THE MULTI-TALENTED CATALONIA
By Santiago Jimenez,, posted on 21 April 2022
Catalonia’s location provides it with all the requisite ingredients to create a plethora of varied terroirs, and climates. The changing landforms, too, spawn myriad types of terrain and microclimates. Combined, their diversity has led to the emergence of one of Spain’s most interesting wine regions.
The Pyrenees to the North act as a barrier against air currents descending from northern Europe. The breezes rising off the Mediterranean Sea to the East bring dampness, whilst continental air travels from the centre of the country in the West, and warmer, southerly air arrives from North Africa. Added to this is the region’s varied orography, from the Pyrenees through to the Serralada Prelitoral which divides the region into two parts from North to South. The Serralada Litoral, which is only a few kilometres from the sea, and the complex geography of the province of Tarragona, together with other unique features, produce multiple vineyard sites. All of this factors in to produce one of the most interesting wine regions in Spain.
The Autonomous Community of Catalonia, together with Castile y León, is one of the Spanish regions with the largest number of Designations of Origin within its boundaries. The largest concentration of these appellations is in the ‘southern hemisphere’ of Catalonia (D.O. Conca de Barberá, D.O. Montsant, D.O. Penedés, D.O.Q.Priorat, D.O. Tarragona and D.O. Terra Alta), whilst the balance is slightly more spread out across the rest of the region: D.O. Empordà in the Girona area, D.O. Alella and D.O. Bages in the province of Barcelona, and D.O. Costers del Segre in the province of Lérida. In addition, there are two Designations of Origin that cover different and diverse areas. On one side is D.O. Catalunya, which, as its name suggests, includes all wines produced in the region that do not come under any of the aforementioned Designations of Origin. On the other side is D.O. Cava which, although it originates in the Penedés region (and should not be confused with D.O. Penedés), extends its reach beyond Catalonia and is not exclusive to the area.
A beautiful bunch of Garnacha Blanca grapes at Altavins
According to the latest data, updated in October 2021 and pertaining to 2020, vineyards for all Catalan Designations of Origin* cover 40,985 hectares with the number of registered winegrowers standing at 7,703. The number of wineries registered is 1,158 and 39,666,094 bottles were sold ** worth 181,574,000 euros.
* These figures exclude the D. O. Cava appellation, which includes several autonomous communities. For the Catalonia appellation only the producers who are exclusive to this appellation are included, but not the number of bottles sold or the total value in euros, details of which were not provided.
** The total value does not include the D.O. Alella appellation.
Our report features 5 Designations of Origin, as seen through their wineries, each of which is representative of that DO.
D.O. Bages – Abadal: Centuries of dedication to viticulture
D.O. Bages is located in the centre of Catalonia, in the region of the same name. Vineyards registered in the DO equate to approximately 480 hectares (1.17% of total cultivated acreage). Some 90 winegrowers are registered under the appellation and 14 wineries are affiliated to it. The number of bottles sold in 2020 was 427,006 (1.08% of the total number of Catalan DOs), worth 2,158,568 euros (1.19%). Obviously, the appellation does not rank in the upper echelons for volumes or values, but it has its own identity, and Abadal encapsulates all the unique ingredients of this wine region.
A general view of the vineyards of the Abadal Winery in Bages
The Abadal winery is located in the heart of Bages, in the village of Santa Maria d'Horta d'Avinyó, a town just a short distance from the city of Barcelona. It is located in a unique setting, which is captivating for its beauty and uniqueness. The winery is run by the Roqueta family, which has had connections with the world of wine for more than eight centuries.
The family winery was born of a desire to produce wines that express the uniqueness of the landscape, through terraced vineyards surrounded by forests, unique traditional varieties (Picapoll and Mandó are the protagonists here), and clay soils littered with stones. Its commitment to the region offers differentiation and identity. The winery strives to consolidate the Bages winegrowing tradition through innovation and modernity.
Bages region has a very long-standing tradition of growing wine. Abadal seeks to ensure that its wines are the fruit of the unique combination offered by the Bages region and that they express its most authentic and singular traits.
The winery was founded in 1983 by Valentí Roqueta. His family’s winemaking activity dates back to the 12th century (specifically to the year 1199). At its core is the Masía Roqueta, the family farmhouse, which houses remnants of more than eight centuries dedicated to winemaking, including presses and stone tanks. The cellar at Masía also houses some rancio wines in “bocoi” barrels distributed in different spaces or "cellers", and stand out for their diversity and uniqueness. They also form part of the family's heritage.
Valentí Roqueta from Abadal winery
Since its foundation, the winery has led the way for research and recovery of the historic varieties of Bages. First with the Picapoll grape, launching Abadal Picapoll commercially, and subsequently with the recovery of the Mandó grape. Abadal Mandó offers a pure rendition of the Bages landscape and a tribute to the winery's innovative spirit. Abadal Matís fuses the Mandó variety with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Traditional grape varieties such as Mandó and Picapoll are also considered to be cultivars of the future, due to their adaptation to climate change and their late ripening.
