Deciding to come to Plátanos, and truly Crete in general was, somewhat of a last minute decision.
I’d bookmarked a number of flats in Athens to spend these four days acclimating myself after the long journey, familiarizing myself with the language and cultural nuances and most importantly jumpstarting my creativity for writing.
Stumbling upon a flight from Athens to Crete for less than 100 Euros, I started combing AirBnB for interesting, affordable accommodations.
What I found was the stone house. A place I have lovingly started calling Island Eden.
My host, 26 year old Basilis was welcoming from the start, so I knew getting here would not be an issue. A small, isolated village I was hoping to spend my days in the lovely garden typing away on my iPad and possibly tooling around on the country roads via a rented vespa scooter.
What I found instead was an adoptive family that has truly taken me in as one of their own, as if I am simply their American Cousin, come for the week.
Initially upon arrival, Basilis’ mother Popí, was a bit shy, keeping to herself although completely hospitable. The first night she made dinner, ate alongside Basilis & I and then sent me into my apartment with two fresh eggs to cook in the morning. She hardly said a word to me.
The next morning, I was outside scribbling into my journal when she first came out of her house. Immediately offering me a coffee I graciously accepted and continued to write.
When she returned, she said “In more than one hour, I go. You come with me?”
I had no clue as to where she was going or what her plans might be but I immediately replied, “yes, please.”
“In more than one hour” she reminded.
So I got dressed and ready for an adventure to who knows where with a woman I had only just met who clearly speaks little english & I, no Greek. What has transpired over the last few days in undoubtedly a friendship that will span the ocean that lies between us.
Ready, I got into her car and we headed down the road.
“My English, not so good. Patient. We go to Kissamos. I have some work. You follow me?” she asked.
“What kind of work?” I questioned.
“I go to this place, we sell oil, oil from olive, then plants to put in ground, maybe a coffee, good view coffee. You follow me?”
“Yes” I said with a smile.
Piece milled conversation followed but we reached the neighboring village of Kissamos and wound through the cobbled stone streets. I still have no idea where she took me initally but it looked almost like some sort of tax office. An old building with lots of chatter coming from above. Inside a large office with lots of people waiting. What for? I can’t tell you.
She spoke briefly with a man, some women asked me a question in Greek to which I replied with a smile & shrugged my shoulders – they giggled and smiled back. Then suddenly Popí was ready to go.
“I think we go now to greenhouse. I worried they close.” she told me.
So off we went, winding once again through narrow streets where old Greek townies eyed my curiously as we sped by.
The nursery was like any other, full of starts – tomatoes, cucumbers, marigolds and even grapevines.
Popí starting working with a woman to select the plants she was there for and I tried to tell the owner that I work in the wine business, doing a funny little charade and gesturing to the grapevines.
“You like wine?” He asked.
“Yes, very much.” I said.
“Wait, you try. Is old, came from church today. Like Cognac. You try.” he told me as he disappeared into his office.
Back he came with a little plastic cup half full of deeply tan “wine” full of sediment.
“Try” he said. “Taste.”
Hoping for the best but prepared for the worst, I took a sip, swished it around my mouth and was incredibly surprised by the flavor. Cognac had been a good description. The warm butterscotch flavored liquid had some characteristics of wine but indeed was better described as a liqueur.
Delicious, he brought me two more tiny cups while Popí, finished her shopping and caught up with a friend.
When she was finished, she turned to me and asked, “you want now, to go for coffee.”
“Sure, neh parakahlo (yes please).” was my response and off we went again, back into the heart of Kissamos and straight to the waterfront.
In the parking lot, we found her friend from the greenhouse and the three of us entered a Cafe with a stunning view of the bay. Filled with chatter of friends of all ages, we took a table and enjoyed a small cup of Greek Coffee.
“Yes Popí, sound good”
Before heading back to the village though we had one more stop – the fish market. There we purchased a bag of small fish she told me we’d have for lunch. A large map on the wall was the perfect way for me to show her where I had come from. “Savem” it read and she and the shopkeeper chuckled at how far away it really was.
Heading back to the village we passed a small church built directly into the hillside. Popí stopped and told me, “come, come.” Inside the cliff’s edges were still raw & rugged. Water dripped down from its course surface – she lit a candle, I said a little prayer.
Combined with the stunning surroundings the entire atmosphere made it tranquil, peaceful and somehow entirely perfect.
Once home, Popí told me to get ready for lunch. She salted the fish, prepared a large tomatoes salad with olives and pickled peppers and sliced fresh bread from the wood fired bakery. The fish were quickly fried and then picked apart by the three of us.
That afternoon we planted the garden. Basilis dug the rows while Popí chose her placements.
Beans sautéed in olive oil with the dill and potatoes, leftover fish, another great tomato salad and some easter cookies and cured lemon for dessert. The meal, was nothing short of incredible and the three of us sat around in the chilly night air talking & drinking Raki far too late into the evening.
“Yessica, tomorrow I go to Hania… You follow me?” She asked gleefully.
“Absolutely Popí. What time?”
