Vol 2 No 16…Tarragona, Barcelona and more…

Tarragona is anything but a sleepy Spanish town…it sprawls..so we jumped on a city tour tram which is the only way to see everything in a short period of time. But that doesn’t mean it is unimportant. Besides being a regional capital with the same name, it was a major Roman city with extensive ruins and especially an amphitheater situated with the sea in the background.

Windstar always has one special event and this was to be it. They took over the amphitheater! We had cava, red and white wine, and tapas overlooking the site. That alone was great but they did more. In Tarragona there are a number of clans (?) that compete biannually in the Castella. It is a huge event normally held in the soccer stadium. The point is to build a human tower and the clan that does the best according to the judges takes honors. With the towers reaching eight tiers it is dangerous and hard work!

We had the privilege of seeing one of the groups ‘build’ a castel. They get in a big circle and the leader makes the assignments. Then they use each others bodies as braces and up go three men to form the base of the next tier…then more join them to brace them…all barefoot and standing on other people’s (yes, there are women too!) shoulder’s. After this platform is built one gets on their shoulders and is joined by two more…and this goes on for each tier…until the last one, usually a young boy or girl to keep the weight down. I said it is dangerous and so when they sense something is going wrong they come down, regroup, and try again…it took three attempts for the group we saw to make it with an 8-year old at the top. They do not remain there for long and immediately begin to retreat. It is fascinating and colorful. After that, they invited six people from the ship to join them. It was spectacular, especially with the sea and our ship in the background.

We returned to the ship and set sail having dinner at sea. We were off to Barcelona and the end of our voyage. Having been to Barcelona twice before and wanting to visit with winery owners we engaged the services of NiSo Tours. We were met at the ship by co-owner Sophie, who then drove us to Monserrat,  situated on a hill with spectacular views and a great history  which began with building a monastery, Santa Maria de Monserrat. How they did it is beyond belief given the steep cliffs but if you are in the area and don’t go you are making a huge mistake and missing one of the most breathtaking views on the planet. We were so glad we made the side trip!

Sophie then drove us to Sitges (rhymes with beaches), and the best way I can describe it is a mini San Sebastian with two major differences: Sitges has a population of about 35,000, that is year-round but in the summer months it swells to 150,000 or more. It is a unique town with I believe eleven beaches…that run from family, to gay, to nudist. They are relatively small and all together are smaller than the two beaches at San Sebastian. Then comes the other difference: there is no there there as Gertrude Stein once quipped about Oakland, California. But it doesn’t need a ‘there’ you go to Sitges to relax. Like San Sebastian they have a film festival and a jazz festival but here is the biggest difference: you don’t have to drive through the new city to get to the old…there is no new city! They also have a gay pride week which was just before we arrived with many of the participants still there. It is a wonderful melting pot with quaint winding streets that criss-cross the town but are out of sight. To the uninitiated it appears as though it is only a few blocks deep and just runs along the ocean.

We found NiSo Tours by being introduced to Nicole Andrus a year ago when she was representing Michael Mondavi’s Folio Wines (her parents started and owned Pine Ridge Winery in Napa so she knows wine). In 2008, Nicole and Sophie decided to start an upscale touring company offering personalized tours. It is a success! Is it expensive? YES!!! …and worth it.

The next day, Sophie picked us up and we headed south…funny because when we headed up into the mountains we were just east of Tarragona! The region I wanted to see was Montsant and it was right before us…huge imposing cliffs and as you rise you find yourself in Priorat. It is one of the most difficult regions in the world to grow grapes and is only one of two DOQ’s in Spain (Denominacío d’Origen Qualificada), the other being La Rioja…now that’s quality. Montsant on the other hand while making very good wines is simply a DO. Wine has been produced here for over 700 years, being introduced to the area by the monks at Scala Dei, however as in La Rioja, eventually the phylloxera eventually wiped out the vines. So don’t look for ‘old vines’ in Priorat as most are 20-35 years of age but they seem like much older vines in less formidable locations. It is rocky, unfriendly ground for growing grapes but like in the Douro region and other areas in the world that are steep and require terracing, the grapes are stressed.

How many grapes can be produced by a single vine? As a rule of thumb for quality wines about 2.5 pounds or about a kilo. Left alone in an area with a lot of water you could get as much as 14 pounds of grapes from a wine…with quality inversely proportional. Two Buck Chuck lovers and those who hate wine snobs take note: while there is nothing wrong with it…there is nothing that stands out about the wine…and consider the cost (witness the retail price) of ‘TBC’ and what it takes to make a world-class wine. If you don’t care about that, you can stop reading here.

In both Priorat and the Douro, the best grapes are on terraces with roots reaching down as much as 20 meters…over 50 feet! Think of the vines pulling water from cracks in the slate and carrying the nutrients up to the plant…that is stressed!!! Add to this the sweltering heat in the summer months and rain that is concentrated in 2-3 months of the year…and no irrigation is allowed after the plants are two years old. In these regions they are lucky if they get one pound of grapes per vine and more likely much less. Now for the two wineries we visited:

First was Clos de l’Obac in Grattalops…note that Clos in Catalan is pronounced ‘close’, unlike Spain. We were guided by the owner Carles Pastrana, a really nice guy with a shock of hair that keeps getting in his eyes. Carles was a journalist who decided he ‘had’ to make wine…good wine. He was one of the original five wineries in the 1980’s all beginning with ‘Clos’ and they produced the wine together for the first three vintages before each had its own winery. To say Carles is passionate about wine is a gross understatement. Also, he shuns many standard winemaking principles and does it ‘his way’ which seems to work because it is incredible. When TB’s book is complete you will hear more about Clos de l’Obac…in great detail! I love this man and his wine!

