The vineyards of the Sitges Malvasia Presidium, located inside the town of the same name, could suffer the negative consequences of unchecked urbanization.
Sitges Malvasia owes its existence to a legacy. In the nineteen thirties Manuel Llopis de Casades, the last descendant of one of the oldest families in the Catalan town, left his property to the Hospital de San Joan Bautista, in Sitges. The generous bestowal was made on the condition that the vineyards be maintained and that wine would continue to be made from the autochthonous Malvasia grapes. The vineyard in question in located in the area of Aiguadolç, in a two-hectare lot with a view of the sea and the town. In the town itself there is another vineyard, smaller and more unique, in that it is completely surrounded by buildings.
The fact that Sitges Malvasia still exists today is the result of the farsightedness – and educated palate – of Señor Llopis. About ten year ago, Slow Food set up a Presidium for this varietal, and since that time production has been extended to various areas in the Penedés, ensuring its survival. Several local wineries have included it in their lists of available varieties and some of them use Malvasia grapes to make very interesting single varietal wines. One example is proposed by the Vega de Ribes winery, owned by the Bartra family, which joined the Presidium at the very start and has been a driving force in the development of this local variety.
Within the town of Sitges, the only production area is the Hospital de San Joan Bautista, which in addition to the vineyard and cellars also functions as an old age home. In order to ensure an efficient and profitable production of wine from the grapevines hidden behind its walls, the Hospital called upon an experienced cultivator who owned some land in the area of Sant Pere de Ribes to process its grapes. Thanks to this partnership, over the years the Hospital has been able to concentrate on a modernization project that has led to an increase in the range of wines it produces and made its endeavor more profitable. The collaboration transformed the Malvasia vineyards from a net loss for the Hospital to a resource with marked eno-gastronomic and economic potential, allowing it to market both a dessert wine and a table wine. In 2016, without any evident reason, the partnership was not renewed, and the Hospital’s Malvasia vineyards fell into disuse once again.
One cannot help but ask why this has happened. The reason can be found in the area surrounding the Hospital’s vineyard, overtaken by rampant urbanization. Between the earth and the sky there is cement, whose grayness looms over the landscape, threatening to overrun the firmly rooted grapevines inside the walls of the Hospital. The nearness of the sea and the presence of the Garraf massif, which shields Sitges from the north wind, make it an ideal place to cultivate Malvasia, but also make the area very attractive to real estate developers and other fans of cement.
“It sometimes seems that Sitges Malvasia is more highly prized outside the town than in it. In fact, several winemakers in the Penedés area have invested important resources in the future of this variety and its singular properties, which give the wine a unique character,” declares Valentí Mongay, leader of the Slow Food Garraf i Penedés chapter. «Another paradox is that prestigious, starred restaurants promote wines made with Sitges Malvasia, featuring them in their wine lists, while many bars and restaurants in the town of Sitges itself completely ignore them. Even the Parker guide gave them a rating of 91 out of 100. That’s why one of the goals of the Week of Sitges Malvasia is to persuade an increasing number of local restaurateurs to add wines made from this variety to their lists.”
Each year, from May 23 to 29, the Gremio de Hosteleria de Sitges, in collaboration with the Hospital de Sant Joan, organizes the “Week of Sitges Malvasia”, a series of technical meetings targeting cultivators of this variety all over the world. Now in its fourth edition, the week also includes tastings of dishes that can be accompanied by this wine. This year, it will also present an opportunity to focus on a potential problem which, if left unattended, could develop into a grievous state of affairs.
If it intends to continue to be considered an interesting destination in terms of both culture and tourism, Sitges would be well advised to protect and promote its Malvasia, one of the few gastronomic assets it still possesses.