The Denominació d’Origen Qualificada Priorat is a small mountainous region located in the heart of the province of Tarragona. The massif of the Montsant mountain forms the northern boundary, to the west is the Sierra de la Figuera, to the east Molló and, to the south, the territory opens out and follows the course of the Siurana river downstream towards the Ebro. The Siurana river and its tributaries are the main geographic artery of the area, and have created a series of valleys due also to the geological curves of the ridges and hillsides. In accordance with the laws of Catalonia relative to the regional administrative division, the whole territory of the DOQ Priorat is part of a larger administrative area known as 'Priorat', which also includes a territory that does not form part of the Priorat wine.
The Denominació d’Origen Priorat has an area of 17.629 hectares, of which 1.887 are planted with vines and cultivated by more than 600 growers. Nine of the 23 municipalities of the Priorat region administratively form a part of the Priorat region. These municipalities are the following: la Morera de Montsant (which includes Scala Dei), Gratallops, Porrera, Poboleda, Torroja del Priorat, la Vilella Alta, la Vilella Baixa, El Lloar and Bellmunt del Priorat. Also, within the limits of the DOQ Priorat, the northern part of the municipality of the town of Falset (Masos de Falset) and the eastern part of the municipality of Molar (Les Solanes del Molar) ar included. The first 6 are the municipalities that made up the Priorat of the Carthusiam Monastery of ScalaDei. The others were included in the delimitation of the appellation of origin which was made in 1932 and which forms the current territory of the DOQ Priorat. As a result of the expansion of the cultivation of the vines and the quality of its wines, promoted, driven and dominated by the Carthusians, the area gained world renown.
The name, Priorat has been linked to wine since ancient times. The region’s soil, climate, the lay of the land and the hard work of the men and women who have made wine using traditional methods, now helped by new technology adapted to current needs for quality, have all resulted in a unique and exclusive product: Priorat wine.
The Cartoixa (Carthusian Monastery) of Scala Dei represents the birthplace of wines and wine-making in the DOQ Priorat region. The Carthusian monks brought from Provence in the 12th century the knowledge and techniques to develop a winegrowing culture that established itself firmly and has evolved over the centuries.The Carthusians’ lands made up the historic Priorat area which today forms the DOQ Priorat wine region.
The story goes that King Alfons el Cast sent two knights to survey the country in order to find an ideal place for the Carthusian Order, from Provence, to settle in Catalonia.When they arrived at the foothills of the Montsant mountain range, they were struck by the beauty of the area and asked a shepherd about it. After he had done this, the shepherd told them about a supernatural occurrence that had happened in the middle of the valley a long time before. From the highest pine tree a staircase had appeared along which angels ascended to heaven.
The knights told the king about the story and he offered the region to the Order. The Carthusians, now established in 1194, built an altar dedicated to Santa Maria where the tree was. The story gave name to the monastery and created an iconography strongly rooted to the region.1
The Carthusians of Scala Dei dressed in white wool with a hood that covered their shaven heads. They planted vineyards and made wine in the monastery, adopting a life of work and spirituality. Priorat wine could well be a mystical wine2.
1 Anna Figueras.
2 Mauricio Wiesenthal
Today, the ruins of the Carthusian monastery provide a breath of mystery and attract visitors. Above these ruins, different geological layers overlap to the top of the mountain, playing with a varied palette of colors, from grey, ochre and yellow to brown and red, so forming this mystical stairway that reaches up to the blue of the sky and the white of the angels in the clouds.
For nearly 1000 years, nine small villages have been settled among the slopes of slate that lie scattered at the foot of the Sierra del Montsant. Their inhabitants, winegrowers during all that time, shaped the land with slopes. After the Law of Mendizábal (1835), thanks to a great effort and the growing development of the vineyard, the vine growers rediscovered their dignity. This enormous change has generated an extraordinary culture, a source of prestige in this country. Among many examples, the chapter 'How to plant vineyards in Scala Dei' from the 'Book of Vassals' of the 17th century, or the anonymous text 'Manual of viticulture of 18th century Porrera' are magnificent testimonies. In the latter text the wisdom of man living in harmony with nature and knowledge is reflected upon.
