Here are some photos from a recent visit to the Abbaye de Fontevraud, originally constructed to be something of a utopian city (ruled by women, no less) by Robert d’Arbrissel. Throughout the trajectory of its history, however, the micro-city took on a motley variety of identities, as the site of a royal tomb (housing the remains of Henry II, Richard the Lion Heart, and Eleanor of Aquitaine), monastic city, penitentiary (until 1985!), cultural center, and UNESCO world heritage site.
(the nearby Chateau de Montsoreau)
(champignonerie (mushroom-erie) built into the rocks of Montsoreau)
Last week I was able to go to Clos Mogador, one of the most well-known and respected wineries in the Priorat, to help with the harvest a bit and interview René Barbier and his wife Isabelle. Harvesting white grenache was hard work on the steep slopes in the summer heat, but very good to get some hands-on action! I also helped out a bit on the sorting table back at the winery, removing any overripe grapes or debris.
After working for a few hours, the Barbier’s welcomed me into their home for lunch. We discussed their views on the importance of art in winemaking – Isabelle, an artist herself, suggested that art and imagination are the most important aspects of wine – the base of any product that one can make, and René eloquently added that art is key because it is representative of spirit. When I asked René how he instills such personality into his wine, he emphasized the importance of terroir, and especially of the winemaker knowing his terroir. He said that the science is important too, as it acts as a tool for choosing what to do, and that now, unlike 40-50 years ago, there is no conflict between tradition and science in winemaking. He suggested that half a century ago there existed a tension between science and “savoir faire” (know-how), which led to excessive pesticide use and other problematic practices, but now people are returning to their intrinsic knowledge of the land, incorporating knowledge of ecology and biodiversity. Isabelle added that she sees art returning to the fore as well. I also asked René what he thought about the importation of viticultural practices from places such as France to a region with such unique terroir. He explained the complications inherent in asking such a question, as winemaking in the Priorat was really founded by the French Carthusian monks, so the origin is French, but taking place in Catalonia. Thus there exists a confusion between authenticity and terroir, and one could ask, « le Priorat c’est quoi ? » (What is the Priorat ?).
Clos Mogador White Grenache Vineyard
René Barbier’s very unique old-fashioned press, which he continues to use.
The Templar castle of Miravet and motorless car ferry to cross the Ebro River.
In 1194 King Alfons I founded the first Carthusian monastery on the Iberian peninsula. Over the next several centuries the Carthusian monks of Escaladei had jurisdiction over the 6 villages that now comprise the Priorat, and cultivated vineyards in the region, making wine for their own consumption as well as for the Eucharist. In 1835, the Spanish government authorized the auctioning of church property (both as a source of income for the state and a way to diminish the power of the Church). This resulted in the ransacking and burning of the monastery, the remains of which can be seen today.
Reconstruction of a cell.
Montsant mountain rangeOld cellar in town.