A visit to Pago de Tharsys

(Continuing our Requena trip – read part 1 here).

After our copious lunch, we walked, rather than taking a taxi, to the next stop in our journey: Pago de Tharsys, a winery.

I had initially tried to book a taxi to drive us there, but the driver that picked us in the morning swore that this would be a really nice and quiet walk, and it would be very good to help with the digestion after lunch.

The cross on the road to Pago de Tharsys
A road cross – maybe encouraging us to commend our destiny to God as we walked on the side of the road?

However, I am not really sure what his understanding of “quiet” was, as it did not feel quiet at all! Traffic whizzed by fast in both directions, there was not a lot of space to walk on the side of the road and at points you had to cross and walk on the wrong side, as there was a round about in our way and it had tall barriers and no space for pedestrians. Maybe we went the wrong way…? Maybe there was another path? Who knows! But fortunately, we made it in one piece!

When we arrived to the winery, we were enthusiastically welcomed and then double checked we were who they were expecting, although basically it was just going to be us as the only guests for the night. She reconfirmed the data from the “online check-in” was right (I had filled forms online the day before), and told us some stories as to how these records were used by the Civil Guard to spot delinquents on the run (!).

Then we were shown to our room, which was in a different building a little bit aside, next to a water reservoir. It felt quite insulated and was very warm, and I thought they were a bit exaggerated with the air conditioning, so I stopped it.

We were also shown the shared living room where we could have a “picnic” dinner later. This room was downstairs in a sort of cave space. It was also boiling hot and I was quite amused that she mentioned that we could turn on the heater later if we wanted, and pointed us to the operating instructions. I wondered: “who is going to need that? it’s so hot!” It was such a change from the freezing morning we had spent, and I felt like something did not “compute”.

After dropping the bags in our rooms and resting for a few minutes, we walked back to reception to wait for the rest of people in the tasting. We heard that some people were not joining the tour because they were ill but hadn’t thought of calling 🤪, and the other couple were slightly late, and yet no one seemed to be very worried; it was a bit like the super chill person in the cafetería in the morning. In contrast, in London you’re always trying your best to show up to your reservations on time, lest they cancel it if you’re late! It’s such a different pace…!

Some vines high trained on wire, benches, barrels, pine trees and various winery buildings in the background
Views while waiting for the tour to start

But eventually everyone arrived and we put our coats back and adjusted our hats and went to the still sunny, but windy, outdoors to start our tour.

Our guide quickly set up the context—this used to be an old cava (a building to make wine) which had been disused for a while, then around 20 years ago Vicent García, “padre del cava valenciano” (“Father of the Valencian cava”)—the person that initiated the process/movement to make it possible to make cava in Valencia, and not just in Catalunya— decided to acquire the property to keep making nice wine-related things.

She explained the origin behind the name “Tharsys” but I think I was trying to connect what she was saying with what I was thinking I knew about the phoenicians in Spain and their winemaking habits, so I didn’t pay all the attention I should have, and I didn’t quite get all the details. Something about an old legend or a character, something about the phoenicians already making wine? Maybe they found some amphorae in Requena, proving wine was made as of old? Something.

Either way, we moved towards the main winery building. There’s a big pyramid-shaped plaque on the wall there, of which I forgot to take a picture. It places the different classifications that wine can be in, under the Spanish wine laws, in a pyramid, with Pagos at the top. She explained how wines from a pago should be exceptional, e.g. being made with grapes grown within the limits of the estate, and processed and aged in the estate as well, and they also have to have something special about them. Although they produce wines under various denominations, their Pago-level wines are are made from grapes they grow in the estate, which are hand picked, and more often than not at night (to avoid oxidation/fermentation by heat if done in day time) and in boxes (to avoid crushing or damaging the grapes), and then processed and matured and all that, all within the boundary of the pago. And what was special was the soil, and “the rock” that she promised would show us. I thought she was joking as the terrain looked quite… flat, and I could not envision us going uphill any minute soon.

We walked a few more steps to get closer to the rows of vines. They grow Bobal, of course, but also others such as Merlot.

Their grapes are cultivated organically, but they still use limited amounts of approved-organic products, which have a downside: they work very slowly. As a grape grower, you need a way to figure out early if a pest is coming, so you can spray before it’s too late.

Enter rose bushes. They are very similar to vines, but more sensitive, so they can act as your “pest bellwether”. And that’s why there are rose bushes planted at the beginning of the rows, and very especially in prominent, high transit areas, so the growers can keep an eye on things. If a pest is coming, rose bushes pick them up 10-12 days before the vines do, which gives growers time to react to these early symptoms.

She also told us how they try to not waste things if possible—so the branches and canes that are pruned at the end of the season, along with other byproducts (e.g. the pressed skins) get somewhat grounded/chopped and buried on the spaces between rows so that they returns nutrients back to the soil.

From here we moved to the main winery building.

Having seen a few of these, it looked like… a modern winery! Although it is a working winery, and it was a workday, so we didn’t get much into it so as to not to disturb the workers (we could hear all the noises in the background, behind the tanks).