Unfortunately, times of harmony and growth are cyclical and often end in disasters, thus, within the history of agriculture, and for all European vines, there is a before and after the phylloxera epidemic. It was a also a disaster for the Priorat region, since, at this time, the explosion of the textile industry in Catalonia swept away the entire workforce to the city and new vines were not planted again, except on a small scale, which, fortunately, is what has remained to the present day.
Thanks to the generation of farmers who are currently between 70 and 80 years of age, who have remained in the land and have continued their agricultural tradition, the Priorat wine culture has been preserved
More recently, it was possible to intervene in a preserved landscape, one that is complex, rich and of formidable potential. It was at the end of the 80s when the opening of a new cycle of prosperity began. This combined wisdom, the landscape and tradition with a new entrepreneurial spirit that had quality and prestige as its main aim.
The rehabilitation of the vines is done slowly making sure they stay true to the history of the land. It is a curious mixture that brings together the evolution of a traditional culture and the remains of an agrarian past and an exuberant nature, along with a respectful and efficient replanting and a charm that is to be protected.
Talking about the landscape of a place is always a difficult task, given the complexity of factors involved and the varying viewpoints therein.
However, the one thing the Priorat has is its uniqueness. No-one strolling through the terrain can help but be aware that he is in a unique landscape, one that has characteristics that make it very different from any other place, even if it has similar mountainous and agronomic features.
Here, in the DOQ Priorat, the climate and the sun have together defined a landscape that may not be appealing to some people, but can seduce others. Indifference will never be a feature that defines it. However, like any landscape, the hand of man is present and gives a personal touch. It is the symbol of honest work in a difficult and forbidding field, which transforms the area into a special landscape. In the end, the main feature that defines the landscape of the Priorat DOQ is uniformity; all of the enclosures, hillsides, streams, farms, gardens, paths, stone outhouses or farmhouses, have a characteristic and authentic touch that define the essence of the Priorat. We know that you will find this singular place to be a land of character, tradition and spectacular landscape. It is the territory of slate, which runs from the mountains along gentle ridges to hillsides so steep that one wonders how it was ever possible to plant vines on them.
The DOQ Priorat forms a compact and well-defined landscape unit, formed by the great mountainous amphitheater that stretches out at the foot of the sierra de Montsant, by the slate-bed of its hillsides and by its role in the agricultural sector, which has remained almost intact up to recent times.
The tortuous geography of this area means that many vineyards are worked as “costers” (Catalan word meaning steep slope) which are so steep than in some areas terraces have been built.
The resulting landscape, which these vineyards provide us with are one of the defining characteristics of the Priorat, giving it a distinctive personality.
A large part of the territory of the DOQ Priorat has countryside protection, either as a special Plan of Natural Interest (PEIN); Natura 2000 network; or as part of the territory included in the Natural Park of Serra de Montsant.
The DOQ Priorat has catalogued 100% of the territory according to the specific conditions for the planting of vines.
The Centre de Recerca, Estudi i Valorització per a la Viticultura de Muntanya (CERVIM) is an international institute formed in 1987 under the leadership of the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV). It unites regions and regional, national and international organisations that work for the valuation and preservation of mountain viticulture.
This institution has been regulated according to the legislation of the Aosta Valley since 2004, which has its headquarters in this region. Since it was founded, the centre has safeguarded the interests of mountain and hillside viticulture. It carries out studies, research and conferences and participates in all international meetings of this sector that debate issues relating to viticulture.
The DOQ Priorat was admitted to this select group of wine-producing regions at the beginning of the year 2013. The president of CERVIM, Roberto Gaudio, presented on May 30th this organisation in Barcelona and, later, in the village of Porrera.
All the producing areas that are part of CERVIM have a series of common characteristics that give rise to the term ‘heroic’ viticulture. Viticulture 'heroic' is defined by a number of conditions into which the DOQ Priorat falls, such as the following: orographic conditions with little mechanization; small vineyards, sometimes divided and often organized on terraces; agricultural companies with a surface of enclosed farmland; a need for high economic investments for the modernisation of the crops and, finally, the existence of adverse weather conditions.