An hour away from Barcelona lies the Catalan province of Girona, a medieval city that has endured Roman rule, Moorish takeover & seize by Charlemagne. Its picturesque streets are backdropped by centuries of history, making this municipality an excellent escape from the hustle and bustle of Barcelona to the south.
Originally founded in 79 BC, the city has endured the test of time, changing with each rule, wearing the mark of each takeover. Declared a Spanish City in the 11th century, Girona is the second largest in Catalonia rivaled only by the Capital, Barcelona.
Walk through centuries of history as you explore the city center on foot. Begin at the Plaça de Catalunya along the banks of the Onyar River, a waterway who’s influence gives the hamlet a Venetian flair. Stroll north along the picturesque Rambla de la Llibertat, a bustling boulevard dotted with humming cafes and brightly colored boutiques. Stop by the stunning Teatre Municipal along the Plaça Vi, beautifully adorned in red velvet from its general seating to the three tiered Opera boxes. Continue along the Carrer Ciutadans to the Call, one of the best preserved Jewish ghettos in all of Europe.
Before being expelled form Spain in 1492, the Jewish cultured flourished in Girona. Within these tight atmospheric streets, unlock bits of history in either the Museu dels Jueus or the Museu d’Història de la Ciutat, while taking in beautiful sights in the Centre Bonastruc Ça Porta.
At the city’s heart is the Cathedral de Girona; a stunning representation of Catalan Gothic Architecture finished with a Baroque façade. Marvel at the well preserved 11th-century Tapestry of Creation while enjoying the guided audio tour available at the welcome desk.
The city’s other treasures include the Arabic-style baths, Banys Àrabs, dating back to the 12th-century and the Jardins de la Francesca that have several access points to the Passeig Arqueològic, a panoramic walkway that takes you across atop the old city walls for picturesque views of the city.
Before traveling on, stop at one of the city’s fantastic restaurants like Vinil located on the Carrer de Cort-Reial. Serving up traditional Catalan Cuisine, menus are prepared daily, utilizing fresh local ingredients that are brought together for delectable dishes. Rich & creamy Asparagus Risotto, or hand-rolled Pear & Ricotta Ravioli topped with savory Basil Pesto are just a few examples of the delectable offereings.
Complete the experience with a carafe of Rosado wine and of course, a traditional local dessert of Crema Catalan drizzled with Anise Sauce. For a leisurely dining experience, choose one of the outdoor bistro tables, tucked in the shade of the large stone arches and watch the passers-by as you nibble away on one culinary surprise after another.
Only an hour and fifteen minutes by either car or train out of Barcelona, this destination, rich in history is well worth the visit.
When it comes down to business, “Barrel Tastings” take on a whole new meaning.
For vintners around the globe, the difference between Coopers can seriously make or break your vintage. Just as traditional Shiraz from Australia is always aged in American Oak, the bulk majority of Oregon Winemakers, tend to favor French Oak Barrels over any other.
Coopers, the artisans responsible for crafting these barrels, can vary diversely, just like artists and their mediums.
First is the wood. Where it comes from. The flavor profile it embarks without any toasting. Whether is is White or Red Oak. Its terroir & the way in which it is cultivated.
Next, the grain & staves. Is it finely grained? Long staved? Medium grained or neutral?
Most importantly, the toast. A process in which the barrels are literally charred over open flame, producing a charcoal that helps to not only filter the wine through evaporation, but also impart tannins from both the wood & smoked-scorch. This classification can range from Light Toast, to Medium, Medium-Long, & Long.
Every winemaker’s style is different, but the only real way to classify these subtle nuances for your own style is to taste them, side-by-side. For a barrel dealer, this is imperitive. The result, is an event, centered around multiple wine varietals, aged for various lengths in various barrels with all offerings of toast.
Enter into such an event, and you are truly in for a treat. Aside from the occasional Viognier or other unique white varietal, you will taste a variety of Chardonnays. If you are lucky, one will far outshine the rest, like Maison Joseph Drouhin, 2011 Chassagne-Montrachet “Morgeot” Premier Cru, aged 12 months in 33% New Oak, 33% 2nd Fill, and 33% 3rd fill, French oak barrels by Damy. Delicious, the flavor profile of this wine is nothing short of outstanding, conjuring hints of vanilla, jasmine & sage.
When tasting so technically, be sure to spit after each sample of wine. Most gatherings of this nature provide personal spit cups so that you can avoid splashes or embarrassment as you maintain not only a heightened palate but also your sobriety.
Reds range from Red Blends, Cabernet Sauvignons, Port Wines & Pinot Noirs, all with such different characteristics, embodiednot only from their varietals, but also the barrel in which the wine was aged.
No wine tasting event is complete without food, and on this particular engagement, our host was Newberg’s renowned, Recipe, wowing attendees with roasted Duck Breast Crostini, Black Truffle Fondue puff pastries, Charcuterie plates, and Salmon Tartare topped with roe.
As you taste, be sure to take notes, highlighting your favorite combinations of these fantastic barrels.
Before leaving, refresh your palate with a small sampling of the traditional Port Wine, sweet enough to refresh your tastebuds, reinvigorating your senses.
When approached objectively, you will come away with an advanced understanding of the art behind Cooperage, as well as an appreciation of the people who make it possible.