One of the most sought-after seats at the European Poker Tour (EPT) Barcelona stop wasn’t at a Main Event or High Roller table. It was on an air-conditioned coach set to scale the Catalonian countryside in search of the area’s finest vino.
Today’s activity is a guided tour of the mountain vineyard of Llopart, one of the region’s most respected winemakers. It’s just one of the many free activities PokerStars organised for players and guests during EPT Barcelona and today, PokerStars Blog has managed to secure a coveted spot on the vineyard tour.
One of the oldest winemaking families in Europe, Llopart kindly opens the doors to its stunning estate — around 50km west of Barcelona — where they’ve produced their award-winning natural and sparkling wines since 1385. Some 26 generations later, they’ve gone from strength to strength (in terms of quality, not ABV).
Our vineyard tour begins where the wine does – the grapes. Each plant – some of which are more than 70 years old – is labelled with the type of grape it grows, and the group – made up of PokerStars qualifiers, EPT players, and their guests – quickly scatters to sample their favourites.
TO THE CELLAR
It’s next to Sauvignon Blanc that I encounter Oleksii Natoptanyi, a Ukrainian pro who won a package to Barcelona on PokerStars. “It’s so nice here,” he says, in between mouthfuls of grapes.
This was Natoptanyi’s second time at an EPT festival (he was in Paris earlier this year and finished sixth in the enormous FPS Main for €58,490) but his first time playing the Main Event.
The poker didn’t go his way this time (he busted before the money) but he’s been making the most of his free time by exploring the city and enjoying the free PokerStars activities.
“It’s been so much fun,” he tells me. “I love Barcelona.”
Once we’ve had our fill, it’s time to escape the sweltering sun as we’re plunged into the cool darkness of the wine cellar, surrounded by thousands of bottles waiting patiently in hibernation for their time to shine.
Some live here for 12 months, or three years, or even 30 years. As for what our tour guide refers to as the “premium of premiums”, that rests for an incredible 90 years before going up for sale. Alas, the most recent batch is understandably sold out.
Nevermind. We’ll all just have to come back in a couple of decades to try it.
DOWN THE HATCH
A funny thing happens around the midway point of the guided vineyard tour. Many of us – myself included – suddenly realise we’ve never craved a cold glass of wine more in our lives.
Thankfully, we don’t have to wait long. As the tour comes to an end and we head back upstairs, our eyes readjust to the bright outdoors and we’re greeted with a welcome sight: wine and nibbles.
Three of Llopart’s most popular wines (a rose and two sparkling wines) are on the menu and, well, let’s just say the first glass goes down quickly. It’s in the queue for a top-up that we bump into Brazilian qualifier Matheus de Sousa and his father.
When he won the $5.50 buy-in Mini EPT Monte Carlo Main Event online in May for $8,278, de Sousa not only bagged his biggest poker score but also won a full package to EPT Barcelona worth more than $10K. He brought his dad with him as his guest, all the way from São Paulo.
On Day 3 of the Main Event, de Sousa told us how his dad had been having a fantastic time exploring Barcelona while he was hard at work. But now, after cashing the Main for €15,550 and a new career-best, de Sousa can spend some time with his old man, and where better than at a vineyard.
“I’m very proud of him,” says the senior de Sousa, beaming.
THE TOP CHOICE
“Do you know much about wine?” I ask Nicholas Wai, a 31-year-old former real estate developer from Las Vegas who, like me, is flying solo on the vineyard tour.
“Well, I know I like to drink it,” he cheerfully replies.
Wai left his job behind in October 2022 with the goal of playing poker professionally, at least for a couple of years. He’d yet to play poker outside of the US, but the call of Barcelona and the EPT was strong.
“Of all the EPT stops, Barcelona was my top choice,” he says. Since the Main Event didn’t go his way, he’s been making the most of his time, and the activities put on by PokerStars.
“I’ve been to Barcelona before and I love the city,” he says. “If you’re going to play poker you might as well be by the beach, right?”
By the time we reach the third or fourth glass of Llopart wine, conversations are flowing and any language barriers between our group have been well and truly crushed.
Nicolas Carême, a poker pro from Nancy, France, is here at Llopart with his girlfriend. Barcelona was his second time qualifying online for the EPT Main Event (following Monte Carlo earlier this year).
“The poker didn’t go great,” he says. “But I’m happy with my level of play. I was eliminated 15 minutes from the end of Day 1, but the good thing is I’ve really been able to enjoy Barcelona.”
The 36-year-old hopes to continue his qualifying streak for the rest of the year’s EPT events: first Cyprus, then Prague.
“By winning the package I get to enjoy the nice hotel and these kinds of activities,” he says. “I think it’s really great.”
Before we board the bus home, many members of the group visit the shop to buy a few bottles to take home. I see Wai and ask what he went for, and he shows me his bottle of rose and natural wine.
“Are those to take back to Vegas?” I ask.
“Oh no, I’ll finish them before I leave,” he says with a smile. “I’m here for a few more days!”
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