Our visit to Sao Del Coster literally began at a starting line and ended with a mule. Seriously. Actually, it was two mules, but one is retired and doesn’t do interviews anymore. It may sound a bit strange and confusing, but trust me when I say it will all make sense.

Fields of Carignan?
Fields of Carignan?

In between the start of the race officially starting after it began, and my face time with a large mammal who absolutely loves stale bread, there is a story about a Puerto Rican english teacher and a Catalan journalist who fall in love over Skype, quit their jobs and lived happily ever making wine in the Priorat.

I really need to tighten up my tag line if I’m going to get this movie made.

He's in!
He’s in!

I should have known that this would not be a normal visit from the moment we met Michelle in the centre of Gratallops where a half marathon was set to commence. Immediately after exchanging hellos, we were treated to a most entertaining “false start” and perhaps a little foreshadowing of our “untypical” trip (It’s worth the click and view, really). Afterwards, we walked over to the winery and upon entering, Michelle shared with us the stunning view of the Priorat from the Sao Del Coster terrace. This made me think, okay we’re back on track. Beautiful views, winery, this is more like it.

Inside the winery we met Michelle’s other half, and winemaker, Xavi. However, when I asked her to share their story, the story I received was not one I was expecting. She was an english teacher in Madrid who taught Xavi over Skype, until the lessons started to resemble phone dates more so than classes. He was a journalist at the time working in Barcelona. There was no “we met at a wine tasting or food tour and we had so much wine in common”. No, their common ground and eventual love was sorted through online chats.

Michelle would eventually move to Barcelona. A year later the previous winemaker at Sao Del Coster convinced Xavi and her to move to the Priorat, after a chance meeting at a tasting in Gratallops, and another falling in love experience. This time it was with Sao del Coster’s 100% Carignan wine, Planassos. Gratallops has this effect on people.  A month later the car was packed, they quit their jobs and moved to the Priorat.

This brings us to now, where both Xavi and Michelle have brought their passion and lust for life to making the same wine they fell in love with, as well as Sao Del Coster’s other labels S, Pim Pam Poom and Terram. Founded in 2004 and based upon the old school minimalist “let it be” philosophy of biodynamic farming, Sao Del Coster would seem like an unlikely settlement for two modern world online lovers. However, the pairing is a wonderful combination with the couple understanding the parallels between wine and (dare I say?) love making. You take something beautiful the world or nature has given to you and you work to help it express its greatest potential.

The working mules (sometimes) of Sao del Coster. One spent years with Alvaro Palacios.
The working mules (sometimes) of Sao del Coster. One spent years with Alvaro Palacios.

Michelle and Xavi shared this wine work with me and even involved me during our visit. After showing me how to stomp grapes, they let me have go at it. When I got out of bed this day I had no inclination that a couple hours later I would be knees deep in Carignan (thanks a bunch to my biz partner and director Timmer – sarcasm duly noted) as I cautiously scooted my behind around the rim of a fermentation tank for fear I might come away from this experience more smurf than man.

I had never done this before and to my surprise it was more like gently stirring, almost massaging, rather than stomping. There’s definitely something very sensual about it. I could understand why Sao Del Coster chooses this method. It really connects you to the process and is uniquely therapeutic.

After rinsing off and getting my walking shoes back on it was time for our last order of business. We headed to the vineyard where the winery’s most important employees live modestly. Upon our arrival we greeted by Morena and Pepe with warm anticipation, and great enthusiasm, if we should happen to be in possession of crouton-grade baguette.

Morena possesses an impressive resume, having worked for Alvaro Palacios prior to making the move to Sao Del Coster to take a more senior position. She has recently “retired” and now serves in more of a consulting role. Pepe has since filled her shoes and now assumes the entire workload. Did I mention they are mules? My apologies, they’re mules, but they are very important to the process here. Biodynamic wine making minimizes the use of machines, so without their contribution the same work would have to be done by hand at a much slower rate. Michelle will say the two mules more or less direct their human cohorts to do the work, more than the mules do, but hey, such is the case at every company.

Michael hears from both Xavi and Michelle about their labour of love.
Michael hears from both Xavi and Michelle about their labour of love.

No, this was not our normal visit to a winery with normal winemakers and normal vineyard workers practicing a normal wine production process. There’s something very go with the flow about Sao Del Coster. Let nature do its thing and then turn the grapes over to lovers that follow a similar code and let it be. Xavi and Michelle live the biodynamic way of making wine, and truly do enhance the earth in the process. The results of this labour have truly been wonderful, leading to one of the labels being completely sold out until next year’s vintage.

A visit with Michelle, Xavi and… the mules might just make you reexamine your life and desire some changes. We encourage you to make this visit though. And whatever feeling it evokes, whether it be to quit your job and become a biodynamic farmer or look for your soulmate online, we say, just go with it.