D.O. Montsant: Decade 2 of a Spanish #wine region & #DrinkMontsant!

DO MontsantFirst off, welcome to the new Vinopanion.  A massive thank you to HoustonWino (Another Wine Blog) for the clean facelift and major troubleshooting.

The second bit of big news is that I am headed back to Spain, woot! The good folks at D.O. Montsant, a somewhat younger wine appellation centered around the town of Falset, southwest of Barcelona, is bringing a big contingent of wine writers, bloggers and trade for a tour of the DO. The free media trip is compliments of DO Montsant, so our time will be intensively focused on this small, but exciting DO. You can follow along with #DrinkMontsant! 

Wine DO of Spain
Created by Emilio Gómez Fernández

I have been quite blessed to attend multiple wine media junkets to the incomparable lands of Spain, visiting DO Navarra, then another to the highly DO contained within Murcia (Bullas, Jumilla, Yecla), and most recently, those containing properties owned by MG Wines (Alicante, Bierzo, Bullas). Joining me on this tour of Montsant will be #Vinopanion‘s old and new (and some previous Spanish wine companions): 1WineDude, James the Wine Guy, Just the Bottle, Grape Experiences, Snooth, Another Wine Blog, The Academic Wino, Drink What YOU Like, and Drinkable Grape.  In addition, representatives and MW/MS/WSET wine students from the Wine Scholar Guild and the venerable (and local) Napa Valley Wine Academy.

DO Montsant Map
Image courtesy of DO Montsant.

So, what can we expect from DO Montsant? Well, this little moon-shaped wine region is found facing east towards the Mediterranean, which is about 15-20 miles away. It is contained within autonomous community of Catalunya, noted for its great city of Barcelona to the NW. The DO was founded in 2001 and is comprised of 65 wineries and 16 villages.  The Ebro River flows through DO and exerts its influence on the roughly ~4700 acres of vineyards, much of which are planted along hillsides with varying inclinations and elevations up to 2500 feet. The climate tends to be warm to hot Mediterranean, but the river, the sea and the mountains all combine to also cool the vineyards down in the later afternoons and at night, maintaining good acidity.  Six white grapes are allowed in the DO, with garnacha blanca and macabeu dominating those blends.  Meanwhile, the reds can be any from 10 varieties, and garnacha tinta and cariñena are the predominate varieties. We will be staying in the largest village in the region with a whopping 2,900 population (similar to my hometown of Yountville :-), Falset.

That’s all fine and dandy and can be gleaned from any international wine tome, however.  I want to find out why this region worked so hard to ratify their own DO…do they still feel connected to the winemaking history of the region that dates back to the Romans? What goes into their bush-trained old vines and how do they tackle sincere craftsmanship in their wines, while still trying to export to international markets? Who are the men and women that are behind these wines, who are the families that have made their mark in this region?  What drives them, day to day, to continue to improve their wines, while still maintaining their traditional, Montsant identity?  These are the questions I want to answer during this incredible trip. Follow along by searching #DrinkMontsant! ¡Salud a todos!

This trip is a fully paid media junket, courtesy of DO Montsant.

#Vinopanion's new wardkadel.com is live!

#Vinopanion: Domaine Chandon #wine
#thesunitburns

Well…the long wait is over!  If not for my fellow #Vinopanions, at least for my own incessant #wine cravings and the need to blast out my ramblings de vinos. WardKadel.com is finally live, as we are in the process of shutting down the long-running WineLog.net. With this relaunch, you will find more content combining my two passions of #triathlon & wine, as well as a newfound love of cooking and of course, the chronicles of our life in #Napa.

Indeed just last night, with the Lady (featured left in the vineyards of Domaine Chandon) in NYC for a fashion convention, I knocked out two very enjoyable recipes from Blue Apron, which has been a life-changer for me to finally learn and love to cook.

@BlueApron & #Beaujolais!

Cooking and first dinner (heh) was accompanied by the deliciously juicy 2015 Domaine des Quatre Vents Fleurie (review Vivino), from Beaujolais extraordinaire Georges Duboeuf. And since the journey of wine can never end (thank goodness, right??), I listened to my two favorite wine podcasts:

 

And so it with those two tasty #recipe‘s and these two brilliant wine podcasts, I will bid you adieu until my next Ward Kadel – #Vinopanion – @drXeNo post.

