Yesterday I was lucky enough to tag along on a vineyard tour at Capafons-Osso. Mr. Capafons is a good friend of Rachel’s, and she frequently translates for his tours, so I had been hearing all about Mr. Capafons and his unique viticultural theories since I arrived (his wine was also the first I tasted when I arrived in Falset).
On the nearly 4 hour tour, he drove us up to his Priorat vineyards (Capafons-Osso is unique in that it produces wine from two wine appellations – the Priorat DOQ as well as the Montsant DO, which surrounds the Priorat – on this map, dark purple = Priorat, light purple = Montsant) where he explained the qualities of his unique soil. He has a multitude of different types coexisting in his vineyards, including slate (llicorella), clay, gravel, quartz, loam, iron oxides, calcium carbonate (chalk), and more. He explained the importance of maintaining the soil as is – not plowing and mixing up the different layers – so that the roots are forced to grow deep into the rocks in search of water, picking up all of the different types of nutrients supplied by the various soil types on the way down.
He also explained his theory about cultivating a rich and aromatic organic layer atop the rock – which he accomplishes by allowing most of the natural flora to grow, particularly the vast array of wild aromatic herbs (which figure prominently in many of the finished wines!). Any unwanted plants are painstakingly removed by hand to ensure a balance of flora in the vineyards.
He has returned to the old style of planting, as he has learned through experience that the bush vines produce significantly higher quality wines than trellised vines. One reason he believes this is important has to do with the shadows that the vines cast on themselves. When trellised, the vines are very tall and narrow, and thus cast a very narrow shadow, which does little to keep the surrounding soil cool. By contrast, the bush vines cast a wider, more diffuse shadow which keeps much of the soil surrounding the plant cool for the entire day. He has planted his vines on diagonal lines up the hill at perfectly spaced intervals to ensure that the shadows are not cast onto the neighboring vines, thus blocking their sunlight.
It is a testament to his incredible passion that Mr. Capafons shares all of this information to anyone willing to listen – tourists and producers alike, in hopes that he will spread his philosophies, or at least his willingness to question generally accepted methodologies. His ideas are beginning to spread, as people are beginning to understand the importance of working with nature rather than attempting to master it.
In response to the question of “Is what you do science or art?” Mr. Capafons replied, “What is nature? It is art and science. There is no word that can describe anything more important than nature.”
We then returned to Mr. Capafons’ Montsant vineyard and winery (the Priorat vineyard has its own winery, as DO requirements dictate that the wine must be produced and bottled in the appellation it was grown in), and after a quick tour of the barrel room (and lesson on the importance of keeping it clean and dry, using air dryed – to accumulate natural yeasts from the air – medium aged french oak barrels that are toasted using only wood as fuel), fermentation tanks, and laboratory, the tasting began.
Mr. Capafons opened 9 bottles, from both his Priorat and Montsant vineyards. We started with his whites – the Montsant being 100% white grenache and the Priorat 50% white grenache and 50% viognier. Then moved to his Rosé, whose label was painted by his son – an artist. The vine forms the figure of a woman with a bunch of grapes for hair, and the sun causes her to sweat wine into the glass.
Next came the reds – where the herbal and mineral aromas that he takes such care to impart became readily apparent. His top wine, Mas de Masos, is highly esteemed both within Spain and abroad. After tasting all of the wines and his delicious olive oil, Mr. Capafons brought out his 2007 Mas de Masos Dulç, a sweet wine produced after a major heat wave hit at the end of August in 2007. This was the most complex sweet wine I’ve tasted – analagous to the contrast between a spoonful of sugar and a ripe fruit, the minerality and herbaceousness of Mas de Masos remains in this wine, preventing the sweetness from wiping out all of the other elements of the wine. In all, the experience was incredible and the tasting enhanced by first understanding the devotion, care, and wisdom that goes into each bottle.
I also never posted about the Fiestas in the nearby village of El Lloar the other night. In the early evening they had an inflatable dragon set up in the square for the children to play on.
I took a walk up the road, inadvertently ending up among the vineyards of Torres – the large Spanish winemaking conglomerate that now has an operation in the Priorat. Very different in planting style from Capafons-Osso, these vines have an incredible view of the mountains.
Later on there was a village-wide dinner in the square. It was BYO bread and tomatoes (for pa amb tomata – bread smeared with the innards of a halved tomato and drizzled with olive oil and a pinch of salt), and everyone sat down to a plate of various cured meats and cheeses. We were sitting with winemaker friends, so he brought down two bottles of his wine to have. Once everyone was finished eating, they brought around a giant peach for everyone, and then came around with a box of coca – a name which apparently has caused some problematic confusion – but really is a pastry with challah-like bread containing a filling made from palm cane and sugar and topped with pine nuts. They kept it coming – next bringing around a choice of digestif – whiskey, brandy, or a pastis-like liqueur. Finally they served little packaged wafter cookies for anyone crazy enough to still be hungry. The meal didn’t end until a quarter after midnight, and we left when the square was still packed with villagers of all ages, chatting and enjoying the cool night air.