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Day Trip to Bodega Torres

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Editor’s note: This article was written in 2006, and I am no longer an English teacher, but the information here is as relevant now as it was then. Iberia does not hide winemaking from children, nor do I sense they ever will.  

Allow me to begin this post with the pronouncement that I am an English teacher and have been one since my arrival to Spain almost two years ago. The difference now being that in Barcelona, I am kindergarten teacher as opposed to a language teacher to multinational companies. Obviously, it has been quite the transition.

Not only has it been a transition learning how to be a language teacher to small children, but it has also been a transition as an American in a Spanish school. When I was approached with the project of teaching children about winemaking, and that part of the project would consist of taking 55 five-year olds to Bodega Torres approximately 1 hour south of Barcelona, I was a bit shocked. Allow me to give you a moment to ponder the thought of 55 toddlers in a bodega….overwhelming, isn’t it? For those of you who are not familiar with Bodega Torres, I can tell you that they are one of the largest wine and brandy producers in the world, exporting to more than 120 countries worldwide. This winery is so expansive that their wineries are located in three different continents with the intention of hitting Asia in the future. Currently, they have wineries in Spain, Chile and the United States. Therefore, it goes without saying that having a tour by this Bodega is quite impressive and one that I was really excited to do with the children. (Flickr photo by RobWinton)

However, as mentioned, I am an American, and the thought of taking toddlers to a Bodega that makes wine sent strange and uncomfortable thoughts in my head as to what parents might say in the States. “What! You want to take my little innocent Timmy to a winery! What kind of horrific people are you? Why would anyone want to introduce a child to wine at such a young and impressionable age?” It then dawned on me that we now live in the middle of an enormous wine region which has been cultivated as such for centuries upon centuries. Winemaking here is the equivalent to corn harvesting in the Midwest. It is so integrated into the culture that if you yourself do not have a direct connection to winemaking, I guarantee that someone in your family does. Therefore, taking a group of children on an excursion to see how wine is made is not dangerous, frightening or a form of mind-corruption as it might be seen in the States. It is merely a part of the everyday life here in Catalonia.

As if the notion of taking toddlers to a bodega wasn’t shocking enough to my culturally naive ears, I also educated as to how this particular school goes about teaching a lesson like ‘winemaking’. The goal of the school is to stimulate all of the child’s senses when learning a lesson so that they can actually experience and put meaning to a lesson. As for the lesson of “winemaking”, it began several weeks before the excursion to Bodega Torres. The first lesson consisted of the children drawing a grapevine located just outside of the school, merely steps away from the children’s classroom. The purpose behind the drawing was not only that brought up topics such as basic biology and history, but also perception. The children had to observe what the vine actually looked like. Was it curvy or straight? Did the grapes grow in bunches or were they isolated? Where specifically was the sun, earth and sky in the picture and were they important? The children also learned how to identify the maturity of the grape by looking at the color of the skin, the size and the season. By asking them if they found the grapes in their local market, they also learned when the harvest took place.

The second day, we chatted about winemaking in general. The children discussed the different types of wine, where they are made, and what they thought about wine in general. On the third day, the children climbed on foot ladders, collected grapes from the vines draped over the courtyard behind the school, de-stemmed the bunches, and then put them in a bucket where they could actually feel the process of pressing the grapes by stepping on them with their bare feet to make the juice. Talk about giving a child the coolest experience ever. What child doesn’t want an excuse to take off their socks and shoes (and typically the rest of their clothes if given the opportunity) and stomp their little toes on wet, cold, squishy grapes?! We had lots of happy children that day.

The Bodega Torres excursion came next where the children received a full on tour of the winery complete with an experienced tour guide for little tykes, a train ride through their entire facility (the bodega most definitely gained points with this one), and ended with a cup full of Mosto wine (unfermented grape juice from their vines). The children were ecstatic by the end of the tour. They saw barrels full of wine, old cellars, the bottling plant, the fermentation tanks and, well, vines.

And to prove the pedagogy at the school has some merit, the guide took me aside and told me that our children were some of the most interesting children she had ever given a tour to. When asked why, she told me that the depth of their questions were astounding. “What five-year old asks you what temperature is best for the wine to ferment in? Or how long the wine must stay in barrel before it can be put in bottle? Why we have laboratories with scientists to taste the wine? Or why the barrels must stay in the caves?” She was right, the questions were astounding, but more astounding to me was the amount of interest the children had in the entire process by actually experiencing it up close and in person. Winemaking became alive and real, instead of a foreign concept that only lives in their parent’s cabinets, demonised as something only adults can enjoy. The school made the topic have depth. They gave it substance to actually hold onto so that the children could apply the information outside of the school property.