After a great lunch in Falset, we drove to Porrera to see Celler Vall Llach (double ll’s are pronounced as ‘y’ and celler means winery in Catalan). It too is a very small town and as in all of Priorat, winemaking is the main industry. The wineries are clustered around the town square and river that flows through it. It was started in the 1990’s by Lluis Llach and Enric Costa. Llach died but Costa and his son Albert still run the winery. Again, quality is key. The day after we were there the bottling was to begin. Boxes had been delivered with the wine names on them as well as labels for their three wines: Idus de Vall Llach, Embruix de Vall Llach and Aigua de Llum de Vall Llach. Albert tasted the wine from the barrels of Aigua and said while they were very good they weren’t the quality for their premium wine which has been produced just three times in the past five years. Now that had to be an expensive decision but it illustrates the focus on quality in Priorat.

The next day we had at our leisure and enjoyed the beaches and strolling in Sitges, our second meal at the Santa Maria, the first time with Filaboa albariño, the second with a Condrieu Cava – Anna (named for the last member of the family that brought Champagne techniques to Spain and available in the U.S. for about $12…don’t confuse cava…good cava…with Asti Spumante or any other sparkling wine. This is made with viognier and exactly the way champagne is…reasonably priced too!

…the perfect ending to the perfect trip.

 

 

 

 

 

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traderbill

How did Trader Bill originate? It was conceived by me as a way of providing information summaries of global financial markets so that friends and associates could bring themselves up to speed on events and changing market conditions upon their arrival at work. In addition, it provides information on speakers and economic releases that day with consensus estimates and level of last release so that the reader is prepared to react, or knows how the market might react upon the release of information. Who is Trader Bill? Initially any reference to me was as ‘i’. This is to remove the aura of ego and to suggest that i am but a humble reporter, albeit with 35 years of investment experience. Investments are demanding of ego, however, or one would not feel that he was qualified to manage someone else’s money in the first instance. Therefore i needed an ‘alter-ego’. Like Winchell and Mahoney, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy and especially Trader Vic and Mai Tai’s! Why Trader Vic? Because he was a likeable man who delivered pleasure to his customers and knew exactly what their desires were. The reason for the alter ego became obvious once I introduced Trader Bill into my commentaries: people started asking what Trader Bill thought. They had never asked me what I thought before, but suddenly they wanted to know what TB thought! Now mind you they KNEW that I was Trader Bill but for some reason he became bigger than life. Maybe it was the small ‘I’? What does Trader Bill try to do?His goal is to educate from his years of experience. Consider that most of the traders and people managing investments weren’t even around in 1987 for the crash! Consider that Graham and Dodd, and even Warren Buffet are not relevant to them, too old hat. Their historical perceptions of markets and fundamentals (earnings, price/earnings ratios, bonds, debt service coverage) are irrelevant in this fast moving world. This is the NEW ECONOMY, or is it? How did your style originate?Years ago i found that i had a knack and talent for writing. In addition, i developed an ability to analyze market news about 15 years ago. It took the Crash of ‘87. Prior to that i was just listening to what others said about the economy. But bond yields had been soaring in ‘87 yet the stock market just kept hitting new highs. That was when i began to learn about markets. i have both a dry and witty sense of humor (some call it inane!). Therefore i attempt to make even the worst news somewhat amusing: whether it is the absurdity of an economic release, or the comments of a CEO. This is trading desk humor (or gallows humor). It isn’t politically correct but it does ease tension. Ironically, it is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (in the Navy they say: it’s always darkest before it’s pitch black!), that allows you to be more objective in your analysis, as bad as a situation is there will still be a tomorrow! You will see that i practice three-dot journalism, a style made famous by San Francisco reporter Herb Caen, whom i idolized. At least to me it is effective. What is so special about your analysis?Frankly, i don’t know that it is special, but at least it beats “the market closed down today on profit taking.” What i do know is that most of what you read is spat out without considering whether or not it is rational, like the above statement. Is it right? Sometimes yes and sometimes no, and that is the key to what is different about my analysis: it is meant to make you think. Is Dan Rather right or is Trader Bill right? If it causes you to stop and think about it, regardless of whether you agree, i win! Because THAT is my goal…not to have you think i am a guru, got that? Bet you never heard that ANYWHERE before in my business! Instead they want you to think just how smart they are but remember in this business if you are right 60% of the time you ARE a genius! Another thing that is different is when i am wrong on an analysis i will tell you, not hope you forget what i said. So now you have the tools to do what the speculators and hedge funds do: challenge authority, and if you make money it is because YOU did it not me. i was just a tool, your flunky to do the grunt work and let you decide…course you could be wrong too but at least you looked at the big picture. But the goal is also to have fun! This shouldn’t be a business of hushed tones and grim faces. It is a living, breathing thing and nowhere else in the world do you have the odds as much in your favor as here. Just beware of the guy who wants to put his arm around you and tell you he is your friend. So there you have it. I hope you select me as one of your sources for market information. If you do I promise to work my best for your financial success. Trader Bill

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