Cellers Scala Dei
Cellers Scala Dei has been in existence since the 12th century, when Carthusian monks from France were sent down to establish a monastery in the region. The story goes they were asking locals about special areas, when farmers shared with the monks that they had seen a ladder to God in a place near the base of the Montsant mountain range. Sure enough, the monks were moved and established the Scala Dei monastery (Scala Dei means ladder to God, literally). In the mid 19th century, the lands passed to private owners after the Catholic Church lands were confiscated by the Spanish government to keep the French Revolution from spreading southward, and given to locals. The descendants of the same family make wine at the winery, which has some of the most amazing intact history in Priorat, Catalunya, if not Spain.
Scala Dei has a tremendous reputation with wines, including being the first vineyard to bottle under “DO Priorat” prior to it becoming a DOC, which is the top appellation ranking in Spain with Priorat and Rioja the only ones with the designation. That first bottle was in 1974, and subsequent vintages from the 70s are held in high esteem by Josep Roca, of Celler Can Roca. Today, Scala Dei has received awards including wines of the year in several competitions, and also top marks of 95 plus from Robert Parker and other esteemed wine professionals. Scala focuses on production of mainly indigenous grapes, Grenache white and red, Carignan, and augmented by varietals which enhance the expression of those three. Old vines, mono-varietal wines, and fruity young blends make them a top spot in Priorat.
Wow. Priorat is rugged country, and the vineyards are in the lands surrounding the ruins of the Scala Dei monastery, which have simply incredible views across Priorat, Montsant towards the coastal Mediterranean of Salou and south towards Tortosa. The history in the land is immense, with a walkable and marked hiking trail leading you from the winery upwards to 600 metres above elevation to Sant Antoni, where there is a ruin from one of the original villages, surrounded by 80 year old vines replanted after phylloxera.
Again, the history features prominently, with a barrel room where formal records show its existence since the 1600s, where the monks collected taxes, a winery building which used to be stables and buildings for storage, a sales area featuring wine artefacts from bygone eras, and a village filled with oodles of history – architectural and otherwise. Bring lots of storage for your digital photos.
Celler Scala Dei has a great tour lasting two hours, where you’ll go through the winemaking process, the history, and finish with tasting three of their wines. You can taste more, should you desire, and they have a great selection of their varietals by the glass, and a few surprises during tourist season. It’s one of the more affordable tours, currently priced at 15€ per person. Plus, couple it with a tour of the monastery grounds (closed Mondays, open all other days) and you’ll have a day you’ll remember for a lifetime.
If you’re looking for top wines (rated 95+ by Parker) and still under 100€ per bottle, you can pick up their old vine single varietals – Masdeu, Sant Antoni, Artigots – for between 79€ to €89 a bottle. You won’t be sorry. Their whites and rosé are also brilliant, and a great try and buy. You’ll surprise your friends back home when you pull any one of those out.