Vall Llach: Going beyond wine to build community
Porrera is a very special village. After spending time in other villages around Priorat, I always marvel at how it seems for its size, Porrera has more activity, more businesses, and generally more vibrancy than many of its fellow towns inside the intimate DOQ Priorat territory.
Maybe it’s attributable to the fact that quite a few wineries are clustered around the common plaza where no matter the time of year, there seems to be people present. Maybe it’s attributable to the other businesses open around those wineries, including restaurants and other shops, plus the only cash machine outside of Falset and Cornudella del Montsant.
Or could it be due to one simple act by two men who decided to build a winery in their home town to help create more business for those who had chosen to stay in Porrera’s wine world?
I met Albert Costa, co-owner and winemaker at Vall Llach in their building housing the barrel rooms, visitor reception and offices, where he and Vall Llach administrator Roger Simo where waiting to take me to lunch. I’d never had lunch in Porrera before, as it seems I’m always running behind schedule, as Marco Abella and Sangenis i Vaque will attest to.
Albert has a rare persona of warmth and vibrancy. Always smiling, always gracious, and has the same enthusiasm no matter to whom he is speaking. Maybe it’s because he’s a man who has found his life’s passion. For someone who began interest in wine at 10 years old, you can see why it’s so easy to become enamoured with Vall Llach, as his passion is infectious. Albert hasn’t strayed once from wine, going from his studies to a brief 2 year tour to California and Australia before returning to the family business. He says it’s because he’s crazy, unlike his twin brother and other siblings who have chosen other pursuits outside of wine.
After a vertical tasting of Vall Llach’s 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2012 wines from the Finca Mas de la Rosa vines, I’d say the craziness just might be well worth the results coming from the winery. Paired with the meal at Restaurant La Cooperativa up the street from the winery, this was one of my top culinary experiences in Priorat.
It all started with his father, Enric Costa, and his childhood friend, Catalan singer Lluis Llach. Lluis had come back after the death of his mother, and decided to settle back in Porrera to work on music with his longtime friend, Catalan poet Miquel Marti i Pol. Lluis and Enric decided to open up a winery in the town, both men determined to give back to the community that gave them their roots.
Enric’s wine mantra was about quality over quantity, and also to provide a fair compensation to the farmers who provided Vall Llach with the grapes for their wines, and Lluis shared the same philosophy. In probably one of their more profound moves, they changed the compensation to the farmers from 0,15€ per kilo of grapes to over 3,00€ per kilo.
In hindsight, it’s fair to say this one simple act could be one of the biggest contributing factors to the revitalisation of the town of Porrera to what it is today. Centralised wealth doesn’t create a more vibrant and active economy, but rather quite the opposite. However, these sorts of conversations are now reserved for Lluis Llach as he serves the Catalan people from Parliament, after the most recent election that is leading the region to independence from Spain.
Of course the compensation Enric and Lluis were paying to the growers was well worth the product they were receiving in return, as can be attested in their varietal, synonymously named Porrera, to which those growers contribute.
In 2012, the story of Enric’s physical contribution to the town and Vall Llach ended suddenly one morning. It was a shock to Albert and his family, and it almost caused the winery to cease operations. But, with the encouragement and confidence in Albert’s now well-documented and acclaimed winemaking abilities, Lluis insisted they continue. Enric’s spiritual contribution continues to this day, as Albert respects and believes in the practices his father set up prior to his passing.
This includes Finca Mas de la Rosa’s fermentation rituals – upright oak barrels and daily pigeage by hand – plus the continuance of the three barrel rooms in the main building, even if they aren’t the most practical in arrangement. One of those barrel rooms, the lowest one, is named after Enric as it is the foundation of the building, echoing the solid foundation Enric provided during his lifetime for not only the winery, but his friends and family.
The other two are also very special. One is set up for the wines from the community of grape growers who work with Vall Llach, exclusive to wines produced from their grapes, and also features the first bottle of wine produced by the winery, located in the spot where a saint would normally occupy. The top room is set up as an homage to the Lluis Llach’s close friend and famous Catalan poet, Miquel Marti i Pol, who passed away in 2003. It has some amazing history, including the chair, lamp, and table Miquel used during his writing time.
After lunch, we went out to Finca Mas de la Rosa, 600 metres at the top, and a 10 minute drive on narrow roads just outside of the village. I asked Albert directly, while sitting at the the Mas de la Rosa vineyard, if he misses his father. While the the wind blew and we gazed across some breathtaking costers where just the week before the team at Vall Llach had completed the latest harvest, Albert gave a deep and thoughtful smile. He shared that he spends much time at this vineyard thinking about his father and their times together, and that he does miss him very much. It wasn’t easy for the entire family, but Albert feels the one positive is that his family is much closer now than before.
There are many memories at Finca Mas de la Rosa, which now has special Estate Wine status inside Priorat, and I think what is most enticing about the Vall Llach is experience is how they pay homage to the history of the town, the history of their vineyards, and their own history, but they do it in a way that is intertwined in their present day practices. The best of modern ways alongside with historically proven methods of winemaking have organically developed alongside how Lluis and Enric, and now Albert, wish to honour those who have been important to them and the community of Porrera.
I can definitely say this is why every single wine they produce is something special to be celebrated. You’ll see it when you make the trek to Vall Llach.
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.