A little world of steep slopes and the essence of all that’s Mediterranean
The land, broken up into tiny shards of slate is steep and arid. Winds carry with them aromas of Mediterranean forest floor. In the distance, the ever present cliff-face of the Montsant Mountain Range stands tall. The Siurana River and its affluents meander around villages and ravines, beside steeply sloping traditional vineyards which have been laboured over for centuries. We are a brave, little land, intense, enclosed. And today, we face the world with renewed vitality.
Located in the south of Catalonia, Priorat County is a little land of contours and rural essence. A mountainous area, close to the coast, made up of valleys and mountain slopes where farming, perseverant and patient, has sculpted the character of the place. To define Priorat would be to speak of hard work and silence. In recent years the grape growing of this region has seen a revival and the region once again remembers its past splendor, directly linked to the dominance of the former Carthusian Monastery of Scala Dei.
La DOQ Priorat
History, llicorella (slate based soils) and vineyards
The Denominació d’Origen Qualificada Priorat (Priorat Qualified Designation of Origino r wine appellation) ocupies the central part of the administrative county of Priorat. The total area covers 17,629 hectares (43,562 acres) of which nearly 2,000 hectares (4,942 acres), a mere 11%, are planted vineyards, based on the typical Llicorella or slate-based soil.
The wine appellation is made up of nine villages: Bellmunt del Priorat, Gratallops, Porrera, Poboleda, Torroja del Priorat, la Vilella Alta, la Vilella Baixa, el Lloar and la Morera de Montsant, which includes the hamlet of Scala Dei (Escaladei in Catalan) where the monastery ruins are to be found. There are also two further defined areas which fall partly within the municipal areas of El Molar and Falset, the capital of the administrative county.
Total Surface Area of Priorat County
Total Surface Area of DOQ Priorat
(80 miles) from Barcelona
(18 miles) from the Mediterranean Sea
UTM Coordinates: E3125 – N4558
An abrupt little land
A difficult terrain, equally difficult to work, a landscape of intriguing angles. From the highest of hills, the Priorat appears to be a sea of dark stone waves, just a short distance away from the true sea, the Mediterranean. The land is surrounded by higher mountain ranges, which display a very different geological heritage. To the north, we are greeted by the omnipresent light coloured rock face of the Montsant Mountain Range. This is one of the great symbols of our land, stretching up to 1,162 metres in altitude. To the west, lies the Figuera Mountain Range, to the east the Molló, Pradell and Llaberia Mountain Ranges with the emblematic Mola de Colldejou (921 m), which watches over Mas d’en Gil.
The main geographical artery in the Priorat is the Siurana River. Together with its numerous affluents, this river has ploughed its way through, creating a series of narrow valleys in its wake. The river water – in the summer very scarce – flows into the nearby Ebre River a few kilometres to the south.
There are few vineyards planted on soils as ancient as those of the Priorat. The area forms a depression which has been slowly eroded, and due to this, appears very craggy. The area is made up of “comas” or steep sided flat mountain valleys as well as other mountains and valleys which have been carved out by the sinuous Siurana River and where different types of slate abound as well as granite. This is the rocky skin, poor and cold, which is a visible witness to the geological eras which can be traced back 400 million years into the past, to the end of the Paleozoic era. The soil’s extreme antiquity is a dramatic contrast to the mountain ranges which surround the Priorat wine growing area. These mountain ranges are of Mesozoic origin, from the tertiary era, much more recent.
Inland and yet close to the sea
The Priorat is where two great climates meet. The proximity to the Mediterranean sea is decisive and clearly manifests itself in dry summers and winters and in wetter springs and autumns, leading to a prevalence of Mediterranean crops planted here. And yet the Priorat climate can only be understood by observing its complex orography. The mountainous terrain, the periphery of surrounding high mountain ranges and its diminutive and yet decisive rivers are physical factors which make this county unique. These factors also help us to understand the continental influence of this region. The low wintertime temperatures and the extensive temperature oscillations are clear reminders of this continental influence.
The wind factor is also illuminating. Generally speaking the main winds blow in from the north –west. This dry wind is known as the Serè wind and comes from inland Spain. On the other hand, there is a contrasting wind, which comes from the south-east and is known as the Garbinada or Mediterranean sea breeze. This breeze considerably lessens the effects of the hottest hours of the day during the arid and hot Priorat summers.
Average Annual Temperature: 14 °C to 15 °C
Maximum Average Temperature: around 20 °C
Minimum Average Temperature: 9 °C to 10 °C
Maximum Temperature: 35 °C to 38 °C
Minimum Temperature: very variable from year to year, from 0 °C down to -10°C
Average Relative Humidity: 60% to 70%
Average Annual Rainfall: 400 mm
The resilient Mediterranean area
From the lowest levels of the Priorat up to the highest ridges and hillocks, the vegetation that grows here is predominantly Mediterranean. Nature has adapted and has become more resilient in this environment. Along the narrow river banks of the Siurana River and its affluents, we can observe stretches of trees which are typical of water courses. These trees provide cool, green and damp havens. It is almost a mirage as they are soon replaced by the first abrupt terraces of the slopes, where holm oaks abound. This oak tree, quercus ilex mediterrani is native to the Mediterranean area. The forest floor is brimming with viburnum, privet, strawberry trees, mastic (Pistacia lentiscus) and juniper. The driest sunniest sides of the mountain are covered by the resistant shrubland made up of white pines and filled with abundant colours and aromas of wild rosemary, thyme, wild fennel, rock roses and wild lavender.
The Priorat wine growing area enjoys a deep historical connection, which was initiated in 1194 with the founding of the Carthusian Monastery of Scala Dei. This monastery, now a ruin, is located a little more than 15km from Mas d’en Gil. Legend says that in that far-off time, two knights were sent by King Alphonse the Chaste of Aragon and came to the foothills of the Montsant Mountain Range on a quest to find the ideal spot for a community of Carthusian monks who were on their way there from Provence. The beautiful solitude and supernatural beauty of the Montsant cliffs took their breath away. A local shepherd told them about a ladder which appeared resting on the uppermost branches of the tallest pine tree in the valley and which angels used to ascend and descend from heaven. The king’s knights didn’t have to think twice before choosing this spot to build the monastery on the site where the pine tree grew.
Throughout the centuries, the monks developed and furthered the growing of grapes and determined the initial characteristics of our wines. The county takes its name from the figurehead of the Prior of the Charterhouse, founded at the base of the impressive cliffs.
The great historical event which changed everything was the “desamortizació” or Anti-clerical laws passed by government minister, Mendizábel in 1835. These laws forced the Carthusians to leave and their properties and land were sold off at auction. This is the beginning of the modern era in Priorat. Towards the end of the 19th century, there were 20,000 hectares (49 acres) under vine, ten times the area now planted today. However, shortly after, disaster struck and the vineyards were devastated by the phylloxera plague (vine pest). The exodus of the inhabitants to the industrially developing cities left behind a languishing Priorat, which would not fully recover until virtually the end of the 20th century. During these decades of decadence, only a small group of producers, amongst them Masia Barril – commercial name given to the wines of Mas d’en Gil between 1931 and 1998 – were able to keep the quality and singularity of Priorat wines alive.