Vineyards of Domaine Chandon
Loving that #NapaLife!

¡Salud!

#Vinopanion #wine Bits & Pieces

#Vinopanion has been a wild ride these past 8+ years (so hard to believe!).  Towards the end of last year, as life got exceedingly busy and I was unable to put my best efforts to my love of #wine writing and education, I pondered what step this blog would next take. I have always treated my wine life as a privilege and have felt grateful for every turn that it has taken.  Each little or big step was only partially planned/hoped for…most things like paid wine consulting, wine judging, being flown around the world for media trips, all have been joyous surprises, though they didn’t come without hard work (on the side).

I have missed my wine world these past ~4 months, but the introspection has been useful.  I’ve come up with new plans, reapplied old ones and have concocted new post formats, such as this new one: Bits & Pieces will cover multiple topics in short, 1-2 paragraph bites.  Prepare for more news in a more concise format. And so… ¡Vámonos mis Vinopanions!

CabFest Napa Valley Returns 3/4 – 3/6 (tickets)

cabfest_logo_color-01CabFest Napa Valley (WL, FB, Tw, IG) still ranks as one of my favorite wine festivals of all time.  The Lady and I attended the entire first incarnation weekend, back in 2014. The event hit on all cylinders right off the bat, with a fantastic opening night, all the way through 2 grand tastings, and multiple unique breakout tastings.

This year, the highlights again include a fantastic opening concert in the main hall, this year by Mat Kearney, followed by the infamous Cigars & Guitars VIP Party. Saturday features multiple 4hr tastings, including the San Francisco Magazine Grand Tasting and the Boutique Tasting, along with multiple breakout sessions and food & wine tastings, including Cab on the Couch with Karen MacNeil. Sunday features its own suite of tastings and VIP sessions, including the Sonoma Magazine Grand Tasting and a tremendous VIP Platinum Wrap Party, featuring cuisine by local legend Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc crew.

You can still buy tickets and can also see the full details at their website.  See you all there!

Bodegas Cepa 21 Virtual Tasting 3/9/16 6pm PT (#Cepa21VT)

sobre-nosotrosBodegas Emilio Moro is a legendary name in Ribera del Duero DO (WL) of Spain. Bodegas Cepa 21 (WL, FB, Tw) is a newer endeavor by the Moro brothers, striving to create a modern Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) wine inside their new, super sleek winery. The winemaking brother of the duo, José Moro, is visiting the US in March and he is kind of to sit down for a virtual tasting of his wines, from his temporary home in NYC.  I’ve had the fortune to try some of their wines in the past, so it will be enlightening to go through these new releases and to speak directly to José about his vinous products.  Follow along that night using #Cepa21VT. ¡Salud!

NVWA WSET II Endeavors Continue…

406064_562298363799327_175257724_nI continue my studies of the Wine & Spirits Education Trust Intermediate (WSET II) certification this year.Napa Valley Wine Academy (FB, Tw), already leaders in wine and spirits education, is leading my efforts.  Their unique position, situated in the heart of #Napa grants them special access for taking their teachings directly out into the field…and I do mean “field!”

Indeed, their WSET Ultimate Level 2+3 course two week immersive course will “take you directly into vineyards and working wineries“, all right nearby in Napa Valley.  I’m looking forward to getting more intensely into my studies!

HITS Napa Valley Triathlon: The Hometown Race 4/9 – 4/10

65760_789077141133939_416503315085470558_nI am also full steam back into my #triathlon training season, since the last week of December. This time I’ll finally be doing my hometown olympic distance triathlon at Lake Berryessa: HITS Napa Valley 2016. The HITS Triathlon Series (Tw, FB, YT) is a long-running, well-respected endurance race production company (HITS Endurance), particularly their multisport series.

