We treated ourselves to our first night in a proper campsite so that we could both drink at the Bodegas Muga wine tour. I was a little worried at how early it started (10am) but thankfully we had the tour before the wine tasting.
The Muga brand is owned by the Muga family, it was established in 1932. Prior to this, they made wine which was sold directly to France and the French branded the wines themselves. The wine would be sent up to France on a train in the barrels below.
The Muga company owns 250 vineyards and controls a further 150, the mixture of both the Mediterranean and Atlantic weather as well as the clay and limestone soils all work to give the wine it’s flavour. However, the distinct Muga taste actually comes from the barrels they use. Muga’s unique selling point is that they have the only ‘Master Cooper’ in Spain (who is already past retirement age!) Where most wineries use stainless steel casts, Muga employ barrel-makers and a cubero (who makes the larger barrels).
The cooperage use American and French oak for their barrels. They manipulate the wood by heating it up, and the ‘toast’ (as our guide called it) created on the inside of the barrel through this process gives the wine the flavour. She said that often wine tasters are convinced that the coffee or chocolate flavours are from the soil or the weather, but it is all from the barrel itself.
The smaller barrels are sold after 5 years to Scottish distilleries to make whisky in. They are sold at different prices depending on how good the wine was that was stored in them. They had thousands of barrels at the winery because they also complete a ‘racking’ process where they transfer wine from one barrel to another every four months to get rid of any sediment. They use a candle that they hold under a glass bowl to check whether there is any sediment towards the end of the barrel, so it is a process where time is of the essence! Where a lot of wineries will use a machine to do this, they believe that using this old-fashioned ‘gravity assisted’ method means that you’re not tampering with the wine. There is a video about this process on the Muga website.
The giant barrels have little doors at the bottom of them. This is so that when they have almost emptied the barrels, someone can jump into the top of them and then scoop out the grape skins from the bottom. They can use some of these once they have been pressed, but some of it isn’t good enough for their wine so they sell it onto other companies who make cheaper wine.
The Muga company has 40 employees at the winery (9 of which are part of the Muga family), from the ‘Master Cooper’ to the person whose job it is to break the eggs and separate the egg whites to add to the wine for the ‘fining’ process. Someone in our group asked what happens to all of the egg yolks, and we were told that Mrs Muga had a friend who owns a patisserie in the village so they made a deal where she gives her all of the egg yolks, and in return the lady makes sweets for the Muga shop to sell every day. Even though the company produces millions of bottles of wine, it is most definitely a family-run business and it plays a big part in the local community.
But the most exciting bit of all is that at the end of the wine tour, Mr Muga himself passed by and invited us to join him for a wine tasting! What was initially meant to be us tasting a couple of wines in their wine bar ended up being us trying five wines around their family table with asparagus, chorizo, ham and bread! We had a really lovely 2010 Gran Reserva bottle of red wine, but the real treat was a bottle that they don’t even sell to the public – it’s just a family rose wine that they make for themselves and their friends.
The Bodegas Muga have wines dating back to the 1960s (that we saw), but to be able to keep vintage wines and produce some of the best quality wines that will be kept for years to come, they need to make money as a business, and so they make popular wines like summer rose wines, but we got the impression that they weren’t quite so proud of these!
It was really interesting listening to Mr Muga talk about his family business, everyone we met who works there obviously has such a passion for the wine they make. They are very unique in the ways they work, it’s old-fashioned but in a really good way. And as Mr Muga said himself, this might not mean that they are the best, but they definitely make their wine with the most love.