It’s not often you will find me in the pueblo on weekends. In fact, I’m usually never there outside of my Monday – Tuesday – Wednesday window. The weekend plans stack up and I’m on some plane, train or bus bound for somewhere that is not here. So this weekend for a change, I went to Bollullos with my coworker and two of his friends visiting from the US.
The main reason for our visit was to see the bodega owned by our boss’s family: Bodegas Andrade. One day earlier in the year, I spotted Ana’s surname on the side of a building in big green letters and thought “is this…?” The answer is yes, it is. The bodega was founded in 1885 and the building we toured is an extension of the same structure from way back then. Ana’s dad gave us a tour of the facilities and explained the intense processes that the grapes go through during their journey from vine to wine. There are immense tanks for decanting the wine and the press is humongous. All the processes are natural, and no chemicals are introduced to the wine at any stage. Same goes for the olives that go through similar pressing processes to make the family’s EVO. The grapes themselves are grown about 20 km outside of Bollullos on over 140 hectares of land, although we didn’t get to visit the property this time around.
We tried 6 or 7 different types of wine – from vino fino (very light and clean), to semisweet, sweet and dry. There are wines made of raisins (very sweet) and even wine with oranges (the peel is introduced at a specific stage in the process and adds a new flavor). The wines are potent (10-15% alcohol) so after awhile we were ready for some lunch. We settled in at a bodegon in the center of town and dined like kings. Shrimp and steak and croquettas and olives prepared in many different ways. Of course we enjoyed a bottle of Castillo Andrade (a crisp white) with our meal and finished up with local strawberries that were to die for.
Ana suggested that we take a drive down to El Rocio, in the next town over. We had never been and had heard a lot about the annual pilgrimage, so we quickly agreed. Pulling onto a sandy strip of “road” our tour guide says “You might think it’s like the wild west” .. and she wasn’t kidding. El Rocio is not part of this century. It is back in a time where everyone had a horse as their main mode of transportation and everything you needed to know you found out in the town square. This evidenced by our spot on the porch of a bar, where three men on horseback approached for glasses of tonic… spurs a’jangling.
El Rocio sits alongside Parque Doñana, one of the largest national parks in Europe. If you can believe it .. it’s also getting a fair amount of attention right now from scientists who believe that the recent tsunami in Japan has shaken loose the lost city of Atlantis. You know, right here in my school’s backyard. Where else would it be?
The town lends itself to a religious festival of the same name in the month of June, where a pilgrimage to the statue of the Virgen del Rocio was first made back in the 13th century. My students enjoy a week off from school right before the end of classes, and many of them make the trek as well. It now enjoys a cult like following that is one of the rowdiest parties in the country. Again I question how religion and alcohol got so tied up together, because some of the footage from the actual pilgrimage is pretty wild. Gone are the pomp and circumstance of religious practice and in its place are flashy costumes and empty bottles. Ana told us that the population of the town surges from 2,000 inhabitants during the year to almost 1,000,000 people in the high season. The houses are built to accommodate upwards of 60 people to hold families of the various brotherhoods participating in the festivities. I wouldn’t want to clean up after that party.
With a sandy farewell to the city of El Rocio and the beautiful wines of Bollullos, we made our way back to Sevilla where the sun has finally taken a break behind some clouds. Today is the first day of rain in more than a week, and I walked outside this morning just for a breath of fresh air. You folks in the Northeastern US are scowling from your snow covered homes but I’m telling you – it’s HOT here! It’s April and already I’m sweating. We’ll see just how much heat this blonde can handle in the next nine weeks. (yes, NINE ..)