Once again I’ll be taking on my awesome brother in-law in a race for the family.  This year, it should be particularly exciting, as we’ll be going off in waves within 3 minutes of each other.  I’m looking forward to chasing and passing his ass! 😛

hitslocation-headers_napavalley

#OleWinos: MGWines Group's Lavia rocks the A+ #wine

We continued our #OleWinos adventure with host MGWines Group (WL, FB, Tw), at their stellar Bodegas Lavia (WL, FB, Tw) #wine estate in the Bullas DO (WL, FB). You might remember that I visited DO Bullas a couple years back during our #Murcia8 journey. It was wonderful to be back and to visit a new part of this small Spanish appellation, the smallest in the Murcia region of Spain.  It is here that MGWines found the latest jewel in their basket of unique, fine wineries across the multitude of Spanish wine regions.  Our host for this trip was again, winemaker Sebastien Boudon.  He splits his time between Sierra Salinas and Lavia, which are about 100 km apart from each other.  The rain and clouds followed us to Lavia as well, but that didn’t stop us from taking in the striking mountainous surroundings of the Lavia estate.

MGWines Group's Bodegas Lavia, in DO Bullas.
MGWines Group’s Bodegas Lavia, in DO Bullas.

As described previously, wines from Bullas are mainly composed of the magnificent monastrell grape and tend to be more elegant, floral and lighter in weight than other wines from its neighboring Murcia DO’s of Yecla and Jumilla.  It is also the highest in elevation of the three and tends to get the most rainfall (though still quite low) and have higher humidity from the surrounding conifer forests, all of which stresses the dry-farmed vines less than neighboring regions.  The green trees and forests of the surrounding mountain peaks are a marked contrast from the drier Alicante appellation that we visited the day before. The soil is characterized by lot of shale rocks and stone, making for a very well-drained mixture and also allows these vines to easily send their roots quite deep in search of water and nutrients, picking up fine minerals along the way.  The estate owns roughly 30 acres of organically grown vines, with 5 of syrah and the rest monastrell. The syrah averages 16 years in age, with the monastrell at 35 years old. They further source fruit from surrounding old vine vineyards, of airén, syrah, macabeo/viura, and 2-3 other foreign grape varieties.

IMG_5292
Thea Dwelle tasting the newest Bodegas Lavia+ Finca Paso Malo with Bodegas Lavia winemaker Sebastien Boudon. MGWines Group

Similar to Sierra Salinas, this winery is also quite the architectural wonder and designed to minimize manual handling of the grapes, juice and wine, allowing gravity to take care of those movements.  The gorgeous modern stone building manages to both shine alone in its surroundings, but also blend in with nearby natural landscape.  Built in 2004, MGWines purchased the property in 2014, which was also Boudon’s first vintage at the estate.  The winery is much larger than their current needs, but they plan to greatly expand production, while still maintaining a boutique, hands-on approach by Boudon and his team.  Wine production currently sits at roughly 4,000 cases, so there is plenty of room to expand, as they continue to identify the best nearby fruit and vineyards.

It is quite clear from our tasting following the estate tour, that they have already found some of the best vineyards in the DO: these were some of my favorite wines from the strong MGWines Group portfolio! It was in the Bodega’s very modern tasting lounge and wine store, which overlooks the rows of old syrah vines and stony soils that surround the winery, that we tasted through the wines of the day.

IMG_5275
The #OleWinos in the Bodegas Lavia public tasting lounge. MGWines Group

We tasted through a number of mainly back vintage wines from the estate, from all three tiers of wines.  The lowest tier, though still with plenty of #QPRWK quality, is the straight Lavia red blend.  Next up is the Lavia+ label, a tighter selection of some of the best lots from each vintage, followed by the flagship Lavia+ Finca Paso Malo.  This single vineyard wine is made only in select years and is 100% estate monastrell.

All of these wines are characterized by balance, acidity, elegance, and in the case of the Paso Malo, restrained power, all of which can age for long time past their stated vintage.  You will find peppery, juicy red fruit in the early vintages, along with only a dusting of toast to balance the medium body and smooth, fine tannins.  With age, savory leather, scorched earth and more black fruit starts to enter the palate and nose.IMG_5280  If you’ve ever read any of my tasting notes in the past, you’ll know that these combos excite my palate in its core.  Please enjoy the tasting notes below and hopefully you too can try these wines in the coming years.  ¡Salud!

IMG_5239 - Version 2A giant thank you goes out to our hosts, MGWines Group and Kraynick Consulting.  You can find all of our #OleWinos content on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The photos are posted at the #Vinopanion Facebook page and the wines reviews at WineLog. You can read the MGWines Group blog post about our trip at their site, as well.

