Mas Igneus and the Priorat organic wine movement
The soft brand of Priorat has become well known in wine circles thanks to the new wave of winemakers centred around Gratallops. High scores, critical acclaim and incredible scenery are some of the things people discuss when it comes to the area. So it’s easy to miss one winery which has quietly gone about the business of making 100% organic wines since 1996: Mas Igneus.
Admittedly, while Michael and I were researching vineyards to visit in Priorat back in March of 2014, we missed Mas Igneus. If it hadn’t been for Alta Alella communications director Valerie Vellieux mentioning it to us during one of our visits to Alta Alella, we might not have even visited the vineyard, or offered their wines for sale in our online shop.
We would have missed visiting the first organically certified winery in Priorat. Mas Igneus and their growers have been certified by Consell Català de la Producció Agrària de Catalunya and also Bio Inspecta out of Switzerland. The certification process from both entities isn’t easy, and the commitment by Mas Igneus to provide 100% natural and sustainable product to consumers shows how dedicated they are to preserving our planet for future generations through their practices.
It certainly shows in the product, and the top ratings Mas Igneus has received for their work.
Mas Igneus was started by Josep Maria Pujol Busquets of Alta Alella fame, Josep Maria Albet of Albet i Noya in Penedes, and the Poboleda Cooperative. The cooperative opted out of the venture in 2004, leaving the Josep Marias to do their Priorat labours. At that time, Mas Igneus constructed their winery building on the Costers L’Ermita vineyard location, just below the fabled L’Ermita of Gratallops, a mere 5 minute drive from the town square of Gratallops.
I was left breathless as I soaked in the view from the second floor tasting room of the winery building. It has an unobstructed view of Gratallops and beyond, let alone the vines positioned on the slopes below and opposite the building. An award winning project by architect Alfons Soldevila, the building utilises the sun for its lighting, as windows at the upper levels allow the sun to bathe the fermentation area, office areas, tasting room, and shop. Even the bathroom has a view of Gratallops, if you’re standing up while, you know.
What about the wine? Mas Igneus offers six wines from the more affordable Barranc del Closos (red and white), three wines starting with “FA” and finally the top end wine of Costers de Mas Igneus. I’d been curious about why wines were called “FA206” or “FA106” and I was finally going to be able to ask the question of where these names come from and why.
We met with Caxiraxi Velazquez Barreto, who is the onologist for Mas Igneus, and in charge of the operation for the Josep Marias. Chaxi, as she is known by her friends and coworkers, gave us a tour of the slopes surrounding the vineyard, walking us through Carignan, Grenache, and pointing us towards the Syrah planted at lower elevations. Chaxi stressed to us the importance of their winemaking process, and why they took the time to convince their growers of the importance of eschewing additives to the wines, and avoiding the use of chemicals in maintaining the vines. It’s something Chaxi shows considerable pride.
While many wineries in Catalunya do limit their use of additives and also limit the use of chemicals in the terroir, it’s still unique to completely eliminate their usage. However, in Priorat, due to the nature of the ground and the limited yields, it’s an even stronger commitment to avoid shortcuts to increase those yields. In fact, Mas Igneus efforts at organic certification may have been the inspiration behind the biodynamic movement in Priorat, which takes the preservation of the earth to a new level by “enhancing” the planet and leaving it in a better state.
So what about the whole FA thing? It’s rather simple. The “F” is for “fusta” which is “wood” in Catalan. “A” is for the type of oak used, and in the case of Mas Igneus it’s Allier oak, from the region Auvergne in central France. The first number is the age of the barrels and the last two numbers represent how long it ages in the barrel. It’s a simple and distinctive way to designate the wines.
Michael and I learned quite a bit about the process of making organic wines from Chaxi, and thoroughly enjoyed the visit, the walk and the tasting. If you’re in Gratallops, we definitely recommend making Mas Igneus one of your stops in the region.
Tim Brown (aka Timmer on social media) has been involved in marketing for over 20 years and a wine enthusiast since his first exposure to Duck Pond Winery in Newberg, Oregon, back in 1995. After coming to Europe in 2012, he made his home in Catalunya in 2013 and became enchanted with the wines and winemakers of the region. Now he shares his experiences so international visitors can enjoy the region’s wines, while continuing his work in the marketing world. Sommeliering and wine snobbery isn´t his thing, and he continues to learn more about wine from a Catalan perspective on a daily basis.