The journey back to the parador was perilous, in that my stomach was turned inside out from the adventurous route through the mountains. After a splash of the face, and a heart rate return to normal after the pulpo gallego extravaganza at dizzying altitudes, Ramon was waiting in the parking lot for a drive to his vineyards. We were already prepped for beauty and stunning views, but his vineyards (three in all) were breathtaking and distinctly different in their own rights.
He insisted on being called Moncho, and presented himself in a matter of fact fashion. He wanted to chat about animals and his job as a veterinarian, that the winemaking was just family tradition. He gave us a good recount of the viticultural movements by era, and before it could get too technical we were upon the caneiro river.
The plot looked like it was blessed by the river breezes and emboldened by the northerly sunlight. The combination of shad to light to breeze surely put the caneiro vines in an advantageous locale. But Moncho did not talk technical wine geek speak. Rather it was about the families who have been cultivating for years, doing what they do for themselves as part of being farmers and ultimately true Galicians.
We visited his two other plots which were impressive but not as marvelous as caneiro. The feeling on the slopes was a mixed bag of envy, and fear of the treacherous work necessary to love the land enough to continue producing wine for the family as a hobby and part of tradition that dated back to Roman times.
To understand the true meaning of Ribeira Sacra, Moncho felt it necessary to visit the religious side of the community. He first brought us to an old church where the caretaker rocked in her chair several hundred meters away in town. She accompanied us to the door revealing a classic expression of Galician stone craftsmanship, vaulted by a carved wooden ceiling and Spartan testament towards worship.
The next stop was a monastery, where as a boy Moncho learned to tend to the animals, and later as a doctor healing sick livestock. For payment, the nuns would bake wondrous cakes of marzipan and local fruits. To this day he visits them, still communicating through the old revolving portal system – contact with outsiders physically being strictly prohibited.
Transfixed on the monastery grounds under a great cypress tree in the midst of absolute solitude brought me back to the top of Dominio do Bibei, an experience of solace and contemplation, prayer if you will. Ribeira Sacra is a sacred place because the people value family, tradition, and the power of prayer, soaking in the natural surroundings and way of life as a true gift from above. Hence the soul of the Ventura family wines reflects these values.
A pit stop in town at Bar Caracas for a late cortadito was colorful. The gentlemen were fiercely playing cards. MariCarmen, the lady at the bar regaled us with stories of her days in Venezuela. El Cap and I basked in the moment of good coffee, and especially the way of life that has not changed much for the elders present, the slow roll that is Galicia.
Back at the family winery, Moncho showed us his digs. At the back of a very old house is a separate room with stainless steel vats and bottling assembly line. Cases of wine from his small production not to far in the garage distance. Mom and Pop greeted us eagerly, and we were made to feel at home immediately. We tasted a barrel sample or two of the 2008 crop, and were promptly seated to a family style meal as if we were neighbors just dropping in at the right time.
The display of a cured Celtic ham leg lay in plain view at all times, as we devoured ham and chorizo. His mom made tortillas to order, and it took real discipline to stop after the third one. The farm fresh potatoes and eggs, the glistening façade yielding a runny interior – tortilla perfection. Moncho’s dad ran around looking for old bottles for us to drink, and Moncho argued with his dad about his stash of older vintages.
The 2007 Pena de Lobo was juicy with granite character, while the 2007 Caneiro, was fresh, young, lively and a bit denser. Both paired sublimely with the ternera (veal chops). We finished up with a local cheese, arzua ulloa and house made membrillo, our stomachs once again expanding and challenged to fit in one last bite.
Moncho talked about being visited by his importer, who advised him not to make blends, but instead to feature single plot vineyards for his cuvees. He did not seem preoccupied with vino mumbo jumbo, just concentrates on making honest, good wine. His father expressed concern about the young people, and how they were not interested in hard work any more. He seemed robust to me, and happy to still be working his land.
The darkness masked the mountains on the way back to the parador, and El Capitan and I ended the evening with two Cohiba cigars I had been gifted from my new friend in Madrid. They burned slowly as we recapped the day. I wondered if it could get any better. El Cap responded that each winery visit is different, but that the exhilaration of the day ranked high on his list. Overlooking Monforte de Lemos at night, with the Galician breeze, the luminescent stars, and shiny moon, our cigar smoke billowing through the dark blue sky, fatigue finally crept in, the emotional and mental exhaustion of a truly magical place taking its necessary toll.