Wines tasted during our #OleWinos visit to Bodegas Lavia (WL, FB, Tw):

 

QPRWK - WKBadgesLavia Bullas Lavia 2010

Color: Medium ruby in the core, light ruby by edges.

Nose: Peppery red cherry berry fruit here, almost of garnacha, with light toast.

Palate: Great medium smooth feel and weight here, juicy and tasty, ripe cherry berry fruit as well, with good blackberry, light tannin, and great acid. Finishes with light toast and unsweetened chocolate: QPRWK.

QPRWK - WKBadgesLavia Bullas Lavia 2006

Color: Starting to get some brick in the core color, edges are clearer brick red.

Nose: Drier red fruit here, with earthier, fully integrated oak. Some dried leaves here as well.

Palate: Dried, tasty cherry liqueur here in the fore, light dry tannin, juicy acidity, finishes with a bit of chalk, and flint. Good: QPRWK.

OldWorldWK - WKBadgesLavia Bullas Lavia 2004

Color: Medium to dark garnet in core, more dark brick edges.

Nose: Deeper cool, earthy menthol and anise here, drier black fruit in the nose with cigar and new leather.

Palate: Medium full and very round and smooth palate. Good mix of drier red and black fruit, dry firmer tannin, savory cherry tobacco as well, with good acid. More leathery notes into the finish: OldWorldWK.

KeeperWK - WKBadgesLavia Bullas Monastrell Lavia+ 2009

Color: Light to medium ruby in the core, light on edges.

Nose: Brambly and brighter cranberry fruited nose here, then rounder raspberry near the rim with medium toast.

Palate: Good savory mouth at first here, with nougat flavors, but unsweetened, with earth, black fruit, anise, medium fine tannin and good balanced acidity. Good mouthfeel that continues to get smoother and more elegant with additional air: KeeperWK.

Lavia Bullas Monastrell Lavia+ 2006

KeeperWK - WKBadgesLavia Bullas Monastrell Lavia+ Finca Paso Malo 2012

Color: Darker garnet core with violet highlights, violet edges.

Nose: Big red and black plum in the nose with nice violet and rose petal florals. Lurking oak underneath.

Palate: Bigger mouthfeel here and integrating but already nicely smooth and round with very fine tannin, almost feathery. Medium sweet chocolate marzipan as well, with juicy acidity to brighten things up. Still integrating, but will be good in a few years: KeeperWK.

 

 

#Navarra5 Day 3: The Old & the Pago

Dawn broke for our third day (9/21/11) in the Kingdom of Navarra (Twitter, Facebook) with brilliant signs pointing to even more glorious weather to accompany our travels around this Spanish wine kingdom.  From the window of my hotel room at the historic Palacio Guandelain in Pamplona, I could see and hear the rumblings of the (rare) early rising Navarrans in the plaza that stretched out from the hotel front.  I couldn’t wait to get started on our travels back to the Ribera Alta sub-region of the Navarra DO appellation.  I felt rather rested, since I had given my body the morning off from my usual run, following my great success at getting thoroughly lost, the prior morning.

We cruised down the carretera nacional to our first stop led by our trusty guide, Michael “Miguel” Mantilla (ARGOS Wine Consulting/Kraynick & Associates, Inc.). The village of San Martín de Unx is an ancient village, seemingly made primarily of the light brown and slightly reddish-tinged local stone, with a population of only 400+ inhabitants.  We pulled up at the local cooperative winery for our morning tasting.  Bodegas San Martín (WineLog) was started as a collective in 1914 with about 275 growers.  Like most modern wine regions in Spain, the number of members has decreased substantially since the Bodegas’ early beginnings, with about 175 members contributing to the 2011 harvest and comprised of about 480 acres of vineyard land.

We were greeted at the front of the modern wood and stone building by General Manager Eduardo León and Director of Winemaking & Enology, Gonzalo Celayeta Escudero.  Both men are young and part of the newest generation of wine talent in Navarra.  While very serious about their mission to craft ever higher quality wines while maintaining value, they are also quick with a smile and a laugh, brightening their dark and fine Spanish visages.  One of our first questions was the origin of the mysterious word “unx” in the name of the village.  Eduardo and Gonzalo said that the origin of that word has been lost to history, but that most locals attribute it to a more ancient form of the word for “rabbit” in the local dialect.

