It takes a village at Celler Masroig
There is a refreshing modesty and effortless ease in which the folks at Celler Masroig go about their work. From the first moment of our visit to its tasty conclusion, the complete lack of formality and pretentiousness had me thinking “they don’t know, do they?”
It’s considered common knowledge in the Priorat Celler Masroig is one of the largest and most important wineries in the greater region. With 500 hectares of prime DO Montsant real estate, these guys are a big deal. A really big deal. Somehow, some way, this information seems to have missed the people who work here. However, what’s interesting to note and not as widely known or shared is the fact the winery, founded in 1917, is also one of the oldest active cooperative wineries in the area. Could it be that this humble beginning, creating a lasting culture, is keeping everyone here grounded? I think perhaps, the answer is yes.
The winery takes it name from the village it inhabits (plus surrounds) and creates strong overriding connection with the community. While riding with our hosts, Carles Escolar (winemaker) and Eulalia Roca (export manager) to walk and talk in the vineyards, we passed children playing on and around the winery. We passed locals harvesting almonds. We passed townspeople in their vehicles who exchanged warm waves with all the sincerity of a heartfelt hello.
There was an obvious recognition and comfortable reciprocation between the employees of the winery and the village residents. In fact, Eulalia is one of the local residents who went on to work at the winery. I genuinely enjoyed these exchanges, and it reminded me of the fictional town of Mayberry made famous by Andy Griffith, Don Knotts, and Ron Howard. So much so, I would have been content driving around awhile longer just waving at folks. But we did have ground to cover, as I was reminded audibly by Timmer and his ever-present video gear.
Cover ground we did. Red clay to be specific. Carles explained the winery and village owe such much to this dry terrain. The village is named after it (Mas is rural house and roig is red) and it is elemental to the success of Celler Masroig’s top yielding grape, Carignan. Rather than mention how the late-ripening quality of the grape, or poor fertility of the soil make things difficult for them, he chose to accentuate how the strong reflectiveness of the dry red clay contributes to the ripening and full potential of the variety. The high growth of this variety helps differentiate Celler Masroig from the Grenache growers typical of the region.
As we chatted I asked him how he came to be a winemaker. Simply put, he said he used to run and play in vineyards near his grandparents summer home in Badalaona, when he was growing up. When addressing his pedigree which brought him to where he is today, he humbly attributes his success to his former mentor Ricard Rofes, now of Scala Dei fame. Somehow I got the sense from Carles the best thing to him about his job is the opportunity to live wonderful childhood memories everyday.
Our time with Eulalia was just as down to earth. She explained how Celler Masroig’s modest beginning and cooperative spirit have lead them to a prominent present. The winery has gone through two major transitions of growth and innovation since 1917 and is currently in the early stages of another. So to not forget where they came from, the winery has elected to widen and update by simply adding the new structure beside the previous.
It was with a graceful balance of humility and pride Eulalia showed us first their new horizontal carbonic fermentation vats and then walked us through what used to their underground concrete carbonic chambers and are now used for cultural community events. They also have a spectacular wine tasting room, tastefully decorated with large lithographs, and preserved vines. Staying connected with the village is very important at Celler Masroig and traditionally carbonic fermentation has allowed then to bring delicious low cost wines to the people faster for their regular enjoyment.
Towards the end of our visit and with an almost by the way nonchalance, Eulalia took us to one of the Celler Masroig olive groves where they harvest the Arbequina variety to produce one of the best extra virgin olive oils you will ever taste. It’s so good they actually have tastings, I’m not kidding. They’re done in little blue glasses; it’s one of the most unique experiences you can have at a winery, and we definitely recommend it.
Are they known for their olive oil like they are their wine? Yes, they are. Do they boast about it? In typical Catalan fashion, boasting is not their forte, but as with their wine they deserve to boast. Like my attempts to show Pau from Bouquet d’Alella how to lead with his success, in turn I did my best to coach Celler Masroig of the same.
Speaking of boasting, the funny thing was the one thing both our hosts seemed to be most proud about sharing with us was the abundance of almond trees growing on Celler Masroig’s land. They allow the community to harvest these nuts for their own enjoyment or profit. This is perhaps the epitome of cooperative ideals, making Celler Masroig and the people who work there very special. Here, the lifestyle and the workflow is simple, it’s modest, positive, and appreciative.
Oh, and by the way, we tried the wine. It’s great. Don’t take my word for it, though. You need to come here and try for yourself, along with the olive oil in the tiny blue tasting glasses.
One more thing: be sure to leave plenty of time to drive around and wave.