An important legacy of Bages' winemaking past is the use of dry stone constructions. These are a unique heritage, both for their historical interest and their usefulness for winemaking. Proof of this are the vineyard huts (Abadal has more than forty of these on its estate, all of which have been restored); the vats; and the walls in the vineyards, all of which are made from stone.
As part of the Paisatges 1883 project, promoted by Abadal in 2009, the winery resumed the ancient technique of producing wine in a dry stone vat - Viña Arboset - from ten historic grape varieties. This experimental wine was the culmination of experience gleaned over years of research and in Abadal Arboset 2017 was born.
D.O. Terra Alta – Altavins: The spirit of the Mediterranean
This appellation is located in the South-West of Catalonia, bordering the region of Aragon to the West and almost touching the upper part of the autonomous community of Valencia. According to 2020 data, D.O. Terra Alta covers 6,077 hectares (14.83% of the total) and is home to a total of 61 wineries and 1,248 registered winegrowers. Their combined turnover was 11,355,835 euros (6.25%) with sales of 4,938,495 bottles (12.45%).
The region produces fine wines, designed to encapsulate their quintessential identity, their ‘body and soul’ and, at the same time, the essence of the different grape varieties, particularly native grapes. Here the tradition of winegrowing dates back a thousand years.
Joan Arrufí, owner and founder of Altavins
Altavins is a small winery within D.O. Terra Alta. Located in Batea, one of its primary defining features is the quality of its Garnacha Blanca. It is situated 350 metres above sea level and about 200 km South-West of Barcelona.
The winery's philosophy hinges on identity, honesty and ‘Mediterraneidad’, a term that clearly defines the influence of the Mediterranean Sea on winegrowing within the area, despite the fact that its vineyards are slightly inland. Here, “we take care to preserve the integrity of the grapes at all times and to enhance them with minimum intervention. Our aim is to achieve excellence in our wines and we focus on extracting the typical features of this area”.
DO Terra Alta boasts a spectacular landscape typical of the inland Mediterranean regions. The soil contains a variety of textures, has good drainage, is rich in calcareous rocks and poor in organic matter.
The vine-clad scenery, set between 350 and 550 metres above sea level, is home to plains, the plateau and valleys. It is characterised by a dry Mediterranean climate, with low rainfall (between 350 and 450 mm/year), abundant sunshine and two prevailing winds, the Cierzo, which comes from inland, and the Garbí or sea wind.
The winery's vocation for growing wine is expressed in specific techniques that show respect for the environment and produce grapes imbued with their own identity. D.O. Terra Alta is a privileged area for producing healthy, ripe fruit with great character.
The Altavins winery
Low rainfall limits the incidence of fungal diseases and facilitates sustainable viticulture. The Cierzo, which continues to blow during the month of September, allows the grapes to ripen naturally on the vine. Also, diurnal shift during the ripening phase maximises aromatic expression in the various grape varieties grown.
In addition to the wines, you can enjoy the unique setting, with views of the village of Batea and the vineyards.
D.O.Q. Priorat – Buil & Giné: Farmers above all
Priorat D.O.Q. is one of the best known Spanish and Catalan Designations of Origin around the world thanks to the wines of Alvaro Palacios. The L'Ermita label that he makes in his Gratallops winery is highly coveted among great restaurants and lovers of this type of wine, the well-heeled ones that is, given the price tag.
The vineyards for Priorat D.O.Q. are located in the middle of other Designations of Origin - D.O. Tarragona and D.O. Montsant, the former akin to a lake surrounded by land. Despite its diminutive footprint, Priorat D.O.Q. has a significant area under vine compared to, say, D.O. Bages. Virtually 1,100 hectares (2.68% of the total) are planted, with 530 registered winegrowers and a total of 110 wineries. Together, they accounted for 5.85% of total sales in Catalonia in 2020 (2,320,361 bottles) and their turnover represented 10.73%. The figure confirms that the price per litre in this area is higher than elsewhere.
César Torrijos and Buil i Giné, respectively the winemaker and owner, in the winery’s barrel room.
Both vineyards and wine date back aeons in Priorat. It is known that the Romans were already farming vines here to produce wine. But the real beginning of present-day Priorat with its licorella soils dates back to the 11th century, when it was under the protection of the Prior of the Cartoixa de Santa Maria de Scala Dei. Since then, Priorat has been synonymous with wine.
At least 6 generations of the family that runs Buil & Giné have been part of this history. “We are above all farmers, and heirs to all this tradition and knowledge that have been passed down from generation to generation and enriched over the centuries by the constant arrival of different civilisations in this corner of the Mediterranean”.
Located in Gratallops, in the heart of Priorat, Bull & Giné has been making wine since 1996, under the Priorat D.O.Q. The winery has an international vocation and a firm commitment to sharing both the lifestyle and legacy it treasures.
The philosophy of the winery is summed up in a comment by Joan Giné, one of the family's ancestors: “Wine is made in the vineyard. We have to cultivate it following tradition, respecting nature and without renouncing knowledge”.
