Alella DO, one of the oldest wine regions in Spain on Barcelona’s doorstep

Alella offers a unique opportunity to enjoy a wine culture in vineyards just 15 kilometres from Barcelona. One of the smallest and oldest Spanish wine appellations (DO), it is perfectly situated on the Mediterranean coast, protected by the Litoral mountain range. The cellars organise numerous activities for wine tourists of all ages where you can learn how to taste wine, take part in the harvest, find a connection between chocolate and wine or just stroll through the vineyards.

Klara Zitnanska

April 10, 2012 08:32 PM

Alella (CNA).– If you’re on holiday in Barcelona and want to have a break from exploring Gaudí’s architecture, you can make a refreshing change and check out the wine cellars and vineyards of the Protected Designation of Origin (DO) Alella, one of the oldest and smallest wine appellations in Spain. All you need to do is to take your car or catch the bus from the centre of Barcelona and in just twenty minutes you can be at Alella’s tourist office.

The small town of Alella, which lends its name to the small wine region, is located 15 kilometres north from the centre of Barcelona, on the Mediterranean coast, at the foot of the granite Litoral mountain range. Along with the vineyards, you can find great beaches as well as going walking in the mountains in the Serralda Litoral Natural Park, where you can go on hiking tours. But the number one attraction of Alella is the wine culture.

Producing wine since Roman times

The presence of wine in Alella goes back at least to Roman times. Proof of that is the Cella Vinaria archaeological park in Teià, close to the town of Alella. This was the preserved Roman vineyard, which was the wine-making centre of Roman Laietania.  Documentary evidence of its activity exists from the 1st century BC.

At the end of the 19th century phyloxera violently attacked the region, but thanks to replanting of plague-resistant vines of American origin, the wine makers could start again. In 1906 the wine cooperative Alella Vinícola was founded. In the centre of Alella an Art-Nouveau style winery by one of Gaudí’s disciples architect Jeroni Martorell was built.

The wines produced by the cooperative were considered to be of very fine quality and were exported worldwide. To protect their quality and authenticity the Regulatory Council of the Alella wine appellation (called Denominació d’Origen in Catalan, DO) was created in 1953. During the 1990s the cooperative was disbanded and since then Alella Vinícola is a private company, but one which still continues to produce valued wines.

Visiting the cellars

You can visit Alella Vinícola very easily. It is situated in the centre of the town, close to the tourist office, where useful information about the small wine region, including a map of the cellars is available. The Alella Vinícola offers several wine related activities. Guided visits allow visitors to discover the Art-Nouveau winery, see how it works and how they worked in the past, what the processes of making all sorts of wines are, why they have such a small chemical laboratory, what is the difference between making red and white wine, where and how long wine is fermented, how wine gets into the bottle, and how to taste wines.

The visitor can also focus on wine tasting and spend some time with a representative of the winery tasting and analysing their red, rosé and white wines and cava. Alella DO wines consist of several varieties of grape. Those white varieties which have traditionally been cultivated in the Alella area are Pansa Blanca, Garnatxa Blanca, Pansa Rosada, Picapoll and Malvasia. The red varieties are made from Tempranillo, Garnatxa Negra and Garnatxa Peluda. A few years ago, new varieties were introduced, such as Parellada, Macabeu, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, among others.

Some of the wineries also offer space, where you can arrange your business meetings or team buildings sessions and connect them with interesting wine activities. Gemma Becerra from Alella Vinícola explains, that in their cellars you and your colleagues can take part in a programme, where you can try to produce your own wine, including creating a strategy for a name and how to sell it. It can act as a kind of business training. They also do not forget about kids as tastings can be organised for schools.

One of the last “urban vineyards” in Europe

A tour through vineyards can be added to the classic wine tourism experience where you can obtain information about the geology of the Alella DO, about traditional varieties of the area, the biological cycle of the vineyard and vine growing techniques (cultivation, pruning, watering systems, grape harvest). In Alella you can visit one of the last “urban vineyards” in Europe. Vineyards are integrated into the more built-up areas and are very easily reached from the town. Nowadays Alella’s vineyards cover only one third of the area that they covered in 1956 when the company was established. Due to urbanisation in the 70’s and 80’s, many wine producers sold parts of their lands converting them into construction plots for second residences for Barcelona people. Therefore Alella DO suffers from lack of grapes. Instead of quantity they are focusing on quality.

To the less known wine tourism activities we can add work experience. You can try taking care of the vineyard or taking part in some seasonal activities like pruning or harvest. Alella Vinícola also organises gastronomy experiences, where you can enjoy the connection between food and wine during tastings of chocolate, cheese, hams, etc.

An exclusive wine region of only 314ha and eight cellars

Alella’s vineyards occupy an area of 314ha in 18 different municipal areas of the Maresme and the Vallès Oriental Counties and consist of eight cellars (Alella Vinícola, Bouquet d`Alella, Roura, Alta Alella, Altrabanda, Can Roda, Joaquim Batlle, Parxet – Marqués de Alella), which produce 6,000 hectolitres of wine a year. Almost all of them organise some activities for wine tourists. All these offers can be found at the websites of the vineyards or on Alella’s tourist office. They are also usually in three languages – Catalan, Spanish and English. Also the guided tours and tastings are offered in these three languages. If you visit this area in the autumn, do not forget to have a look at the season highlights: the Grape Harvest festival in September and the Alella DO Grape & Wine Festival in November.