Even after the tour, the children were still required to ponder the experience by doing two more hours of work. The children were split into ten different groups of approximately 5 or 6 students. Each group was asked to do a small project that involved: mathematics – counting and coloring the number of grapes in each bunch; logic- which vine is mature based on the size and color of the grape; art – draw the still life of a press, bottle and glass; music – create a song with lyrics based on what you think harvesting sounds like; literature – after listening to a poem on winemaking, draw what the poem reminded you of; etc. By the end of the day, the students could not only tell you a full recap of the winemaking from start to finish, but had a sensual and profound relationship with it.

For the children, I feel the experience was incredible and Torres did a fantastic job catering to their needs. Do I feel that my needs have been filled as a blossoming wine geek? No. Bodega Torres is a pillar for Spanish wine in Catalonia, owning more than 1,300 hectares of vines, and to only get a small hint as to who they are would be a shame. So not only count on a more detailed article about this Bodega in the near future, but we also hope to have our own adult tour in soon!

Cheers,

Gabriella Opaz

  • Bill

    I really enjoyed this article. Your observations regarding American "wine mores" vis-a-vis our Northern Mediterranean counterparts are particularly enlightening. Oh, for a vineyard in the backyard!

  • Bill

    I really enjoyed this article. Your observations regarding American “wine mores” vis-a-vis our Northern Mediterranean counterparts are particularly enlightening. Oh, for a vineyard in the backyard!

  • Ryan

    Thanks Bill for the comment regarding the article. I really enjoyed writing it and stand behind my thoughts that Europe doesn't have the same baggage that the US has regarding wine education. I can only hope that we will eventually move to a more objective view on educating people about winemaking, rather than an emotionally loaded one. And yes, it is really cool to be able to walk out the backdoor of the school directly under a canopy of grapes! Makes life good!

  • http://www.catavino.net Ryan

    Thanks Bill for the comment regarding the article. I really enjoyed writing it and stand behind my thoughts that Europe doesn’t have the same baggage that the US has regarding wine education. I can only hope that we will eventually move to a more objective view on educating people about winemaking, rather than an emotionally loaded one. And yes, it is really cool to be able to walk out the backdoor of the school directly under a canopy of grapes! Makes life good!

  • Phoo

    It's a lovely story. People should have learnt the pride of their place. If the countryside of Spain in Barcelona lives up on the vineyard and wine, their children should have known it all so well. Here, in Thailand, we have lot of paddy fields and farmers. Our teachers should have learnt from yours – counting, colouring and even writting a poem to salute the ears of rice.

  • Phoo

    It’s a lovely story. People should have learnt the pride of their place. If the countryside of Spain in Barcelona lives up on the vineyard and wine, their children should have known it all so well.

    Here, in Thailand, we have lot of paddy fields and farmers. Our teachers should have learnt from yours – counting, colouring and even writting a poem to salute the ears of rice.

  • Gabriella

    Thanks for your comment Phoo. I think that we all tend to believe that world outside our own is always more interesting. Pride for one's place is different than nationalism, and should be celebrated as such. I encourage you to talk with your local schools about educating the children about their surroundings. What better material to use than what is right in front of you?

  • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

    Thanks for your comment Phoo. I think that we all tend to believe that world outside our own is always more interesting. Pride for one’s place is different than nationalism, and should be celebrated as such. I encourage you to talk with your local schools about educating the children about their surroundings. What better material to use than what is right in front of you?

  • Sondra

    A wonderful story and inspiring. I live in Sonoma county, californai wine country and it would be great for kids here to have a similar experience. I doubt its going on though I do remember years ago visiting a winery in Mendocio that had all these little lunch boxes in front. How many of your kids will become winemakers, enjoy wine, appreciate nature and science from your in-depth education. Keep up the great work.

  • http://www.SondraBarrett.com/ Sondra

    A wonderful story and inspiring. I live in Sonoma county, californai wine country and it would be great for kids here to have a similar experience. I doubt its going on though I do remember years ago visiting a winery in Mendocio that had all these little lunch boxes in front.

