Codorníu, a winery in the Penedès region of Spain, is an interesting mix of old and new. Sometimes it feels like a quaint, old-world vineyard, a feeling bolstered by its more than 400-year history. But at other times, it feels like a modern factory. Codorníu, always at the forefront of innovation in Spanish wine, was the destination of one of our program's day trips. About 40 of us in the study-abroad program boarded a bus and took a sunny 50-minute bus ride to taste liquid Spanish culture.
The vineyard specializes in the production of cava, the Spanish version of champagne (they have to call it cava since France has dibs on the word "champagne." Technically, only bottles from the Champagne region of France can bear that title. The same type of product is sold in the United States as "sparkling wine").
Our tour took us through the winery's old cellars, known as a "cathedral of cava." The cellars were built in a modernist style similar to that of the famous Catalan architect Gaudí. The building is so interesting, it was designated a Monument of Historical and Artistic Interest in 1976. This part of the winery could be a post card. Large brick arches covered old wine-making equipment from centuries past.
The tour also led us through the history of the vineyard, from the first bottle's production in 1551. Later, in 1872, Josep Raventós i Fatjó made the first bottle of "cava" after traveling to France and learning how to make traditional bottles using the Champanoise Method, where the wine undergoes secondary fermentation inside each bottle. Since then, the vineyard has made several tweaks to its wine-making process to improve consistency, flavor, and volume. Now the vineyard serves 10 different wine labels.
Next, we descended into the vineyard's vaults, where palates and palates of sparkling bottles are stored. The musty vaults of wine can store more than 100 million bottles. Old labor-intensive methods of moving wine around have been replaced by a small army of electric fork lifts.
The most fun part of the tour was the cart ride through the old tunnels of ancient wine. We whizzed past rows and rows of tilted bottles, forever in the secondary fermentation process. I could feel the tunnel air - yeasty and musty - whizzing past my head through the dark tunnels. I felt like Charlie when he went to visit Wonka's Factory, only I was visiting a temple of wine instead of chocolate.
At the conclusion of the tour, we got to taste different varieties of cava. One was a mix of several types of grapes, while the other was purely derived from one type of grape.
I am no cava connoisseur, but the process was still immensely enjoyable. The thing that appeals to me the most about the entire experience is that I was able to taste Spanish culture. It felt great to know that I was tasting something that is the product of literally hundreds of years of innovation and research.
Before I left for Spain, my main goal for the trip was to experience "Spanish culture" - as though it were some fixed point Spain's history, maybe some 200 years ago. I wanted to go to a bullfight, a flamenco dance, and a bar to taste tapas - all of the things I associated with "traditional" Spain.
However, this trip to Codorníu has changed my outlook on Spain. Now, I realize that culture is more fluid. It changes over time. Spain has modernized and innovated in the last 200 years. I want to experience the present culture of Spain and recognize the historical past - taste the cava that's been perfected through innovation and notice the abandoned wicker baskets in the cellars that used to carry move wine between floors of the cellar six at a time.
• Scott Norgaard is a junior at Rice University in Houston, Texas, pursing a degree in mathematical economic analysis. He is an alumni of Desert Vista High School in Ahwatukee Foothills. This column is part of a series chronicling his adventures studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain this semester.