The modern history of the Priorat is full of families who have returned to winemaking after critical acclaim began to hit the region during the 90s. Typically this has fallen to a single member of any particular family, seeing the opportunity to revive the commercial production of wine from vines which have usually been part of the family for a long period of time. Rare is it when parents along with two siblings all collectively participate in such a venture and at Sangenis i Vaqué, this is something very special indeed.
Pere Sangenis began producing wine in 1979 at the bodegas in the main square of Porrera, the same place where Sangenis i Vaque produces wine today. His grandfather was a winemaker and wine merchant participating in his passion in the same location from 1886 until he passed away. Pere picked up the mantel which has passed onto his daughters Maria and Nuria.
The winery itself is an amazing piece of history, breathtaking in its architectural design, including an internal loading area concealed by the original giant wooden doors. Once inside this giant vestibule, you head left towards the entrance of the bodegas, where you’re greeted with the fermentation tanks, de-stemmers and other technical items for the initial stages of the winemaking process. Sangenis i Vaque has rejuvenated the original concrete tanks underneath the main floor as their fermentation tanks, which are lined with ceramic tiles.
The Sangenis family have made the most of this facility, with its impressive barrel room on the second floor, the third floor occupied by offices and a conference room, and the top floor residences for members of the family. For those uninitiated to the Priorat region, the building and village shares a similar look, feel, and vibe as their counterparts in some of the ancient winemaking villages of Tuscany.
Maria, daughter of Pere, and the winemaker at Sangenis i Vague, took us on a tour of the facility and introduced us to their philosophy and process. The family abides by traditional winemaking practices with focus on organic principles and indigenous grape varieties. Their lineup consists of five reds and one white; Clos Monlleo, Coranya, Vall Por, Dara, Vi Negre named after the winery, and the white Lo Coster Blanc. Their white wine was actually Maria’s project when she studied oenology.
Rob, from Homage to BCN, joined me for the trip, and we were treated to tasting the winery’s top variety, Clos Monlleo, in their lands just outside of Porrera. Consisting of 50% Garnatxa negre and 50% Carignan, aged in oak for 18 months prior to an extensive time ageing in bottle, Monlleo was a special treat standing in one of the family’s historic buildings next to their reservoir used for swimming and other events. Clos Monlleo is unique and rare in Priorat, as the Carignan and Garnatxa negre are blended during the fermentation process, for reasons Maria shares in the video interview. We had the 2005, which they aged extensively in bottle prior to release to the public.
The spot where we stood, as you can see in the video interview, has been in Maria’s mother’s family for generations. It served as a vineyard, and had a small two-story building attached to a beautiful walled garden, which now serves as a reservoir the Sangenis family uses mainly for swimming and family enjoyment. The a plan to turn this part of the vineyard into an enotourism destination in the coming years, as they have already extended an area surrounding the reservoir to create a huge elevated terrace with amazing views of Porrera. Maria told us that they plan on tastings, dining, and music events there. I can’t wait for this to be finished and for the invite back!
The highlight for me was the Lo Coster Blanc, which is a blend of old vine Garnatxa blanc and Macabeu. This wine’s strength gives it the versatility to extend its enjoyment beyond typical foods associated with white wines and into the territory of red meats. Rob was speechless in how to describe it, as it was his first experience with an aged white wine. I’m intending to try it with a nice entrecot in a creamy peppercorn sauce (I did a week later, it was damn good). It was a special treat, as typically those who take the tour get to taste the five reds on the tour, but not the white, as there are only 450 bottles produced a year.
Tours at the winery are easy to book, and the Sangenis family places much importance on tourism, making access to the winery easy via email or phone. The fact that it is at one end of the main square in Porrera, Placa Catalunya, makes it even more accessible. The townsfolk are used to outsiders coming, and ranks as one of the most friendly villages I’ve visited in Catalunya (and I’ve been to many). In fact, Porrera was a top destination for many French wine lovers and importers during the phylloxera epidemic, evident by much of the architecture in the town built during that era and before.
The only problem with visiting Sangenis i Vaque is after the tour – from learning about theirs and the town’s history, their process, and ultimately tasting their amazing wines – is you too will have their wines running through your veins. For me it’s still running, and I’ll need to top up soon.
It’s a small price to pay if you’re a wine lover.