Today I visited the Castell del Vi (castle of wine in Catalan), a fabulous museum chronicling winemaking in the Priorat region. Housed in the Falset Castle, the Castell del Vi beautifully presents the history of Priorat winemaking (begun in the twelfth century with the arrival or Carthusian monks – the name Priorat is derived from the word prior, as the region corresponds to the domain held by the prior of the Carthusian monks at the monastery of Escaladei – and continued until a devastating Phylloxera plague struck in 1893, all but wiping out the industry, not really recovering until the 1970s and ’80s) as well as some of the characteristics of modern Priorat wines.
The essence of my project – right there on the sign! I hope to explore how this incorporation of science into such traditional methodologies really plays out in practice. It is very interesting that many of the Priorat winemakers are very young, as the Priorat renaissance occurred so recently, yet they largely remain committed to upholding longstanding traditions of the area. This is a thread that I will certainly be following during my stay here.
Llicorella (bottom left) is the local name for the predominant type of soil in the Priorat. Llicorella is a slate held so directly responsible for the essence of Priorat wines that there is a saying – Si ets Prioratí, de les pedres treuràs vi – If you are from Priorat, you will extract wine from the stones.
Though the creative use of video, relief maps, and lighting was quite impressive, the Castell del Vi appealed to the sense of smell as well. Glass vessels such as the one pictured above captured aromas commonly found in Priorat wines – ripe fruit, licorice, spice, mineral, toasty, etc. – to smell individually.
We also took a quick stop at one of the wineries in the region – Ferrer Bobet. Located in the spectacular Priorat DOQ outside of the village of Porrera, this stunning, modern winery is jointly owned by a Spanish pharmaceutical tycoon and a technological advisor for Torres – a large Spanish wine company. Though we only had time for a brief look around (I’ll be going back for a more detailed tour soon), this winery stands out as fairly unique in the region for its focus on adopting modern technological approaches to winemaking – as reflected in the architecture that also mimics the long, low lines of the llicorella slate landscape.
The more traditional bunch method of planting, originally thought to be better for harvesting. The terraces were introduced to increase fruit yields, which are characteristically low in this region (one of the reasons for the high wine prices), but there is debate about which method is really best.