A snaking road just past Torvizcón takes you on a stunning journey up the Sierra de la Contraviesa. In 16km only two cars squeezed by us as we headed for Europe’s highest vineyard. At 1400m above sea level this was the first time in Spain we experienced absolute silence; no breeze, no dogs, no flies, no voices – just the dull thud of our heartbeats as we left the car and walked, in the mad heat, to appreciate the view.
In Órgiva, even at 450m, we’re used to looking up at the mountains but here, with the villages of Cañar to the west and Busquístar and Capilerilla across the vast valley, we looked down through the haze. We were on top of the world.
In Spain most things close on a Sunday, but not wineries – many are normally only open at the weekend and Wine Centre Alpujárride is no exception. Before we arrived we took a wrong turn and ended up in a tiny winery (Piedras Blancas – ’white stones’) that could have been – Miss Havisham-like – untouched for decades. A pregnant dog growled at us on arrival before we eventually found the door into the ’shop’ opposite an old wine press in the yard. We were offered a tasting, admired the hanging jamón, bought two litres of tinto and left. By now, the dog was wagging her tail.
If Piedras Blancas is a local shop for local people, Alpujárride is a huge, gleaming department store, set up to educate you about wine and, of course, sell you some. We liked the place, partly because of the helpful José who showed us how to use the interactive floor map using our feet, and also because the information was in English (moho = mildew, you get the picture).
For €8 each we enjoyed entry to the museum, two glasses of wine and two tapa: fried padrón peppers with rock salt and Trevélez jamón – plus a fabulous array of cheeses with walnuts and fig jam.
The driver kindly gave the passenger her second glass making it seem like an hour in Gordon´s Wine Bar had arrived by noon in baking Andalucía. With sheer roadside drops, it’s really not the place to lose concentration when driving. Plus the odd deer or goat could cross the road at any time.
We learnt that cork trees grow slowly; 1.5mm in the early years, 1mm thereafter, take 30 years’ growth before the bark can be used, are harvested every nine and end production after 150 years or so. In the museum you can fondle a piece of cork bark if you wish and sniff lids of jars to `guess the aroma´ much-loved by wine people (chocolate, blackcurrant, nicotine, London underground train at midnight, etc).
This area has many cork forests, as well as pine and oak. Olive and almond trees are, as ever, ubiquitous. And the large bottle in our garden we will now cherish and not almost smash each time we water the garden.
We highly recommend a visit to Alpujárride and children should enjoy it too. Next time we will try the restaurant with its gigantic windows and views across the endless rows of vines. Munching with those views is something special, especially with delicious wine. As we left, we spotted a solitary rose bush at the end of a vine. It’s there to warn of diseases as, once it shows signs of a problem, the vines could also be in trouble. We saw the same thing in St Emilion.
The looping drive back to Órgiva skimmed past Rubite and a myriad abandoned houses. As we descended, with Los Tablones beneath us, you could feel the rush of hot air enter the car as if an oven door had been opened. It had been cooler – so living high up has its benefits, including having the best off licence on your doorstep.
The four bottles we bought – to `save for a special occasion´ – lasted seven minutes on arrival back home (well, one was opened). But hey, tomorrow we could drive off a winding road, never to be seen again.
Finca Juan de Reyes, S/N. Carretera Haza del Lino, off the GR-5204, 18430 Torvizcón, Granada. Open weekends: 11am to 7pm (every day in August). More about their wines here.
[Driving tip – Órgiva towards Torvizcón: just as you leave Torvizcón look out for the Alpujárride/Contraviesa sign and turn right. Shortly afterwards you reach a Contraviesa/cementerio junction, turn left and drive for about 15km going uphill all the way on a narrow tarmac road. When you reach a main road (GR-5402), turn right and drive for a few minutes. Alpujárride is on your right. On leaving, turn right and follow signs back to Órgiva.]
© con jamón spain