Priorat’s Clos Figueras: Master Seller becomes the cellar master
Christopher Cannan chose the Priorat.
How does a man with over 40 years in the wine business who has traveled, worked and lived in the best wine producing regions of the world simply just pick one over the others when he decides he wants to make his own wine? What makes a man who has made great career from finding and betting on sure things think he can make a sure thing in such a tough and demanding environment as the Priorat?
How does the master seller become the cellar master?
It helps when you have the three ingredients of which Christopher has plenty. You start with knowledge plus experience, add an honest philosophy which you hold fast, and then finish it with a little help from your friends. Voila! I may make it sound simple and easy, but it isn’t something that occurs overnight. Far from it.
Christopher began gathering his knowledge and experience in 1970 when he traveled throughout Europe working for food and lodging at wineries in some of the best producing regions. He soon moved into import and export. Over the next seven years he worked for prominent names in the business and included Louis Eschenauer S.A., plus Frederick Wildman & Sons. Christopher traveled throughout France, Italy and Spain and it was during this time that he learned how to negotiate and essentially source the sure thing, and becoming a master seller in the process.
In 1978 Christopher started his own company, Europvin. Armed with a simple philosophy, to only work with top quality producers whose wines honestly represent their regions of origin, the company grew throughout the 80s and 90s. Christopher was now finding hidden gems for his own business and it was one the these from Spain that put Priorat on his radar.
Christopher was in San Francisco in 1983, and a wine shop owner gave him a wine which the shop owner said was very good indeed. He took it to Napa Valley, where he was meeting a winemaker, and they both were shocked and surprised how good the wine was for the low price of $4,00 USD. The wine? It was a 1974 Cellers Scala Dei Cartoixa. THE Cartoixa. The first wine bottled under the auspices of DO Catalunya.
Today, that same bottle of wine can be purchased at the Cellers Scala Dei vineyard for €125,00. It goes for much more elsewhere. Christopher went to Priorat shortly after the experience and quickly made a deal to export Cellers Scala Dei wines all over the world, a deal that stayed in place up until Cordoniu’s takeover of Scala Dei’s production and distribution. They were recognised at the top producer in the region at the time.
More important than finding Celler Scala Dei was what Christopher had learned from them. Christopher had now become familiar with the potential of the Priorat. But why pick here to try your hand at winemaking? This is especially true when he had more experience and knowledge in regions more widely known to produce the sure thing, like Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Loire and Rhone valleys in France, or even Rioja in Spain.
You don’t get to where Christopher is without making a few friends along the way and he was friends with Alvaro Palacios (dating back to the early 80s and Christopher’s work for the Palacios family winery in Rioja), who introduced him to Rene Barbier (who had worked for Palacios’ father in Rioja). Palacios recommended the wines Barbier was making in the Priorat, along with Jose Luis Perez and Daphne Glorian (More on this story in the above video). Christopher was immediately impressed with this “New Wave” of winemakers in the Priorat, and joined in the fun.
In 1997 Christopher bought the 18 hectares estate Clos Figueras, after Barbier had told him of a widow who had wished to part with the estate and had no interest in winemaking. With the early help of Barbier and most recently from Alain Graillot of Rhone Valley fame, Clos Figures has produced some of the most critically acclaimed and palette adored wines in the Priorat. Having extended his sourcing and selling philosophy to his winemaking, Christopher has metamorphosed into a cellar master . Top quality and genuinely indicative of the region, Clos Figueras wines are more than good enough for the master seller to promote worldwide.
Now he has a winery, a fabulous restaurant, and an elegant yet cosy bed and breakfast all in one incredible location. This is a place where you can arrive in the morning, tour the vineyards, come back for lunch, then do a wine tasting, wander the town, come back for dinner, stay the night, and wake up to a wonderful breakfast in the morning. All of this happens under the indispensable right hand man Miquel Compte, who oversees the operation for Christopher. I’ve been fortunate to have this experience and the memories will stay with me for a lifetime.
He could have picked anywhere, but Christopher Cannan chose the Priorat. With its tough terrain and cruel climate this is not a region you would consciously decide as a place to make wine. Yes, Christopher had the experience and knowledge to get started. He had the right philosophy to motivate him. And yes, he had the right friends to help him pull it off, but he had one other key ingredient. He had the confidence and belief that he could do it. When you throw all this into a vat and let it ferment, you start to realise that the only sure thing in his 44 year journey has been Christopher Cannan himself.
Christopher chose the Priorat. And you what? We’re sure glad he did.
Five varieties from Clos Figueras are available in our online shop! Check out 2007 Clos Figueres, 2011 and 2013 Font de la Figuera, 2012 Sweet, and 2013 Serras del Priorat!