The DOQ Priorat is formed by 12 grape growing zones, the different villages. To establish the zones in the wine sector, geographical, environmental, climatic, social, historical and economic variables have been taken into account. Using this information, the social root of the wine with the cultural roots of each town is set and is identified with each of the social realities of the subzones of the DOQ Priorat, which go beyond the existing administrative boundaries.
The towns that make up the DOQ Priorat are Bellmunt del Priorat, Gratallops, el Lloar, la Morera de Montsant, Porrera, Poboleda, Scala Dei, Torroja del Priorat, la Vilella Alta and la Vilella Baixa, and the grape growing zones of Masos de Falset and Solanes del Molar.
Bellmunt del Priorat
Altitude: 261 m. Area: 8,86 ha. Population: 192. A municipality located in the southernmost part of the DOQ Priorat. The town is lined on one of the ridges that define the area and, by extension, the whole territory of the Priorat. The area is bounded to the north and west by the river Siurana, in the south by the mountains of the Sarraí and to the east shares a border with Falset.
The history of Bellmunt del Priorat is indisputably linked to the history of the mines in its territory, which were already mentioned in antiquity. These mines, situated between the village and the river Siurana, are known to have been excavated during the Roman era; it is even possible that the seams were used previously by the Iberian settlers.
In the mid-19th century, the State leased the mines and this enabled the town to recover from the ravages of phylloxera, which affected the villages of the Priorat, very quickly. During the 20th century, the exploitation of the lead mines reached its peak, although from 1970 activity decreased to such an extent that the mines were closed definitively. Currently, the Eugenia Mine is open for public tours.
Scala Dei Scala Dei is a hamlet added to la Morera that grew up in a secluded valley in the mountain range of Montsant, sheltered by the first monastery of Carthusian Order in the Iberian Peninsula: the Carthusian Charterhouse of Santa Maria de Scala Dei. The center, located in the lower part of the municipality, is crossed by the Riuet de Scala Dei.
Scala Dei has its origin as a former Charterhouse of the Chartusian of Santa Maria of Scala Dei, which was founded in the 12th century in an incomparable landscape and which constitutes the origin of the historical Priorat. It seems that when the monks were looking for the most suitable place to build the monastery, entrusted by Alfons el Cast, they met a shepherd who told them that he often saw in his dreams angels who went up to heaven using stairs that leaned on the pine where he used to pasture his herd. The monks interpreted this as a sign from God and decided to build there a small cloister which would be the origin of the Carthusian Charterhouse of Scala Dei, which means "stairs of God". The monks introduced the cultivation of vineyards in this area, and the Priorat of Scala Dei began to prosper more and more and so it got the name of the current Priorat, one of the areas with more personality of Catalonia.
Because of the decree of Ecclesiastical Confiscations of Mendizábal, in 1835, the monks were obliged to leave the monastery, which was left in ruins until 1998, when the autonomous government of Catalonia partially renovated the Carthusian Charterhouse and reopened it for tourists.
Altitude: 321 m. Area: 13,52 km2. Population: 243 inhabitants. Gratallops is situated in a very central part of the DOQ Priorat in the field of communications. The municipality is bounded by the river Siurana to the south and to the west by the river Montsant, which converge in the south-western end of the municipality. The slopes of the southern half of the municipality are among the most gentle of the area, which makes it one of the most cultivated of the whole DOQ. The village, from a distance, looks like a crown of houses on top of the small hill where it is situated. Its silhouette is recognized from afar as it is one of the emblematic skylines of the Priorat.
There are several versions about the etymology of the name; all, however, are in agreement that it has to do with the abundance of wolves around the town. According to tradition, the town used to be called Vilanova del Pi. The first documented reference is the town charter, in the year 1258, according to which the monastery of Scala Dei started to populate the area and the district of Gratallops.