While this could become a run-on sentence for the entire #Navarra5 trip, the wines of Bodegas San Martín were pillars of high quality for the price.  Two wines garnered a QPRWK wine badge, with their mix of zesty and fruitiness nicely balanced by a roundness and light creaminess for added complexity…almost unheard for a ~$7 price tag.  The Ilagares Navarra Viura Blanco 2010 and Ilagares Navarra Rosado 2010 stole the early tasting show at San Martín for me for this reason.  A more Old World earthiness and herbal savoriness drew me towards the Señorio de Unx Navarra Reserva 2005 and Alma de Unx Navarra Garnacha 2007, proving that Garnacha is truly a wondrous grape.

The historical portion of our day took us to two very fascinating and OLD sites among the Navarran landscape.  The Church of Saint Mary of Eunate is found along El Camino de Santiago and was founded around the 12th century.  It’s an extremely unusual church with its Romanesque, octagonal shape and sited relatively far from any other habitations around that time in history.  While Eunate’s exact origins may never be known, it is rumored to have been founded by the Knights Templar.  Regardless of its early beginnings, the beauty of the Church is almost indescribable and exudes a very old and humbling, enigmatic presence. We toured the Church following service (yes, it still has regular services throughout the week), thanks to our same wonderful guide from Pamplona.

Puente La Reina (literally: bridge of the Queen) is another historic site along the El Camino do Santiago.  It was, and still is, a crucial stop along the route as it lies between the larger cities of Pamplona and Estella and most importantly, has an stunning stone bridge which pilgrims can use to safely cross the Arga river.  It is an insanely beautiful stone village, still inhabited today by about 2,500 Navarrans and supports a number of glorious old churches.

Our last stop of the day was back up closer to Pamplona but due West, at the rather stunning Señorio de Otazu (Twitter, Facebook, WineLog), with General Manager, Javier Bañales Vañes. Otazu is situated in the small municipality of Etxauri, in the Tierra Estella sub-region.  Here the Pyrenees begin to exert an influence, cooling what would otherwise be a hot winegrowing region.  This cooling is so substantial, that Otazu actually has the most Northerly red wine and chardonnay vineyards in all of Navarra.

The estate has winemaking origins that date back all the way to the 15th century, but its modern era started in 1990 and combined two passions for a modern wine, as well as modern art.  The estate grounds and buildings are dotted with a mixture of historical winemaking antiques and modern sculpture and paintings; a theme that can be also be found in the architecture and even the wines of Otazu. The ultra-modern, new winemaking facility and barrel room is breathtaking, situated behind (and below) the original historic building that doubles as an art gallery and entryway into the subterranean private tasting room and entryway into the barrel room.

I took footage in the barrel room that you can find embedded below from Vinopanion’s YouTube channel. In it Javier discusses some of the winemaking philosophy at Otazu, where the wine history and terroir of Navarra are respected, but with a modern, approachable, and über-premium perspective. Otazu makes wine, above all, that is enjoyable for the consumer, “people are asking for wine to enjoy wine.” But don’t think that their discarding all of that beautiful acidity and tasty savory dried herbs that you can find in traditional Navarran wine, “the blood of wine is acidity. nevermind muscles and bone,” ie, no flabby, fat New World wines to be had at their Estate.

[winebadge id=”61167″]

The Spanish wine authorities agree with the quality of the wine at Otazu: they are one of the only estates in all of Spain that have been awarded the designation Vino de Pago, or Pago DO.  These estates are considered the “First Growths” of Spain, and this DO (or Denominación de Origen) spans across Spain, it is driven purely by quality and by the vineyard and resulting wine’s ability to properly represent the best of wine from Spain.  As of the end of 2011, was one of only 11 DO Pagos throughout Spain.

We tasted the small lineup of wines from Otazu in their tasting salon, just past their underground gallery and overlooking the curved lines of the tremendous cellar.  While I’d had some of Otazu’s lower-priced offerings in the past, their reserva Señorío de Otazu line was very impressive.  Bigger wines are featured here, but still retaining that litheness and nerve of acidity, alongside lurking leather and herbal savoriness that I love in the wines from Navarra.  The Señorío de Otazu Vinos de Pago de Otazu 2006 that you see to the right garnered an AwesomeWK, as did my favorite of the day (and perhaps the whole trip), the Señorío de Otazu Navarra Altar 2006, my highest WKBadge.  I can’t remember awarding this wine badge to more than one wine at a single tasting.