Rocky slate soils, scarce rainfall and extreme landforms are the defining features of the vineyards here, making vineyard work a heroic, almost impossible task. Sometimes the harshness of the work fails to achieve recognition. These are soils that, on several occasions, have proved impossible to farm due to the extreme inclines found in the area.
The winery’s present-day CEO, Xavier Buil Giné, represents at least the sixth generation of winegrowers, although there were probably earlier generations too. It remains to be seen if this continuity will last into the future?
D.O. Montsant – Celler de Capçanes: Sights set on the future.
D.O. Montsant is adjacent to D.O.Q. Priorat. It is located in the ‘southern hemisphere’ of Catalonia, in the province of Tarragona. It has 1,810 hectares of bearing vineyards (4.42%), with 593 registered winegrowers. Despite the high number of growers, the number of wineries within D.O. Montsant is relatively small (59) when compared to D.O.Q. Priorat, which with a slightly smaller area has almost twice as many bodegas. Turnover amounts to 13,654,821 euros (7.52%) with bottled sales reaching 13.10% of the total in Catalonia (5,196,395 bottles).
Capçanes is a small village tucked away in the Catalan hills of Tarragona, some 150 km South-West of Barcelona, where many high quality wines are produced and which has a long history of winemaking.
The roots of viticulture in Montsant go back to the 13th century. Before phylloxera, at the beginning of the 19th century, the valleys were densely planted. After the devastation caused by the insect, many farmers were drawn to the industrialisation of Spain, and left the countryside to move to the big cities. Only about 1/5 of the original vineyards were replanted, predominantly with Garnacha. Some of these vineyards, which are approaching 100 years old, still exist - although their yields are low.
Anna Rovira, the winemaker at Celler de Capçanes, among the vineyards.
To compete in the wine market, a change was needed, and in 1933 five families from the village collaborated to form a co-operative. The foundation of this ‘joint-venture’ meant a change in the commercial prospects of Capçanes, and suddenly they were able to offer large volumes at competitive prices for bulk sales. The first step had been taken, and over 50 years a modest but stable business was built up.
Slowly but surely, more families joined the company. The co-operative processed most of the village's production and the wine was sold in bulk until 1980.
In 1995 the impetus for change came when the Jewish community of Barcelona asked Capçanes if they could produce kosher wine using the very meticulous Lo Mevushal method. The success of the wine, considered to be the best kosher wine in the world and one of the best wines in Spain, prompted importers from around the world to take a closer look at the winery. Gradually, a unique range of high-end individual wines was developed. Capçanes became the pioneer and first known "ambassador" of DO Montsant. Since then, it has been one of the main producers and benchmarks for quality in Montsant.
Capçanes’ vineyards are located on steep slopes and terraces protected by the Llaberia mountain range. The winery works mainly with two autochthonous varieties: Garnacha Negra and Cariñena. The vineyards are low-cropping and mostly home to bush vines. Some of them are up to 110 years old, and planted on stony mineral soils of slate, limestone and clay, which develop a very concentrated fruit intensity and a unique flavour profile.
The character of Celler de Capçanes wines is defined by the variety of soils in the village. The vineyards are located on a wide range of soils and slopes that give complexity and depth to the wines.
The winemaker at Celler de Capçanes, Anna Rovira, who has previously been interviewed by Gilbert & Gaillard, was named the best female winemaker of 2021 by Genussmagazin magazine. Obviously the winery is very proud of the achievement, which speaks volumes about the standard of the wines made here.
D.O. Penedés – Mont Rubí: Respecting the environment.
Of all the appellations referred to so far, D.O. Penedés is the only one that has direct contact with the Mediterranean Sea. The nerve centre of this wine region is Vilafranca del Penedés, a town located about 55 km from the city of Barcelona.
The appellation is the largest in terms of sales volumes, number of winegrowers, bearing hectares, etc. Cornering 53.48% of revenue (97,100,505 euros) it also has the highest number of bottle sales, totalling 16,549,004 (41.72%). This huge difference with respect to the other appellations can also be seen in the number of farmed vineyards (15,993ha - 39.02%), registered winegrowers (2,134) and registered wineries (191).
The Mont Rubí winery is located in the Avellà Valley, in the village that bears the same name as the valley, some 65 km from Barcelona. In this idyllic area, the winery boasts 100 hectares of land, of which 40 are vineyards, divided into 35 plots surrounded by forests of Mediterranean pine, oaks, olive trees and oak trees.
The vines at Mont Rubí winery
As the winery says, “work both in the vineyard and the winery follows the guidelines set for organic farming as a sign of respect for the environment. This also allows us to achieve the highest quality in each of the 15 wines”.
The varieties used to make the white wines are Xarel-lo, Macabeu and Parellada, and the red and rosé wines are made from Garnacha, Cariñena and Sumoll, the latter a native variety that disappeared 60 years ago and was recovered in 2000 with MontRubí as a pioneer.
Currently, the winery is experimenting with other native varieties such as Subirat Parent and Malvasía de Sitges. It uses handmade amphorae and cement eggs as well as oak barrels for ageing its wines, which are made with minimal intervention. MontRubí wines are organic and vegan.
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