With most of the press and prestige going to the southern Catalan DOs of Penedes, Priorat and Montsant, it’s easy to overlook, or should I say look no further south and thus miss Terra Alta. However, to do so would be a sorrowful mistake and in doing so one would deny themselves the self discovery of the gem that is Celler Pinol.
Tucked away in the town of Batea, the winery is more hidden than hard to find. Batea is slightly off the beaten track of the N-240 highway which takes you through Falset through to Gandesa and beyond. Once you arrive in Batea, it’s quite evident you’ve arrived in Celler Pinol territory as the winery has a small plot of vines at the town entrance plus a giant sign welcoming you to their turf. Our Google maps guide did a great job of leading us straight to the door of Celler Pinol, which inhabits the equivalent of three storefronts.
Yet, arriving inside Celler Pinol was a jaw dropping moment for both me and Timmer. You know those sheiks tents from cartoons where outside it looks like a small tent but inside it’s a giant city? It’s the same feeling. Those three storefronts opened up into I don’t know how many acres of tanks, tasting rooms, and barrel rooms. In fact, the basement which seemed to be one small barrel room, exploded into another giant barrel room, and then down into a giant barrel room with wine storage.
However, the inspiration that can be seen from inside the cellar is actually surpassed by an inspiration that can only be tasted. This is what makes Celler Pinol a gem worth the journey.
The winery has earned notoriety as the “most prestigious” in Terra Alta thanks to critical acclaim from the likes of Parker (who gave high ratings to several Pinol offerings), Penin, and the Catalan Wine Guide. This due in large part to the efforts of fourth generation winemaker Juanjo Galcera Pinol, who also handles the export opportunities plus the day to day operations of Celler Pinol. Juanjo has found away to take the family labor of love forwards and backwards at the same time.
You might ask yourself why backwards is a good thing, but allow me to explain this in a little more detail.
We were greeted humbly and cheerfully by Juanjo upon our arrival. We exchanged hellos in small reception area immediately inside the celler, which also doubles as a retail space. Afterwards, we followed our host straight back with a hard left to an adjoining space that once served as the barrel room and housed old cement fermentation tanks below. They were twelve tanks holding 40.000 litres each, in total. He explained how the room has been primarily preserved to serve as a historical remembrance to his great grandfather’s beginning, and now some have been renovated for use. You see, the real operation as it lives and breathes today lay beyond the next doorway on the left side of this humble root.
We stepped into a very large modern facility, wonderfully balanced with the rustic appeal of rot iron and old wood, and completely camouflaged from the outside by three very large wooden doors. I couldn’t help but think Celler Pinol’s unobtrusive interior updates paired with its inconspicuous facade would make James Bond’s MI6 proud, if not the Wizard of Oz. There is literally nothing from street view to indicate that behind the walls there are numerous stainless steel fermentation vats, a bottling and labeling facility, and a even a gorgeously statuesque and stately Bucher JLB vertical press (forgive me for geeking out, but if you don’t already know, it’s super awesome).
This gives you a taste of the winery’s update, but I haven’t even touched on Juanjo’s genius predate addition to his family’s vineyard that you have to taste to truly appreciate. This is where the “backwards” part of the story comes into play. Ready? Done your proper vocal exercises?
I need you to say it with me.
While the family has been planting this once disappeared indigenous variety for all four generations for blending and are responsible for its comeback, it was Juanjo’s decision to let the grape fully express itself by itself with the introduction of Finca Morenillo in 2009. The grape had several hundred hectares at one point, but now this is down to 16 hectares, and pretty much the exclusive domain of Celler Pinol. 100 percent Morenillo goodness.
While its closest mainstream taste comparison is Pinot Noir, we believe after 15 months in French oak there is plenty of acidity and spice for those who require more backbone in their reds. And the experts agree, with the 2009 vintage receiving 92 points from Tanzer, a 90 from Parker, 90 from Penin, and an award at Zurich’s Expovina.
While the winery and Morenillo are reason enough to journey to Terra Alta to visit Cellar Pinol, Juanjo has recently made the trip an even more appealing enotourism destination by adding accommodation to the mix. The recently added Casa Pinol sits up a street and around the corner from the cellar in a renovated farmhouse, boasting four wonderful self-catering apartments. It also houses offices on the main floor for the Juanjo and his staff.
The word “self-catering” doesn’t do the apartments justice. These are full-size, fully-outfitted apartments. Two bedrooms, in each, plus top end appliances in a full-size kitchen, with comfortable furniture. I even joked with Timmer about wanting to move into one. If this isn’t enough, one of the apartments has a jacuzzi larger than most Barcelona bathrooms, and can accommodate six people comfortably.
The prices? You can put two couples into an apartment starting at €125 per night, that’s €62,50 per couple. Try finding a price like that for a full size apartment in the heart of a wine country. If you don’t believe us, check out the website for the apartments at casapinol.com. I plan to come back as much as possible, so I hope Juanjo is ready for us on a regular basis! For anyone who joins us, please remember your bikinis for the jacuzzi, I’m not quite up for going commando just yet; maybe I just need some more convincing!
To us Celler Pinol is a real treasure in Terra Alta, but don’t take our word for it. Go find it for yourself. Take the trip, tour the cellar, taste the wine, then take a load off in the jacuzzi with a glass of 2009 Morenillo. You won’t be disappointed.