Oh boy. Today brings the first test for the climbers in this year’s Vuelta: two category 1 ascents, followed by an interim sprint, and then one, last battle to the top before a precipitous descent to the finish line. By the end of the race, the peloton will have climbed over 15,550 feet! And it’s only day three – two-and-a-half more weeks of torture to come. Lucky thing the riders are headed to a delightful haven tucked into the mountain landscape of the Pyrénées.
Andorra, nestled in the mountainous border between France and Spain, must be an agreeable place to live. According to The Lancet in 2014, its people were the longest-lived on Earth, with an average life expectancy of 81 years. The nation (technically a co-principality) is ruled as you would expect, by two princes. But what you might not know, is one of those princes is the Bishop of Urgell (Catalonia) and the other, the President of France. Not a bad perk from their day jobs, right?
The culture is predominantly Catalán but French, Spanish and Portuguese are also spoken by many of the inhabitants. It is believed that Charlemagne granted the original territory of Andorra to its people after they fought with him against the invading Moors from the south. Today the economy’s main drivers are ski tourism and banking, although Andorra may be more familiar as a tiny tax haven for wealthy individuals the world over.
Wine production is a fledgling industry here, and most of the vineyards are small with limited output. That said, Andorra does have several wineries that strive to craft beautiful wine in the challenging mountain conditions. Casa Beal produced the first wine in Andorra, called Cim de Cel, and Celler Mas Berenguer is growing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc for use in its sparkling wines. Casa Auvinyà introduced the first Andorran red wine to the public in 2009: called Evolució, it is a blend of Pinot Noir and Syrah.
They also make a white wine called, Imagine, which they affectionately dub their “snow wine.” An atypical blend to say the least, Imagine is an intriguing mix of Albariño, Viognier, and Pinot Gris. Here’s a quote from the winery, which expresses the optimism of the team, despite the extreme climate in which they are situated. It makes me want to pour a glass of Imagine right now, and pay tribute to their labor of love.
“At Casa Auvinyà we respect the caprices of nature and we take great care in preparing our snow wine. Every day we watch the mountains, the clouds and the sky with a single wish: to be able to harvest with the first snows and before the ice comes and stops our work. Thus our white wine was born, which we imagine born of snow, with the colours of sun and moon.”
For more information on Andorran wine go to http://visitandorra.com/…/what-to-…/wine-tourism-in-andorra/
I’ll be back tomorrow with the story on Stage Four and our arrival in Spain. We’re headed to the Roman city of Tarraco, known today as Tarragona. Wine lovers will recognize the local DOs of Tarragona and Montsant as home to old vines Grenache and Carignan as well as grapes for Cava production. Lots to talk about!