El Lloar is in the west of the region, on the right side of the river Montsant that forms its easterly limit. The municipality is small but with a rugged terrain, in which the cliff of la Roca stands out, where deep gullies are born and fall steeply to the river Montsant. Like the neighbouring village of Gratallops, the village of El Lloar has a characteristic silhouette that is cut on the back of a ridge; it seems that the two could use hand signals to communicate visually. Located to the west of the DOQ Priorat, its area extends between the cliffs of the mountains from the west to the Montsant river to the east.
There are several versions about the name of the town. Some say that it comes from llobar, meaning 'land of the wolves', a theory based on the abundance of these animals that existed in these lands; others say that the name could come from praise, 'praise or adoration', and others that say it comes from slab or llosera, taking into account the composition of most of the land in the municipality.
The municipality is the most extensive and northerly in the DOQ Priorat, occupying most of the Montsant mountain range. La Morera lies protected under the the Montsant mountains and has excellent views of the mountains that make up the Priorat region. Lower down is the village of Scala Dei, the home of the monastery.
La Morera is the oldest and highest town of the historic Priorat. It is at an altitude of 743 metres. La Morera is heard of before the end of the Reconquest, when its perimeter was inhabited by Moorish farm workers. The town was overlooked by a towering castle, where, years later, Christians would build another, the ruins of which can still be seen today.
The town of Poboleda lies on a hillside at the mouth of the Siurana river, in a fairly flat area of gentle slopes formed by the river over time. The area is bordered by the neighbouring town of Morera to the north, to its south the mountains of Tossal separate it from Porrera and to the west is Torroja del Priorat.
Poboleda’s name comes from Latin and means ‘forest of poplars’. Around 1151 it came under the control of Arbet de Castellvell. The town was founded a few years later when, around 1171, the hermits of Montsant left the mountains to join a community of Carthusian monks in Populeta. Thus Poboleda was the original community of Scala Dei and the monks lived there until 1203 when King Pere enlarged the area and they moved the monastery to where it now is. Poboleda then became a farm. According to a document of the 17th century, it received the name of Granja de Albes.
The town of Porrera is very closely linked to the valley of the river Cortiella. At the bottom of the valley, in a place where it opens up on meeting the stream of Teixeta, the vision from the mountain pass coming from Falset is as if it had rolled down the mountain only to come to rest on the sunkissed hillside of the river, sheltered from the north winds and guarded by the Molló mountains. Its municipal district extends over the whole valley.
The history of Porrera is one of fighting and heroic deeds, and for this reason it is famous as the ‘liberal and insurrectionary town’. It has always fought in the defence of democratic causes and against authoritarian impositions. In 1462 it fought for the Generalitat against the king, in the War of Succession against the Bourbon soldiers, in the banditry of the 16th century against royalty, against the Napoleonic forces at the beginning of the 19th century and against the absolutists who set fire to the town in 1822 for the third time in its history.
The origins of the town go back to 1201, when a charter for the inhabitants of ‘Valporrieram’ is documented.
The cultivation of the vine has given the town its wealth, to which the great number of large houses give witness, as well as its more urban aspect, fruit of the important wine trade in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Torroja del Priorat The town is situated on a hillside half-way up a mountain, facing north-east, spreading out around what must have been the old watchtower called the ‘Torre Roja’, from which we get the name of the town. Both the area and the town occupy a central position in the Priorat wine region.
The Siurana river crosses the area and leaves on the right the flattest part of the Priorat region. It is here that an area of cultivation unique for its beauty has developed from way back in history up to the present day.
The town dates from the beginning of the Priorat of Scala Dei. The town charter is from the year 1261, awarded by the monastery to ‘30 founders of the farm of Torroja’. For the Carthusians, the district of Torroja meant an important extension due to its centrality and proximity to the monastery. Important repopulation was carried out, one in Molí Bardina, as well as in other towns. The Carthusian Order was present there to recover payments in one of its most important masias: the masia of Bruno. The town has always been involved in winemaking and the proof of its output are the ancestral houses of the important families of the town.
La Vilella Alta A town situated in the valley formed by the Scala Dei stream up to just before it meets the river Montsant, within the area of the neighbouring Vilella Baixa. To the right of the river are the heights of the Montalts. The area is crossed by the southerly hills of the Montsant mountain range. The town is centred around the Carrer Major, on a hill and the adjacent hillsides, a little above the Scala Dei stream which runs through the whole area at the feet of the cliffs of the Montalts.
