Enjoying Pou de Píques on a cold windy day in june

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A bodega in El Maestrat, Spain
Domingo checking over his wines on a cold windy June day

My son Charlie and his girlfriend Becca came to stay for a week mid June.  I hadn’t been back to Pou de Píque since March and thought now would be a good time to see the vines growing. 

So on an unseasonably cold and windy Tuesday we bundled into a van and bumped across to Albocasser, past the new luxury prison with its swimming pool, and some time later stopped at the windswept finca.  Wow was it chilly and grey! We were all dressed rather optimistically in shorts and t-shirts as the day before had been sunny and hot.

Checking the fruit development of a grape vine
Grapes are not grapes until the fruit pods appear

Domingo took us around, explaining the ins and outs of vine cultivation; which buds were good, which shoots to keep, when to prune and so forth.  I realized how I much needed to improve my pruning techniques and timing in Masia Lavanda.  Oh my poor traumatised vines!  No wonder they were looking droopy. 

Young grape vines, Spain
Rows of 2 year old grape vines at Pou de Píques

Last year Domingo planted more varieties to add to the ancient vines he has – some of which he cannot put a name to as they were never documented.   After a rough start the young plants are taking off.  He only uses copper, sulphur and a fungicide to treat them. If he dropped the fungicide, he would be able to get an organic certification. Certainly the proliferation of white snails pays homage to the lack of chemicals here. For the moment however the plants need to establish themselves a bit more.

White snail of Spain
The white snail of Spain is found in the mountains and is a protected species – it belongs to the mountains no matter where it is found

To date Cabernet, Syrah, Viognier, Sauvignon, Merlot and Muscatel are some of the varieties growing on Pou de Píques.  Only 2 hectares of Domingo’s 110 hectare finca is planted with the grape, but in time he hopes to expand.

Donkeys, mother and child
We walked past the donkeys

We walked along the land, past the horses and donkeys, past the apricot and cherry trees.  He pointed out a number of old olive trees that had been rescued from the prison when the land was cleared. They were still recovering from their replacement and various limbs had been cut and buttered with blue fungicide to improve their chances of survival. 

Outlawed Spanish bird trap
These traps are all over El Maestrat and banned from being used now

Presently we passed a circle of six spectacular oak trees surrounded by waist height breeze block walls.  Wooden poles and iron had been covertly crisscrossed between their branches.  Until they were banned in 2000, they were used to trap birds who would enter and hit the unexpected barriers. Deep underground tunnels, now falling into disrepair, furtively led hunters from one trap to another. It was a bit spooky in truth.  They looked like war trenches and in a way they were.

Bird hunters' tunnel, Spain
The hunter tunnels seem to be haunted

We came to a small house Domingo and his late father had built years before.  The stonework was perfect, hewn by hand with only a hammer and a chisel by a master stonemason from Atzeneta.  The windows and doors were of aluminium, finished in wood effect.  That is Domingo’s day job and these fittings were the first of their kind to be manufactured in the area. Charlie and Becca rushed through the house, fantasizing about living there, marvelling over the interior well and the gorgeous stone fireplace.

Hand-cut stone, Spain
Detail of the hand-cut stone and aluminium shutters

The weather turned even colder so we made our way back along a beautiful track with wild flowers to the main house.  In the workshop next to it, Domingo pointed out two baby kestrels nesting in a high “peep” hole.  White bird excrement trailed down from it, not from just this year, but from several springs before when the family came to stay.  I snapped a lucky photograph of their wonderful quizzical faces before they retreated inside.  These kestrels were so plump and large that it was hard to believe they weren’t already adults.

Common Kestrel of Spain
The common Kestrel of Spain likes to nest in barns high up


Making a paella in El Maestrat
Paquita carefully covers the finished paella to keep it just right until needed

Inside the house Domingo’s mother, Paquita, hovered over a paella whose steam filled the house with a mouth-watering aroma. While she finished off her masterpiece, we took plastic buckets and picked cherries in the spitting wind.  Charlie the dog gulped up those that fell, stones and all. It was so cold now that it seemed as if November had arrived before the summer. 

Charlie, a farm dog in Spain
Charlie definitely ruled the roost at Pou de Píques – or so he thought!

Hurrying back to the house, we started about the serious business of tasting this year’s wines in progress, discussing their balance, and how the fermentation and aeration would continue.   We sat in a room full of huge stainless steel vats.  Jazz played in the background. In the centre of the table Domingo placed a jug to empty our glasses before we sampled the next offering. I of course drank everything.  It was simply too good.

A classic paella in El Maestrat, Spain
The paella was very more-ish

Thus lubricated we proceeded to the dining room and feasted on ham and cheese and giant prawns, followed by Paquita’s scrummy paella.  All of this was washed down with more wines and for once we all threw our diets to the wind.  To round off the meal we gorged on cherries and chocolate creamy cake while Charlie played the guitar and sang. 

Produce from a Spanish farm come bodega
The cherries were divine as was the wine

The day over, we were sent on our way with several bottles of wine and four small crates of plump dark red cherries that no one could stop eating. 

That is a good life. How lucky we are.  How lucky I am to have come to this corner of Spain.

A farm in El Maestrat
Pou de Píques, all 110 hectares of it, is still beautiful in the unseasonable June cold.


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