‘World’s best chef’ flogs off elBulli wine cellar

Food-lovers who miss dining at the tables of Ferran Adria's elBulli restaurant can get another taste on Friday — of his wine, at least, as the famed Catalan chef auctions his celebrated collection.

'World's best chef' flogs off elBulli wine cellar
Ferran Adria poses amongst wine bottles at the wine cellar of Sotheby’s Auction House, in New York. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP

Wine-lovers will be able to buy thousands of bottles, collected over the years by Adria, whose restaurant was ranked Britain's Restaurant Magazine's best restaurant in the world a record five times.

The sale, at upscale Sotheby's auction house in New York, will benefit Adria's foundation, where, two years after the legendary Spanish restaurant shut its doors, Adria, considered one of the best experimental chefs, now works full-time.

"It's crazy, I'm working harder than ever," Adria said of the foundation, which he described as "a little Cirque de Soleil, a little Dali museum, a little medialab."

This is the second auction of Adria's cellar: in Hong Kong on April 3, a first round brought in around $2 million.

Adria, who joined the kitchen staff of elBulli in 1984, has since the late 1990s rocked the world of gastronomy by using science to "deconstruct" and rebuild food in what has been termed "molecular cuisine".

Also on offer Friday are two kitchen jackets used and signed by the chef, menus, wine lists, dishes and other kitchen utensils.

And bidders can also bid on a dinner for four with Adria, in his new Barcelona restaurant, Tickets.

A similar lot at the Hong Kong auction earlier in the month went for more than $28,000.

"All the money will go to the elBulli Foundation," said the chef, who is enthusiastically travelling the world for his new project.

Adria estimates it will take five million euros ($6.5 million) to get the elBulli foundation running, and another two million euros ($2.6 million) a year to keep it going.

A 40-strong "creative team" will work there on new "ideas, concepts and techniques," he said. And all of it, he explained, will be posted on the Internet daily, "for all the cooks in the world."

He would be happy to welcome 200,000 visitors a year, he said, but predicted "there will be many more."

The renowned chef also speaks enthusiastically of his "Bullipedia" project — a huge database on food and cooking that aims to provide, "in an orderly manner," he insists, "everything people dream about, on the Internet."

Research for the database started a year ago and has taken his team back to the very earliest cookbooks.

Adria marvels that food has, in recent years, become "the most important social network. Facebook isn't the most important social network, it's food. And why? Because food is pure joy."

In the two years since he closed the Michelin three-star elBulli restaurant, he says he's never worked so hard.

"We have three exhibits around the world, a film in production in Hollywood, and we are currently very focused on the conceptual and architectural design for the foundation," he said.

A book is also in the works, "4,000 pages long," he said. He speaks of "joy and innovation," and of the importance of interdisciplinary work in today's world.

Yet, despite the grueling schedule — Adria spoke between two museum visits in New York — he is savoring the freedom he associates with his future foundation.

"We are going to be able to do what we want. There won't be any chasing the Michelin's three stars, no prize to win. It's creativity for creativity's sake," he said.

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Uphill battle: Spain’s wine growers forced to adapt to climate change

For over a century, Joaquin Gay de Montella Estany's family produced wine in Spain's Mediterranean region of Catalonia, but the effects of climate change have pushed them to seek higher ground.

Uphill battle: Spain's wine growers forced to adapt to climate change
Over the past 60 years, average temperatures in Spain have risen by 1.3 degrees Celsius, forcing Spanish wine producers to adapt. Photo: Josep Lago/AFP

Now their Torre del Veguer winery also has vineyards at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains — at an altitude of nearly 1,200 metres (3,900 feet) — where temperatures are cooler.

It’s one of the ways in which Spain’s wine producers are trying to adapt, as a warmer climate advances the harvest season and makes the need for more heat-tolerant grape varieties greater.

In searing August heat, farm workers pick the white grapes by hand at a vineyard with sea views in Penedes, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of the city of Barcelona.

Higher temperatures have brought the grape harvest forward by 10 to 15 days over the past decade, said Gay de Montella Estany, who owns the ecological winery.

“We have to harvest at the start of August when the heat is the most intense,” he told AFP.

So in 2008, the company moved part of its production to Bolvir, a village in the Pyrenees near the French border.

Speedy ripening

With a total of 961,000 hectares (2.4 million acres) of vines, Spain has the largest area of vineyards in the world, the International Organisation of Vine and Wine says.

It is the third biggest wine producer behind Italy and France.

Over the past 60 years, average temperatures in Spain have risen by 1.3 degrees Celsius, according to the national weather office, Aemet.

And wine producers have seen an impact, as the timing of the harvest is crucial.

An employee tends to the grapevines at the Torres vineyard at a 950-metre altitude in Tremp near Lleida in the Catalan Pyrenees. 

Higher average temperatures speed up the ripening of the grapes, which leads to lower acidity and increased sugars in the fruit.

This yields higher alcohol levels in the wine and also alters other compounds in grapes that affect aroma and flavour.

Grapes must be picked quickly to avoid an excessive alcohol content.

“Essentially these grapes have not fully ripened in the right way,” said Fernando Zamora, a professor in the oenology department at Rovira I Virgili University in Tarragona.


The Familia Torres winery, one of Spain’s largest producers, embraced higher elevation more than 20 years ago, despite facing scepticism at the time.

The company, which has grown from a small family business in the late 19th century, began planting grapes in Tremp, 160 kilometres northeast of its Vilafranca de Penedes base, in 1998.

Grapes for making wine had never been grown before at higher altitudes in this region in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

“Farmers in the area thought it was absurd. They thought grapes would not mature,” said Xavier Admella, who is in charge of the farm located at an altitude of 950 metres.

“Climate change has proven us right,” he added, as workers set up nets to protect the vines from hail which is much more common along mountain ranges.

Ancient grape varieties are treated in vitro at the Torres vineyard lab in Vilafranca del Penedes near Barcelona.

New techniques

In Tremp, temperatures are almost 10 degrees Celsius cooler than at sea level, Miguel A. Torres, president of the Familia Torres winery, said.

That makes it possible to grow grape varieties to produce white wines “that still have very good acidity levels”, he added.

The company, which exports to 150 countries, also has a laboratory where it revives grape strains that have almost disappeared.

One of them which performs well at high altitudes has already been planted in Tremp.

But the fight to adapt has a stiff price tag.

“The future is complicated,” Torres said, adding the wine sector had asked for aid from both the Spanish government and European Union.

Gay de Montella Estany agrees.

He predicts that Spain’s wine sector will have to go on planting at higher altitudes and “look for grape varieties that ripen later” to survive.

He does not rule out that some parts of the country, especially in the south, will one day no longer be suitable for wine production.

Not everyone is as pessimistic, though.

“Climate change is leading many wineries to get their act together and learn how to make wine, not like our grandparents did, but by looking for new techniques,” university professor Zamora said.

“And wines are now much better than they were a few years ago.”