The town was founded in 1286 by the Carthusians. Its history is closely tied to that of the monastery. The first townspeople were probably from the neighbouring town of Montalt, when the monks offered land to anyone who voluntarily left his town.
There is a legend that that says that two brothers named Vilella founded simultaneously Vilella Alta and Vilella Baixa. This legend has no real basis in history as the name Vilella Baixa has an older origin.
During the 17th century, Vilella Alta is variously called Vilella d’Amunt and Vilella de Dalt. At the end of the century Vilella Alta is more commonly used and this name becomes official at the beginning of the 18th century.
La Vilella Baixa
The town of Vilella Baixa is situated where the Montsant river meets the stream of Scala Dei, above cliffs that give an extraordinarily high appearance to some of its houses. The town also lies between the summits of Figuera and the most southerly limits of Montsant, and on its hillsides are the winegrowing areas.
The original name of the town was Vilella de Baix, thus recorded in a wedding book of the Torre de l’Espanyol in the year 1712. When the names of the region were translated into Spanish, during the reign of Philip V, it became known as Vilella Baja and, later, when its name was translated back into Catalan, it became known as Vilella Baixa.
Although the origin of the town that dominates the valley of the Montsant river dates from the period of Arab control, it is very likely that, due to its privileged position, the town was inhabited a long time before. The first walled enclosure and castle are probably Moorish and were continually reformed after the Reconquest as they formed part of the barony of Cabassers.
Masos de Falset
In addition to the municipalities of the nine villages that make up the DOQ Priorat, the territory of the protected designation of origin includes the northern part of the municipality of Falset. This part of the term is made up of land that in the geological, climatic and lithological environment was considered suitable to produce wines with the characteristics of the wines of Priorat. The largest part of this area includes the area known as 'Masos', due to the large presence of farms and farm cottages, formerly inhabited, where people lived whilst harvesting the vines that were far from the towns of Falset, Bellmunt,and Porrera. Also included in the DOQ Priorat are Sentius, Colls de Porrera, Mollons, Aubagues, Carners, Coll de Molí and Sulsida, all situated in the northern part of the municipality of Falset.
A més dels nou municipis que conformen la DOQ Priorat, el territori de la denominació d'origen inclou una bona part del municipi del Molar, gairebé la meitat de la zona. Aquestes terres estan formades principalment de la pissarra, que en l'entorn geològic, climàtic i litològic eren considerades terres aptes per produir vins amb les característiques dels vins del Priorat.
En aquesta zona hi ha moltes mines en desús que segueixen una costura subterrània de roca ígnia altament mineralitzada, que s'estén fins al poble veí de Bellmunt, on també hi ha un gran nombre de mines actualment en desús. Aquest fet dóna continuïtat als espais geogràfics i geològics de la DOQ Priorat. Els llocs que conformen aquesta part del terme són les terres situades a les Solanes, Collades, Comets, Noguerals, Colais, Garranxons, Mataveres i Planassos.
Village Wines (Vins de Vila), those that have been made from grapes of the same town, are an expression of the bond of these wines with the territory. At the beginning of 2013, more than twenty wines were registered as Village Wines, a good example of the commitment to quality and authenticity of the wineries of the DOQ Priorat.
The aim of this project is to take a step forward in strengthening the identity of the towns of this denomination of origin, reaffirming further their ties with the wines that are produced. In fact, one of the characteristics of the wines of Priorat most valued by experts is their high fidelity to the land of origin, that is to say, to the soil (in French, terroir).
The local ways of life give identity to the area, and the Consell Regulador of the DOQ Priorat, preserving them, also supports their progress and improvement. For this reason, the DOQ Priorat (in accordance with city councils and local agents) has announced the organisation of different shows, tastings and local fairs dedicated to promoting the wines of each of the towns in this wine region. The Consell Regulador of the DOQ Priorat, the local councils and wineries want to go one step further and have agreed to offer a wide range of popular activities throughout the year with the intention of bringing the wines closer to the public.