 

Following our tasting and the tour that can see above, we headed off for yet another fantastic three hour lunch…Navarrans know how to EAT. Javier took us to his favorite restaurant, which quickly became one of my own. Seriously.  This resto visit has to be in the top three meals that I’ve ever had in my life, both for the food (of course and paired with Otazu flagships), but also for the absolutely mindblowing setting.  We literally, LITERALLY, sat on the edge of the cliff, in the historic tiny center of Etxauri.  You can hear our expressions at the end of the video above, just after we arrive at Restaurante Sarbil Jatetxea and experience foodie shock and awe.  I’d say even more, but the best explanations of this meal, as well as our dinner following at the famed La Runa Sideria, have been penned by my good #Navarra5 cohort, Beau Carufel (Twitter, Facebook), on his blog Beau’s Barrel Room.

Our travels across Navarra were tagged in realtime on Twitter using the hashtag #Navarra5.  The intro post in this series can be found earlier on Vinopanion, with Day 1 and Day 2 covered earlier in this series. You can find all of the photos & videos from this fabulous trip to Navarra, Spain (Twitter, Facebook) (and a little to Basque Country) on my Flickr in their own set and tagged with “Navarra5“.  All of my runs that I took (including getting lost!) are on my MapMyFitness, titled “Wines of Navarra“.  Lastly and most importantly, all of the awesome wines that we had from our first day are listed below and all are tagged with “Navarra5” so that you can list them in your own WineLog.  Cheers!

Wines from Bodegas San Martín (WineLog):

 

 Ilagares Navarra Viura Blanco 2010

Color: Very light yellow/green

Nose: Muted nose, but clean lemon and lime here.

Palate: Very zesty lime and some Meyer lemon into a bit of roundness and cream as the base. Great zesty and juicy lime and brief white florals in finish, very refreshing: QPRWK.

 Ilagares Navarra Rosado 2010

Color: Light cherry and strawberry pink, lightest pink edges.

Nose: Very juicy raspberry and rhubarb and some bigger strawberry as well.

Palate: Very juicy strawberry and a bit of watermelon, sweet fruit but a dry wine, balanced bright acidity. Very juicy and persistent raspberry finish. Tasty: QPRWK.

Ilagares Navarra Flor de Unx 2010

Alma de Unx Garnacha Baja Montaña Cepas Viejas 2010

Ilagares Navarra Tinto 2010

Señorio de Unx Navarra Crianza 2007

 Señorio de Unx Navarra Reserva 2005

Color: Ruby core, ruby edges.

Nose: Great earth and integrated savory oak and black fruit nose, leather, dried garden herbs.

Palate: Initial blackest sweeter fruit intro, immediately into leather and garden fennel, savory flint and great acid. Leather and finer coating tannin finish. Very good: OldWorldWK.

 Alma de Unx Navarra Garnacha 2007

Color: Deeper ruby core, ruby edges.

Nose: Totally aromatic, very savory and tasty herb and spiced nose earthy oak and blackest fruit.

Palate: Big fruit intro, then the great acidity kicks in and that same earthy and savory herb combo from the nose. Finishing with some sweeter toast and the finest tannin structure, all ripe black fruit all the way: OldWorldWK.

Wines from Señorio de Otazu (Twitter, Facebook, WineLog):

 

Otazu Navarra Chardonnay 2009

Otazu Navarra Rosado 2010

 Señorío de Otazu Vinos de Pago de Otazu 2006

Color: Garnet edges, med garnet edges.

Nose: Very smooth, savory and earthy and deep black fruit, with pencil lead.

Palate: extremely smooth and sensual mouthfeel, anise, new leather, deep black and red fruit, fine tannins and a coolness to the finish. Extremely good: AwesomeWK.

 Señorío de Otazu Navarra Altar 2006

Color: Dark ruby, med ruby edges.

Nose: Great stony and flinty leather and earth, black fruit just barely poking through. Great.

Palate: Big wine here yet also smooth and cool. Black fruit all the way, good acidity, amazing savory components here with oak integrating and just loads complexity: AwesomeWK.

Señorío de Otazu Navarra Vitral 2005

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