Persuaded by the prospect of crushing grapes and a free lunch (Hey, who said there’s no such thing?), I just couldn’t wait for the infamous wine outing. I’ve heard stories about this company-sponsored afternoon. Past International Recruits, like myself, have had one glass (or several glasses) too many and posed for scandalous photos that later surfaced on Facebook. There’s just something about drinking with your boss and your boss’s boss that is terrifying and exciting at the same time. Having a good rapport with all of my jefes (bosses) relieved me of these anxieties and let me enjoy what would otherwise be a bit risqué in my home country.
This boozy Saturday afternoon started long before the manchego cheese and olives were being passed around the table. The bus dropped us off in a small village 60 km (37 miles) southwest of Madrid called Colmenar de Oreja, what appeared to be a quaint town in the-middle-of-nowhere. Here we met the proprietors of the vineyard and were handed grape-vine-cutting gizmos and heavy rubber baskets. After a quick demonstration about the variety of grapes growing in this field – these green ones are used to make a type of white wine – and harvesting technique, we were all divided into groups and challenged to collect the most grapes.
Ready. Set. Go.
We were off, and unlike any disciplined field hand, I allowed curiosity get the better of me and I tasted a grape. I was shocked. While expecting it to be bitter or tough, likely not fit to be eaten raw, I found this little sampling delectable. Fresh off the vine, it was a sweet, crisp, and delicious morsel, the fruit of warm Spanish sunshine and rocky soil.
I sampled a few more of the freshest grapes of my life before realizing that my teammates were struggling to fill our basket while other teams’ baskets started overflowing. Well, I learned that I’m not cut out for a career in grape harvesting, but I wasn’t about to give up yet as wine maker and taster, which are more up my alley.
From the fields we traveled a short distance to the winery at Solera Bodegas where we were met with simple, yet exquisitely set tables prepared for La Comida, the big afternoon meal. But before the feast and wine ‘tasting’ underneath the shady veranda, it was only appropriate to learn how those luscious green grapes magically transform into vino blanco (white wine).
The tools and equipment have changed drastically over the years. It was intriguing to see the wooden, old school equipment in contrast to modern day technology. Even though the tubes and piping made it look like some wild science experiment, the folks at Solera maintain a small operation and stay close to tradition, apparent by the giant clay vats that have been used for over a century.
Cold, wet, squishy, and a much more difficult job that you would think, I started to feel nostalgic while stomping on the bright green and surprisingly firm grapes. That’s because this reminded me of the iconic I Love Lucy episode. With the grapes sufficiently stomped and having worked up an appetite, we could finally enjoy the fruits of our labor.
Like most Europeans, the Spanish have a high regard for wine and wine making. I think that wine is most eloquently described in this quote by Ernest Hemmingway:
Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing. —Death in the Afternoon, 1932