    How many of your kids will become winemakers, enjoy wine, appreciate nature and science from your in-depth education.
    Keep up the great work.

  • Sondra

    Gabriella, I am intrigued by the teaching method – is this a Waldorf school? Wouldn't adult programs like this be a great experience, or even teens? It's such a wholistic approach to learning, experience is the teacher. I'd love to read more about the results with attitudes towards wine,if we could teach it here in US. Granny Grape

  • http://www.SondraBarrett.com Sondra

    Gabriella,
    I am intrigued by the teaching method – is this a Waldorf school? Wouldn’t adult programs like this be a great experience, or even teens? It’s such a wholistic approach to learning, experience is the teacher.

    I’d love to read more about the results with attitudes towards wine,if we could teach it here in US.

    Granny Grape

  • Gabriella

    Dear Granny Grape, I apologize for the delay in my response, but I wanted to give a little time and thought to your comment. From my understanding of the Spanish school system, which is relatively little to be honest, I believe that this is not a typical practice but one that is enjoyed by some schools. Part of the reason why I don't think it is a common practice is because there are the facilities to host children in the majority of Bodegas. Bodegas Torres not only has a train to tote the little guys around, but it also has interpreters, bathroom facilities and employees are accustomed to having visitors of all ages, cultures and levels of wine knowledge. Being that Spanish Bodegas are just now starting to be open to visitors, I would be surprised to find many field-trips occurring at the moment. However, in reference to schools being open to taking children to a Bodega, I would absolutely say they would. Without a doubt, I've never heard or experienced anyone linking drunk-driving, violence, etc with wine, rather than linking these negative social behaviors on the people themselves. Allow me to say, it is a lovely feeling to know that there is truly a separation between the substance and it's effects. Wine is wine, period, and children should know about a crop their region grows with pride. The school itself is not a Waldorf school, but rather a school that bases its education on the theory of Multiple Intelligence. If you are interested in the Theory, I would suggest getting on Google and typing in "Howard Gardner". There are dozens of sites with wonderful information on his teaching and his theories. I think you might enjoy it immensely. Could adults take advantage of such a program? Absolutely! I would like to believe that is where our society is heading now. In order to be a complete human being, you must be exposed to a topic in every way possible in order to understand, utilize and critique the information. I am not familiar with any programs that are currently doing this with adults, but I too am interested in using them with adults as well. Feel free contact me via email if you would like to talk about this further. Thank you for your comment Sondra. It's always fun to think about new ways we can educate ourselves and those around us!

  • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

    Dear Granny Grape,

    I apologize for the delay in my response, but I wanted to give a little time and thought to your comment. From my understanding of the Spanish school system, which is relatively little to be honest, I believe that this is not a typical practice but one that is enjoyed by some schools. Part of the reason why I don’t think it is a common practice is because there are the facilities to host children in the majority of Bodegas. Bodegas Torres not only has a train to tote the little guys around, but it also has interpreters, bathroom facilities and employees are accustomed to having visitors of all ages, cultures and levels of wine knowledge. Being that Spanish Bodegas are just now starting to be open to visitors, I would be surprised to find many field-trips occurring at the moment.

    However, in reference to schools being open to taking children to a Bodega, I would absolutely say they would. Without a doubt, I’ve never heard or experienced anyone linking drunk-driving, violence, etc with wine, rather than linking these negative social behaviors on the people themselves. Allow me to say, it is a lovely feeling to know that there is truly a separation between the substance and it’s effects. Wine is wine, period, and children should know about a crop their region grows with pride.

    The school itself is not a Waldorf school, but rather a school that bases its education on the theory of Multiple Intelligence. If you are interested in the Theory, I would suggest getting on Google and typing in “Howard Gardner”. There are dozens of sites with wonderful information on his teaching and his theories. I think you might enjoy it immensely.

    Could adults take advantage of such a program? Absolutely! I would like to believe that is where our society is heading now. In order to be a complete human being, you must be exposed to a topic in every way possible in order to understand, utilize and critique the information. I am not familiar with any programs that are currently doing this with adults, but I too am interested in using them with adults as well. Feel free contact me via email if you would like to talk about this further.

    Thank you for your comment Sondra. It’s always fun to think about new ways we can educate ourselves and those around us!

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