Catalunya as a wine region is one of the most distinctive in terms of techniques, varieties, terroir, and weather in the wine world. After spending time at Sao del Coster, Torre del Veguer, Cooperativa Garriguella and Terra Remota as part of the filming for the “Grapes of Catalunya” documentary, I was able to witness this first hand.
Sao del Coster
This winery in the Priorat town of Gratallops is the smallest of the four, and considering they do everything manually, it’s quite an amazing ballet to watch them coordinate their efforts to produce 50.000 bottles per year.
Sao del Coster has their winery situated in a four story building amongst the medieval streets of Gratallops. This means the grapes have to be loaded into a vehicle which can navigate the narrow streets, and a typical tractor/trailer set up is something that can’t quite do it. This means they make multiple trips in their Mitsubishi 4×4 from the land to the winery.
Once they arrive at the winery, the grapes are hand selected a second time (first selection in the vineyard), and they are gravity fed from the top level of the winery to the level down below via a 20 cm hole in the stone ceiling of their 100 year-old winery building.
As Sao del Coster follows organic and biodynamic principles and also abides by using only the yeasts of the grapes for fermentation, grapes go through the fermentation process on the third floor prior to either moving down to the second floor to barrel ageing, or the first floor in their larger steel tanks for the young reds they produce.
This year, it was extra special to see the owners of Sao del Coster (and some of their children) get involved directly in the harvest process alongside their winemaker Xavi Barrachina. Xavi also took a break from the harvest to spend time with several out of town visitors to show them their processes.
Torre del Veguer
The winery in Vilanova i la Geltru is having a very special harvest this year, as they have decided to use their cistern in the castle for part of the fermentation process of both their Syrah and Cabernet varieties. The cistern is one of the earliest parts of the existing castle, as monks in the 14th century built it as part of the original construction to make wine.
The team at Torre del Veguer carried out several experiments to determine what was the best materials to use to ensure a safe fermentation process, and to ensure the juices from the grapes didn’t leech out of the cistern and into the surrounding earth. After a success in completing this portion, Torre del Veguer started their fermentation experimentation with Syrah. Next week, they’ll be unveiling the Jeronim Vat to the press and public.
Joaquin Gay de Montella, marketing manager, is quite pleased with the harvest this year for them, even though there has been some challenges with an early start due to the hot summer, plus the added fun of intermittent and torrential rain during the times they designated to pick.
It should also be an interesting year for their red vintages, as we will see what impact the fermentation in their ancient cistern will have on the bouquet and flavour of the wines they choose to use with this special experiment.
The cooperative in Garriguella is a large scale operation with the added challenge of managing independent members who harvest their grapes without the supervision of the winemaking staff at cooperative. However, this shows just how much trust there is between the winemaker at Garriguella, Nathalia Duran, and those said members.
Nathalia allowed me back stage access to all parts of the process, participating with the harvest of several coop members, plus putting the camera up close and personal with the variety of large-scale machines they use to process, macerate, and ferment the variety of wines they produce.
After spending 10 months following the Cooperativa, seeing this part of the process gave me more insight to just how much faith each person at Garriguella gives each other to produce quality wines. From the technical staff who manage the maceration and fermentation process to the transfer of the various varieties to either steel ageing tanks, concrete fermentation/ageing tanks, or onward to barrel ageing, Garriguella really exhibits just how much expertise is required to produce highly rated wines in a high volume.
It’s never easy to manage staff, the members of the cooperative, and a board of directors to the same direction, but Cooperative Garriguella manages to do this with smiles, laughter, and occasional tension. It truly is an orchestra with several conductors in synchronisation to make it successful.
While I had spent months of filming at Terra Remota, harvest led me to a part of the vineyard where I had never been before, and what an amazing location. Most of the time at Terra Remota had me in the front part of their lands close to the road which leads you in, plus on the northeastern section where they have their picnic areas, and of course at the winery for several events.
Yet, I had my first glimpse of the vineyards in the southern section surrounded by native forests, past their reservoir and a few of the historic buildings I toured. I didn’t even realise they had Tempranillo planted this far south, and the views were absolutely breathtaking.
Terra Remota has an experienced team which is skilled in many aspects of the process. I had filmed their staff bottling back in March, and the the same staff which showed some of the top proficiency I’d seen on a bottling line was there harvesting the Tempranillo grapes with skill and dexterity almost unrivalled. It is also the same team which does the pruning, and sometimes leads tours when Joan and Veronica are tied up with other aspects of their jobs.
The staff let me get my hands dirty and put up with me getting in their way of working, with smiles and laughter. It’s quite the amazing scene to see Tempranillo planted amongst native pine trees, scrub brushes, and even wild vegetables all set in front of a canvas that has the Pyrenees towering at the top. You can almost taste this wilderness in the grapes you sample as you pick, and it gives me such anticipation for the 2015 vintage coming in future months.
Overall, these four wineries exhibited a stark contrast to each other, but at the same time a similar thread carries through no matter the size and scale of each operation: passionate authenticity. No one involved in the harvest was there just for a paycheque. All, from those harvesting to those staff members processing the harvest, have a true passion for what they do, unlike many of their peers in other regions internationally.