The DOQ Priorat is the only “Qualified” wine appellation in Catalonia and is one of only two which exist in Spain. This quality seal demands a series of conditions based on quality and the implementation of certain wine production systems. The DOQ Priorat's character means its wines are unique and exclusive. The wines made in this designation of origin are the only ones permitted to carry its name around the world: Priorat.
For an appellation of origin to be recognized as qualified, it has to have spent at least ten years since its recognition as a designation of origin. For the recognition of a designation of origin as a Qualified Denomination of Origin it is necessary to certify the performance of the following requirements:
a) Establish a comprehensive wine traceability system that encompasses the plots of vines, their productions of grapes, identified by batches, transportation, preparation, ageing, bottling, labelling, packaging and marketing.
b) Ensure that the products covered by the appellation of origin are bottled in the cellars that are registered and located in the specified geographical area.
c) Set up a system of quality control and certification of the protected wines, from the production phase up to when they are released on to the market, which includes an organoleptic and analytical control by homogeneous batches of limited volume and in accordance with the characteristics that the wines established in the regulations must include.
d) Arrange that the wineries only have vines or must from registered vineyards or wine from other wineries that are also registered, and that only wine exclusively with the right to be called DOQ be produced.
A Qualified Designation of Origin guarantees the origin of the product in its entirety, by means of the execution of the whole system of traceability of origin, thus avoiding submitting the products to conditions which are not considered optimal for the maintenance of the characteristics of these wines.
It is precisely this trait, which has earned DOCa. Priorat wines their place amongst the most appreciated wines in the world: their fidelity to a harsh land, the way the different grape varieties have adapted to this soil, coupled with a production method which has turned it into what could be called “heroic viticulture”, have all meant that experts from around the world are able to quickly recognise a Priorat wine, as soon as they open the bottle. The French concept of terroir, or what is the same, the fidelity of a taste or flavour of a wine to its soil, has made this into a wine’s most valued characteristic, according to experts.
The majority of the wineries in DOQ Priorat are family businesses, cooperative organizations and companies. The specific characteristics of these wineries mean a personal attention to the vineyard and a special care of the grapes, which is reflected on the quality and identity of their wines.
Currently, there are 99 wineries registered in the DOQ Priorat. These cellars are distributed throughout the different zones of grape production as follows: Bellmunt del Priorat (8 wineries), Gratallops (22), el Lloar (5), Masos de Falset (1), la Morera de Montsant (4), Poboleda (14), Porrera (17), Scala Dei (3), Solanes del Molar (6), Torroja (11), la Vilella Alta (6) i la Vilella Baixa (4).
Vine cultivation is distributed at altitudes ranging from 100 meters above sea level in the lower parts of the districts of Bellmunt del Priorat and el Molar, up to 750 meters in the highlands of La Morera de Montsant and Porrera. The winegrowing is characterised by slopes that have a gradient of more than 15% in most cases although some wine estates reach 60%.
The tortuous geography of this area means that many vineyards are worked as “costers” (Catalan word meaning steep slope) which are so steep than in some areas terraces have been built. Some of these terraces are so narrow that there is only space for two rows of vines, meaning that the vineyard cannot be worked with farm machinery. The resulting landscape, which these vineyards provide us with are one of the defining characteristics of the Priorat, giving it a distinctive personality
Born of the soil and the region’s specific climate, vines planted here tend to suffer and as a result harvest yields are very low – at less than 1 kg per plant on average. This however means that the wines produced in this area have a very unique personality.
The harvest period tends to last a long time: it starts around the middle of September in Bellmunt and El Lloar and continues until the end of October or the beginning of November in Porrera and La Morera de Montsant. The long fermentation period of very ripe grapes enables winemakers to obtain a series of very rich components from each grape, facilitating a very comprehensive skin maceration period.
The recommended and permitted varietals of the DOQ Priorat are the following:
Recommended red varietals: Grenache, Carignan.
Permitted red varietals: Hairy Grenache, Tempranillo, Piquepoul, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah.
