A makeshift race course had been built around the football field using a number of reinforcing rods and a roll of plastic cordon. Health and safety consisted of a few bales of straw placed strategically in front of the goal posts. This didn’t bode well for the security of rider or horse.

There’s something about speed and the perceived invincibility of youth that brings the worst out in young men. In all, eight riders volunteered to compete in this Ben Hur-style dash around the arena. Out of these, just two thought it manly enough to don protective headgear. The rest of this motley crew looked more like football fans than young men preparing to hurtle around the pitch on uncontrollable steeds. This was horse racing at its most primitive and the audience knew it.

Each race contained three competitors. Twice around the track and the race was won. The event was an accident waiting to happen and we weren’t kept waiting long. On the final bend of the final lap of the third race, the inevitable happened. Two horses, tussling for position, collided. The inside nag lost its footing and both horse and rider tumbled to the ground.

A sharp intake of breath hushed the spectators. The young rider lay trapped; leg caught fast under his mount. Quickly, the horse sprang to its feet releasing the jockey. The young man rose gingerly and hobbled bravely into the centre of the pitch. He sank to the grass clutching his ankle. Without delay, his friend sprinted across the field in search of medical assistance. Moments later he returned, tossed him a carrier bag full of ice and left him to his own devises. Ten minutes later he was back racing: slightly less gung-ho but pride intact.

The final event of the fiesta was by far the most professional. Billed as, ‘The Horse Whisperer’ Santi Serra Camps touring show provided a breathtaking display of equine handling. By now the audience had swelled to well over a thousand. It’s difficult to imagine a greater contrast from earlier events to this polished and skilful performance.

We’ve already pencilled this fiesta in for next year. If you’re in the area you’d do well to do the same. 

 

Vine Watch – week 22

This week, we’ve been busy week in the bodega (wine cellar). With less than three weeks to go until we harvest this year’s grapes, it was time to bottle what remained of last year’s wine and clean the Vats in readiness for this year’s.

With sugar levels in the grapes rising daily, deterring our cheeky feathered friends becomes a priority. To refresh your memory on this annual battle why not take a look at last year’s blog post – The #Tweeting of Angry Birds

Copyright © 2014 Craig Briggs

*************************************************************************

Craig and Melanie own and operate a luxury farmhouse rental property called Campo Verde. To find out more about a stay at Campo Verde and Galicia in general, visit their website getaway-galicia

Craig’s book, Journey To A Dream, is available exclusively from Amazon, to purchase your copy click here for your national Amazon store.

Find out more about Craig, and Galicia or look him up on Facebook



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