Sunday, 12 June 2011

Priorat's new generation

In May, I attended Espai Priorat, the first international exhibition of Priorat wines. Priorat has been growing vines since the 14th century but has had its fair share of ups and downs. With the far sightedness of winemaker René Barbier, who became convinced of the region’s potential and bought his first land there in the early 80s, Priorat's wine industry picked up again. In 2000, there were only some 40 producers; now there are 90. While there are a few big boys around, most are of the younger generation who left the region and are now returning to family tradition.

Celler Joan Simós is a 12-year old winery founded by Gerard Batllevell Simó, an interesting character. His family is from Priorat but he ran a clothing business in Barcelona. When he inherited his mother’s house in the village of Porrera he decided that making and selling wine was more fun than selling clothes, so he converted the old house into a cellar and harvested grapes from the family's old vines and made his first 1,000 bottles of Les Eres. It quickly sold out, and the rest is history. He is now making some 20,000 bottles a year under three labels. I kept pushing him why his business sense gave way to his heart, as starting a winery is no small investment — just one French barrel costs about €600-700 and he can’t sell the wine until it's spent at least 15 months in oak — not to mention the fact that he had no winemaking knowledge. The answer? His first wine received 92 points from Wine Spectator and a pat on the shoulder from his customers, and he enjoys a quality of life in the countryside that he could never find in the city.

Marco Abella, a medium sized winery of 23 ha is another story. The Marco family had been planting vines in Priorat since the 15th century. In 2001, David Marco, an engineer, and his wife Olivier Bayés, a lawyer, decided to take the family business to the next level. They built a modern gravity-fed winery and introduced organic viticulture, aiming to produce wines that respected the Priorat terroir. They use only natural yeast fermentation and long maceration. The resulting wines are complex with a sense of place. I particular like their white Òlbia, with just 800 bottles made from old Macabeo and Garnacha Blanca.

Sangenis i Vaqué is another family winery run by father and two young daughters; Les Cousins is a label made by two cousins Adria and Marc; René Barbier, who founded Clos Mogador, has his son as his right-hand man..... With all this passionate young blood pouring into Priorat, I feel certain we will see more exciting things from this region.

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