White varietals:White Grenache, Macabeu, Pedro Ximénez, Chenin Blanc, Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Xarello, Piquepoul.
The most planted grape varieties in the Prioratare red ones.Carinyena (Carignan)and Garnatxa (Grenache) are the most important native varieties.
The tortuous geography of this area means that the vineyards have to be cultivated on slopes so steep that it is necessary, in some cases, to build terraces. Some of these terraces are so narrow that two rows of vines barely fit, and mechanical access is impossible. The landscape that these vineyards create is one of the characteristic features of the Priorat.
As a result of the particular soil and climate, the vines are weak and consequently result in rather poor harvests, with very low grape yields. These do not exceed the figure of 1 kg per plant on average, but at the same time, this gives the wines of this area a very unique personality
This is precisely the feature that in recent years has placed DOQ Priorat wines among the most valued in the world: being true to the hardness of the land, the adaptation of the different varietals to the soil and a system of production that results in outstanding viticulture, mean that the experts of the country and from around the world can identify a Priorat wine immediately on opening the bottle. The French concept of terroir, or in other words, the fidelity of a flavour and wine to its land, its land of origin, is one of the subtleties most appreciated by experts.
The harvest is usually very long. It starts in the middle of September in Bellmunt and El Lloar and lasts until the end of October or early November in Porrera and in La Morera de Montsant. The long fermentation of ripe grapes makes it possible to obtain a wide range of components of great wealth in each grain and a very complete maceration.
The tortuous geography of this area means that many vineyards are worked as “costers” (Catalan word meaning steep slope) which are so steep than in some areas terraces have been built. Some of these terraces are so narrow that there is only space for two rows of vines, meaning that the vineyard cannot be worked with farm machinery. The resulting landscape, which these vineyards provide us with are one of the defining characteristics of the Priorat, giving it a distinctive personality.
The DOCa. Priorat has been recognised as having the first “Vi de Finca” (prestigious category which roughly relates to a single vineyard wine) in the whole of Spain and is working hard to consolidate its “Vi de Vila” (Village Wines) category. This new category is taking a step once again towards strengthening its ties between its wines and their land of origin. The project known as “Vins de Vila” in Catalan, approved by the Control Board on 11th June, 2009, divides its wine production between twelve winemaking subzones or villages within the DOCa. Priorat. This new regulation allows producers to identify their wines on the label with the name of the village where their grapes are grown as well as being the same place where their wines are made.
The grape-growing subzones were decided based on geographical, environmental, climatic, viticultural, social, historical and economic aspects, where wine was closely linked to the social reality of each village within the subzones of the DOCa. Priorat and which went beyond existing administrative boundaries.
The "Vins de Vila" (Village Wines) zones
The wine producing subzones used to identify the provenance of the grapes and the "vins de vila" are the following: Bellmunt del Priorat, Gratallops, el Lloar, la Morera de Montsant, Poboleda, Porrera, Scala Dei, Torroja del Priorat, la Vilella Alta, la Vilella Baixa and the grape growing zones of Masos de Falset and Solanes del Molar.
This limited terroir, is formed by materials of the Palaeozoic era, mainly Devonian, Carboniferous shale (formed between 416 and 318 million years ago), therefore the oldest that can be found in Catalonia today. The soils are shallow, usually from a single horizon and immediately below (about 10-15 cm) is the bedrock. They have a low organic content matter and are formed mostly by the disintegration of the slate, which is called llicorella, and are laminated and broken rocks of a dark copper colour between which the roots of the vines dig deep in search of moisture, water and nutrients.
This section reproduces fragments of the text 'Priorat Vineyard', by Rafael López Monné, included in the book EL PRIORAT (Lunwerg SL and regulatory Council of the DOQ Priorat, 2009):
'in times of the universal deluge whereby God punished men for the sins they had committed, the waters rose 30 Palms above the highest mountain in the world, [...] as the water remained for 115 days as the Scriptures say, one can deduce that with so many days the Earth broke up in pieces to the bottom [...] Just as the earth that fell from the mountains, depending on from where it falls, contains its own substance, so will the wine have the sap according to the barrel it came from'.
