The whole room is giggling. Manel Avinyo, winemaker at Clos Lentiscus, is standing in the corner with a pair of divining rods propped in empty Cava bottles. He’s showing that with the power of his mind, he can find lines of energy in the earth. He paces the room, around our centuries-old table set for 11, “concentrating and not concentrating”, and showing us how the wires cross at certain points when he has his mind fixed at task. He circumnavigates us again, and the wires cross at the same points. His face is deadpan. Ours are not.
Mid-snicker, I swallow my mirth. Partially out of politeness – Manel has graciously taken us in, shown us his treasure of a wine-trove, and his secrets to production. He has fed us, and given us some quite lovely wines. But it’s not just my mother’s years of drumming manners in that make me choke on my unsympathetic thoughts – his steadfast belief as he continues in the face of ridicule displays in us our blind ignorance. People laughed at Galileo when he said the earth revolved around the sun. And you can bet your booty that Columbus struggled to persuade his Catholic backers that he was not going to fall off the edge of a flat earth, but instead sail all the way around it.
Perhaps there is something to this after all, and I don’t want to close my logic-based mind to progress, just because it’s having a hard time accepting a theory. I try dowsing with the sticks myself. Despite a moment when both wires sway dramatically to the left (and the table roars with laughter – apparently it’s proof I am a little left-field), which I’m told is where perpendicular “Ley Lines” cross, the sticks merge exactly where they did when Manel held them. I try jiggling the bottles, holding them at other angles. It makes no difference.
The Ley lines we are finding, says Manel, show where the greatest energy lies. Vines planted on these lines produce faster, give greater fruit, but unfortunately die earlier. I vow to return home and check my bed does not lie on one. Perhaps that’s why I don’t sleep so well…
It’s not the first time today that Manel has revealed his style of growing and making wines, and his personal style, is far from conventional.
In 2001, Manel’s father died, and he returned to the family estate to find a sick land. He thought on his own health, and the changes he went through under the holistic care of his Aunt Nuria, and realised this should also apply to the vineyards. Biodynamic farming drives a farm into becoming a “living organism” as a whole, and Manel liked the sound of this. As yet, he is uncertified by Demeter (the greatest certification body of Biodynamic in Europe), but this is something that will come with time. And it strikes me that Manel is not the kind to be tied to a piece of paper in any case.
There are many tasks required to produce a biodynamic wine. Far from what many believe, it is far from the same as organic farming, although the two will tend to go hand-in-hand. Natural treatment, a lack of chemicals, minimum interference is vital, but there is quite a bit more that goes along with.
The philosophy extends back to Rudolph Steiner and his Anthrophosopy – his belief in the existence of a spiritual world accessible by inner development, that was vital to the progression and wholeness of all things. He believed that science stops too early, and that our spiritual beings are missing out on development. It’s an ignorance that need to be averted to achieve total success.
When it comes to farming, there are many processes that must be observed (link here for more information), however it is the nine particular practices outlined by Steiner that tend to cop most of the flack. You’ll find them here, but essentially, what people laugh about is the filling of cow horns, bladders and other organs with special manure or crushed stones, and burying them in the vineyard for periods of time, to be dug up again at the correct season to be used in composting, spraying or the like. It’s all a bit pagan, no?
But there’s reason in it if you want to look for it, and it’s not nearly so ethereal as you might imagine. It is believed that the contents of the object buried have time to mature with the soil, taking on the parts of its nature that are needed to assist with growth after the product is dug up and added to compost or fertilizer later. It’s making a product that is uniquely applicable to a particular site.
The second sticking point for those with a left-brain dominance seems to be the reaping and sowing according to the phases of the moon. Most winemakers will analyze their fruit continuously until the sugar, acid and flavours appear to them to be in perfect balance. Then, they will take the fruit tout suite – slowing only perhaps until the sun goes down, as it’s known that it’s better to pick in cooler weather. They may also rush a harvest if they know rain is on the way, as it will bring water into the fruit and throw the balance off.
Manel (and his brother Joan) however, will wait for all these things, and then further, for the moon. This is thanks to Maria Thun (She died last year – you’ll find a short bio and obit here), who found a direct correlation between the lunar and planetary cycles and plant growth and production. When it comes to the sowing and planting calendars, she found that plant sap rises while the moon ascends for two weeks through the zodiac each month. With all the mojo at the tips, this means it’s a good time to harvest or graft. However, during the other two weeks, while the moon descends. sap flows more slowly and the vitality of the plant is closer to the roots. You guessed it – time to replant, seed, prune and compost.
Considering it’s fairly logical to accept that the pull of the moon is responsible for our tides, and that the tides are 20% greater in difference during a new moon (the sun and the moon are both pulling our gravity in the same direction), and that women’s menstrual cycles have been found to mimic the moon’s (with most of us ovulating around a full moon), is it altogether unreasonable to accept that possibly, just possibly, it’s intellectually comprehensible that the moon may help us farm?
Hmm, maybe this is all not so laughable after all…
Manel’s practices go much further than those mentioned above. He is, amongst other things, employing the use of sound and vibrations to both stimulate growth and deflect pests. He uses positive energy in his fields, and on particular bottles that go to show. He is planting ancient varieties, and experimenting with roman practices – such as fermenting in marble tank (I’m sure his bank manager loves that one). He has his own bees onsite to assist with pollination. He allows animals, such as the native wild boars into the vineyards, to crop-thin sympathetically.
This is not strange in the region where Clos Lentiscus resides. It’s an ancient wine growing district, just north of the Augustus Caeser city of Tarragona, and in the shadow of magical Montserrat. The Can Ramon estate itself is home to a one-thousand year old Mastic tree (you’ll find Manel’s daughter’s drawing of this on the label). The Massif Garraf is a mysterious area. Calcareous and inhospitable, and yet full of wildflowers and herbs. Ancient and esteemed, yet rubbished and forgotten, only to be picked up again my a new generation that respects the land more than any before it.
Magic still lives in the region. A visit to neighbouring Valldosera introduced me to Bruno, a kindrid spirit of Manel’s if not entirely on his wavelength. We shared ten minutes and a glass of Cava on the top of the Massif Garraf, as we compared the geography of his region with the neighbouring valley of the Penedes. While drinking and pondering, we found a note wedged under a nativity scene which had been erected on a concrete base of a tower sprouting sattelite dishes. He said it was requests and promises from one who believed the mountain was listening to prayers. He told me that he and the people who have always lived in these mountains, and much of Catalunya in fact, believe in the fundamentals of a Mother Nature, and a feeling of soul within the different aspects of life – flora, fauna, sun and rain – are instilled despite the continued strong presence of the Catholic religion. Bruno thinks Manel is a genius.
Time will tell – or is already telling. Wine reviews follow in my next post.
Clos Lentiscus at Can Ramon is open by appointment only, as are most wineries in the region. But don’t be scared about getting in contact. Manel is welcoming, laid back, speaks very good English (and Spanish and Catalan, and probably other languages too) and lives on the estate so is there at most times.
Alternatively, you can contact Anthony from Wine Pleasures, who probably knows more about the region than some of the people making wine there. I was fortunate enough to join him on this occasion (subsidised), and would thoroughly recommend his assistance (Although I didn’t pay full, I would again in the future). He works all over Europe, but his home is in the hills behind Barcelona, and as writer and judge for the “50 Great Cavas“, he is well qualified!
Tourism in the Garraf area, which is less than an hour from Barcelona and yet uncrowded, beautiful and mysterious