She explained to us how “the circuit” of tubes and belts could be configured, depending on whether they were making white or red wine. For example, with white wines you generally don’t want any skin contact with the juice, so the grapes get pressed and the skins are quickly discarded, and then the juice is sent to tanks to start the fermentation, which she said took about a day for whites but longer for reds, as in that case you do want skin contact so as to extract the colours and flavours from the skins, etc.

As someone who’s studying this, it felt very logical and it was nice to see this in person (rather than in small pictures in the textbook), but I could see that the other couple were a bit bored and uninterested, as they started asking questions such as why are some bottles differently sized, which clearly had nothing to do with what we were looking at.

Our guide quickly promised them a response to that in a while, and we moved on to another building where they do the second press and “their experiments” with the juice they extract from subsequent presses after the first gentle press. In particular they’re working on making liquors and infusing them with orange (how unsurprising in Valencia!). I wish we had lingered a bit longer on this building as their experiments sounded quite intriguing, but I think the guide could sense this was boring the other people to death, so we moved on to the next (an older) building.

Back in the days, this used to be the actual winemaking building in the property. But nowadays, its thick walls makes it a perfect candidate for aging and bottle-maturing wines for the pago denomination. So this is where all the oak barrels (both American and French, old and new) are resting with slowly aging wine in them.

I find these “resting” areas really fascinating and imposing: many things are happening at once, and yet you can’t hear or see them, so it’s all quite calm and peaceful, and they may in fact also be happening because it’s calm…

We then went downstairs, to the cellar.

This is where they used to ferment the wine in the former incarnation of the winery, before temperature controlled tanks existed, but it’s been repurposed and racks of densely packed bottles take the place of the former fermenting wine.

It is also where the cava is matured.

Cava bottles on racks on the cellar
Cava bottles on racks on the cellar

Rather than mechanical, they do manual riddling, and we could see a few of the frames being slowly moved towards a vertical position before disgorgement takes place—a few centimeters each day! She explained how quickly disgorgement goes, as they use a machine to freeze the bottom and extract the sediment, etc, and how much safer it is, as the pressure build up from the gas is quite substantial (she was very excited by this part). POP!

And then she pointed at The Rock!

Detail of the rock underneath the estate, taken from the cellar
THE ROCK

Since the cellar is, well, underground, like a proper cellar, and it was quite below 2 metres deep, we got to see the layer of rock over which the estate is sitting (which is at a depth of 2 metres). Which in other words means that the layer of soil is quite shallow, and the vines don’t really have a lot of depth to excavate and get nutrients from, so they’ll be a tiny bit stressed, a bit as if they were on a mountain slope, and apparently a little bit of stress is really good for encouraging the right type of growth in vines. Success!

After seeing the “jewel of the crown”, we went upstairs, crossed a corridor and ended up on the other side of the building: the shop/bar, where we were going to do the tasting.

A wine bar counter, with a person preparing bottles and glasses to be tasted
Tasting is about to begin!

We started with their premium cava, which we liked (of course, I end up liking the expensive things).

A glass of Pago de Tharsys Rosé cava. Bubbles are coming up from the bottom.
A glass of Pago de Tharsys Rosé cava

Then we tried an Albariño, which was the most un-Albariño thing you’d expect, due to having been cultivated in very different soils and climates from where Albariño is normally cultivated: the moderate continental of Requena vs the maritime of Galicia—I really liked this one too. Instead of mostly green notes, it was peachy, sweet, yet acid. Very interesting!

On the sight of multiple bottles, the lady asked her question again: why are bottles this or that size and shape? And this time she got her answer: basically marketing. I was wondering why she didn’t follow up on that, as I am not sure I would have been satisfied with that, but she seemed content enough with that belated answer. For a minute, I wondered if she would appreciate my “insights” on the different packaging options available to wine producers and blah blah, but I decided to shut up and continue enjoying the tasting 🤪

Finally, we tried one of their experiments—a natural red wine. I wasn’t too keen on this to be very frank… I do normally enjoy natural wines, perhaps more than most people we try wines with, but I found this did not quite work for me.

Three wine glasses in the foreground. The two on the left are empty, the one on the right has some red wine.
I could not finish the natural red wine

They make a trio of natural wines under the same “line”, and I wish she had shown us the other “colours” (white, and rosé I think), so we could compare. But I think it was getting late and it was time to start wrapping up the tasting.

We spent a few minutes browsing the shop and then bought a couple of “souvenirs” in the shape of a bottle of cava and their atypical albariño, and they handed us the hamper for dinner before we went back to our room.

The wine shop at Pago de Tharsys. Shelves with bottles on the sides, and some shelves in the middle with more bottles. A chandelier in the ceiling. A big arched window to the right side. Boxes of wine next to the window. Some high tables and chairs on the left side.
The shop at Pago de Tharsys

A consequence of staying in a winery that is not a hotel proper is that there’s no restaurant or room service or anything like that available. But they understand that people might want to eat something so they offer this hamper service. You can eat outside in warmer days, but we decided we’d have our indoors picnic in the shared living room.