In this way an educated farmer from Porrera explained, at the end of the 18th century, the reasons why the wine of his country had a special taste. One needs to know that 'all mountains by common are composed of three spices that are: llicorella, soldó and lime; although there are more spices '. Llicorella – also called licorella, llicorell or llecorell – is the undoubted star of the Priorat denomination of origin, although there are some areas that do not contain it, such as the foot of Montsant and much of the same mountain. The origin of the word is linked to the term llècol, which is used to indicate mood, taste or tasty ‘pastossitat’. The etymology comes from the Celtic likka, meaning stone. Stone, taste, slate, licorella - all of these words have become synonyms in the Priorat.
Currently, the almost atavistic footprint of the stone, slate, is still very present. One merely has to browse the tasting notes of their wines to read of 'mineral taste', 'touches of slate', etc. It seems as though the llicorella dissolves in the sugars of the grapes that grow on it.
This is a specific area, easily definable on a map with a time honoured history, many traditions and spectacular scenery. It is the land of “llicorella”, which quickly changes from the gently undulating mountain slopes to abrupt cliff faces where an observer always poses the question as to how on earth they even dared to plant vineyards here!
As for the soil, it is relatively acidic with very little organic material. The soil is mainly made up of slate, known locally as “llicorella” (singular) or “llicorelles” (plural). These flat, easily breakable deeply copper coloured stones are where the vine roots delve in search of water and nutrients. It is these soils which are recognised as giving Priorat wines their greatest virtues.
Types of llicorella
The main types of llicorella that can be found around the DOQ Priorat are the following:
Origin of the sample:Comadecases (Poboleda) and Garranxa (Porrera)
Distribution:It is found throughout the D.O.Ca. Priorat wine growing area. It is the most characteristic soil type in the D.O.Ca. Priorat.
Geological Period: Carboniferous (350 million years)
Features: Metamorphic rock of a fine or very fine texture, it is foliated and breaks up easily. It can present varied morphology in terms of colour and appearance. The prevailing colours are blue or brown.
2. “PISSARRA GRESOSA” (“Saldó” in local language)
Origin of the sample:Solanes (Porrera) and Coll Beix (Poboleda)
Distribution:It is found throughout the D.O.Ca. Priorat wine growing area.
Geological Period: Carboniferous (350 million years)
Features: Metamorphic rock made up of a sedimentary sandstone. It features a grainy texture with larger grain and foliation. It usually breaks up into blocks and it mainly occurs in brown tones.
Distribution: It is found around a central axis going from east to west in the D.O.Ca. Priorat wine growing area in the subzones of Vilella Alta, Torroja, Porrera.
It is the oldest kind of rock in the DOCa. Priorat.
Geological Period: Devonian (400 million years)
Features: Metamorphic rock of a fine or very fine texture. It is very foliated and breaks up easily. This rock usually contains a lot of quartz or other mineral veins and a covering of oxides that give it a reddish or yellowish appearance. The main colours are dark blues, greys or near black.
4. PHYLLITE OR FOLITATED SLATE
Origin of the sample: Les Sentius (subzone of Porrera)
Distribution: It is found in a zone, which comes into contact with the batholitic granite near Falset. It occurs especially in the south of the D.O.Ca. Priorat, particularly in the subzones of Bellmunt, Porrera and the “masos” of Falset.
Geological Period: Carboniferous (350 million years)
Features: Metamorphic rock submitted to high pressure due to contact with intrusive materials (granite). It presents a fine grained mud texture and a high level of schist that gives it a very laminated structure. It is of bluish or darker colours. Its main feature is its spots, that give it its freckled appearance.
The relative isolation with respect to the influence of the sea and, at the same time, the protection offered by the sierra de Montsant from the cold northerly winds, give the area of the DOQ Priorat unique climatic conditions. These are marked especially by the remarkable thermal changes between day and night. So, in the summer months you can achieve minimal temperatures of 12 degrees, while the maximum can be up to 40 degrees, although the rocky surface of the earth can get much higher values. The average annual temperature ranges between 14 and 12 degrees, from the lowest area to the foot of Montsant.