If you close your eyes and walk into the barrel room at Scala Dei, when know one is around, I swear you can hear the conversations between the monks and the locals as taxes were paid in grapes, wine, produce or even gold. It’s a special place full of history, as its first job in Escaladei was for the church to receive the taxes from the inhabitants of the area. Now, it’s where many of the wines from Scala Dei spend their final days prior to bottling.
It’s my favourite place at the winery, with the vineyards of Sant Antoni a close second, and it’s also Ricard Rofes favourite place in the winery, but for different reasons as I found out during my in-depth interview a few months prior. Ricard was gracious enough to invite me back to spend an afternoon/evening at the winery while they were receiving Garnatxa for their Cartoixa and Prior wines. I couldn’t pass up an all access pass, and off I went.
Some wineries skip the second selection on the table for their lower end wines, but at Scala Dei, this is not the case. Every grape passes through a hand selection, making their lower end wines something special to behold, as a few of those wine numbers raters have testified.
No matter how many times I see pigeage, or garnatxa being topped into steel tanks for fermentation, or being pumped over as part of the daily religion, or Massipa being taken out of the concrete tanks after fermentation, it never grows old.
However, one thing I did pick up at Scala Dei, which was a first for me, was the fact they test every load which comes in with a refractometer. Now, I see refractometers during the fermentation process, yes, but it was the first time I’d seen it this early. Dani, one of the skilled crew working at Scala Dei, shared they keep track of the sugars from the very first day in order to know exactly the evolution of the grapes through the process.
It isn’t too surprising to hear this, after spending time with Ricard. His focus on the minute details, and his notes, plus the historical notes of previous Scala Dei winemakers gives him the best information to extract the best of what the grapes give.
What also impressed me the day I was there was seeing members of the Codorniu export team spending time to understand exactly what happens at Scala Dei, as the winery is probably the most unique winery in which they have an ownership stake. To see those members take an active interest in making the wines, sorting the grapes, and doing the pigeage alongside the crew at Scala Dei was something to behold.
As many who follow me on Twitter and Instagram know, I’m a massive Sant Antoni fan. It’s my favourite wine in the world, for many reasons. Ricard invited me back to partake in the harvest, but due to scheduling conflicts I had to miss this year. I’ve already reserved last weeks of September/first weeks of October in 2015 in order to participate. As a consolation, I’ll be at the Masdeu harvest this year.
These are tough days for the staff at the winery, as they average 12-14 hour days during one of the most critical times of the year. It’s not unusual for the key staff to arrive at 7 am and leave at 9 pm that evening. Ricard says it’s one of the more difficult times of the year, as he maybe sees his children for 15-20 minutes in the morning before school. Yet, as I’ve seen and tasted, this sort of dedication creates some of the best wines in the world.
Ricard feels – and yes this is always a bloody cliche – this year’s harvest will be special, similar to 2013, and could produce some very special wines. After spending half a day watching, filming, and interacting, I can see why every year since Ricard took over the winemaking duties at Scala Dei, the grapes surrounding the hallowed Carthusian monastery share some amazing stories of their terroir and their past.