The empty parking area at Pago de Tharsys. The sun is setting over the vineyards. Trees get a honey colour.
The sun is setting

This is when things got amusing: the sun had set while we had been tasting and buying wines, we realised. And once it gets dark in these climates, it also gets very cold very quickly. And wow, it was cold in the living room! I understood then why the guide had been so insistent in letting us know about the pellet heater that we could use if we wanted to. At that moment, I definitely wanted to use it.

I had never used one of those things but followed the instructions and suddenly was in front of some flames, which was exciting. There was also some initial smoke, which was a bit more worrying. Devvers speculated if we would maybe die of carbon monoxide overdose? So I opened the window for a bit until the smoke went away. Eventually it did, and the heater started heating and producing wonderful flames (this was all controlled and behind a glass).

I was happy with drinking just water, but Devvers said if we didn’t have cava when staying at a winery then something was wrong with us! So we picked a bottle from the selection that was available on the counter, and then we started laying out the contents of the hamper on the table that was closest to the flames, obviously. I was not going to be freezing until the whole room was heated!

A pellet heater in the background, then a table with dishes, cutlery and various food items
Setting up our indoors picnic at Pago de Tharsys

Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of meat-based stuff. After eating the huge chorizo-flavoured gazpacho and the steak at lunch, I felt like my meat quota had been exceeded for the whole of March already, maybe even April (it was still February). Pig cheeks, foie-gras, dried sausage, other dried sausage… and some asparagus, tomatoes and walnuts in the vegetable department. I liked the cheese the most. I suppose if we hadn’t had such a meaty lunch, we could have enjoyed this more, but we couldn’t really finish much of it!

After dinner we tidied up so the staff didn’t have to do a lot of work the next day, and set aside the things we hadn’t opened but that we’d take with us (we’re not in favour of food waste!), and the best moment of the night happened: we played terrible pool together! While drinking cava! And snacking on chocolates!

A pool table in the shared living room
Pool table!

This was something I certainly had not expected or planned for, but I did enjoy it so much. I play really bad pool so the offer of playing for free without having to agonise over each of the actions and how they’ll mean I’ll waste money really quickly is so liberating. That said, Devvers plays even worse than me, so there’s some comfort in there 😆

Back to our room to finally sleep, it was very quiet. Extremely quiet even. Between being surrounded by fields, there not being any other guests, and the fact that the window was double glazed, it was super quiet. I can understand how some people might be weirded out by that, but I loved it!

In the morning, a multitude of birds were singing outside. I can’t say that they woke me up (because the double glazing was doing a very good job of not letting noises in) but it was really a thing of wonder to open the window and see all the singing and flying. “Is this what living in the countryside is like?”, I wondered 🤔

I was secretly looking forward to the breakfast as I had read really good things about it (Devvers had trusted me to do the booking so didn’t know a thing about this).

Cristina not only runs the breakfast but is also the maker of most of the things on the table! It was really nice to eat home made stuff: wholemeal bread, two types of jam, just-pressed orange juice, and two types of coca: plain and chocolate, plus drink the entire contents of a very homely and Spanish-traditional espresso coffee maker (planted in the table so we could help ourselves).

It genuinely did feel like we were staying at the home of the most generous and feeder-y of Spanish grandmothers, and if it wasn’t enough she also asked if we wanted anything else! We politely declined and thanked her for all these nicely baked goods. She said she wished to see us back! Ah, such grandma vibes.

I also couldn’t help thinking about increasing sugar levels in blood and wondering if this extravaganza would make me diabetic or at least give me one of those sugar highs and whether I’d start running in circles around the winery. We decided to look around and investigate the things we didn’t look at the day before, with the nice background music of bird songs.

A bit later, the taxi picked us up and drove us back to the train station… which had another customer, apart from us. The woman in the information desk was so happy to talk to us; she was very keen to answer all of my questions! She explained that the really cheap tickets we had got were actually a new thing to encourage people to travel by train and increase connectivity, mobility, all those words which end in Y. So they reserve a whole train car for those tickets, although they are sold as “another train” but it is the same “AVE” train which leaves at the same time. Very confusing!

She also said that the reason that you have to provide name and ID to travel by train, like when buying plane tickets, is for accident/insurance reasons—if an accident happens, we want to know who was in the train, as in the past the ticket might have been bought by someone but then someone else would travel with that ticket. I asked What about suburban trains? They can have accidents too, is it feasible to check everyone’s ID at the turnstiles? Obviously she said it’s not viable to do that for such volumes of passengers, but it is here, as the luggage is also scanned… I am still pondering about this line of thought, but it was an interesting reason other than the classic “we want to track you”.

I still wonder if I should write to the town’s tourist department and tell them about the concept of “bus”, which would complete the final triad: multi-modality. Not really sure what the point of subsidised train tickets is if people still depend on arranging some transport to the town!

In any case, we had spare time to wait in the station once we cleared security, so here’s another video I recorded! I think this is a bit more cinematic; I hope you enjoy the sense of void and quiet… and speed!

And if case you want to visit:

Pago de Tharsys
Carretera Nacional III. Km. 274,
46340 Requena (Valencia), Spain
https://pagodetharsys.com/

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