A post on innovative winemakers in Priorat is admittedly, a bit of conceit, since pretty much all of the men and women making wine in Catalonia’s most sought-after region are innovators in some way or another. Certainly the pioneers René Barbier and Alvaro Palacios (who I wrote about here) and Christopher Cannan (who I wrote about here) were and remain innovators. Added to that list should be Josep Lluis Pérez, a local biologist who helped Barbier and Palacios establish their wineries and founded his own high-end label, Mas Martinet. Pérez continues to innovate, as he is involved in the Cims de Porrera project which has breathed new life into what was tired village cooperative. Perez’s daughter Sara is now the winemaker at Mas Martinet and is carrying on that tradition while establishing a new one as women to take their place in what has been a male dominated profession.
Here are three more winemakers from Priorat who impressed me by doing things differently.
Marc Ripoll Sans, Closa Batllet
Ripoll Sans is a young Catalan man who is intent on re-establishing Priorat tradition. While he does make one wine, Artai, with ‘Atlantic’ varietals Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, his other reds stick to Carignan and Grenache. Most interesting, at least from the point of view of novelty, is his white wine. Ripoll Sans blends white Grenache with Escanya-Vella, an old Priorat varietal that has nearly gone extinct. Escalla-Vella may be translated roughly into meaning “choke the old lady”. As bizarre as this may sound, Ripoll Sans explained to me that the grape is exceptionally tart, even when ripe, which boosts the acid levels in his wine and keeps it from suffering from the flabbiness that can affect hot climate whites. So far production on the Cat Batlett Escanya-Vella is limited to 600 bottles. The world needs more distinct and interesting wines, let’s hope he can plant more vines and make more.
Pep Arguilar, Trio L’Infernal
Pep Arguilar is one of the Catalan winemakers who works for three other French winemakers at Trio L’Infernal. Jean-Michel Guerin, Laurent Combier and Peter fischer are the trio of Rhone vignerons who combined forces to see what they could do in Priorat. It’s not uncommon for wine industry types to speak about ‘projects’ or even ‘experiments’, but in this case there truly seems to be an effort to compare and contrast terroir and varietal in a more or less systematic way. At Espai Priorat, Arguilar showed three wines: a Carignan, a Grenache and a Syrah each harvested from a specific site in the region. After tasting dozens of blends, it was great fun to have the varietals isolated and see what a winemaker could do when bounded by the contraint not to blend.
Dominik Huber, Terroir Al Limit
Dominik Huber is a German who fell in love with Spain and its wines as a young backpacker and decided to stay and make a life in cellar and vineyard. Somehow along the way, he met up with the renown South African winemaker Eben Sadie, whose famous in wine geek circles for leading the Swartland Independents, and generally breaking rules. While Sadie is not involved in the day to day affairs of Terroir Al Limit, Huber is a like-minded iconoclast. While his reds are firmly rooted in the Carignan and Grenache tradition of Priorat (no Atlantic varietals or even Syrah), both of the whites he showed were blended with Pedro Ximénez, one with Muscat, and the other with white Grenache and Macabeu. What drove him to make wine in Catalonia with PX, the most famous Southern Spanish grape for making Sherry, is unclear. But the wines worked: crisp, refreshing and novel on the palate. And Huber, PéRez, Ripoll sans and Arguilar’s tables were constantly packed by curious wine journalists at Espai Priorat, trying to figure out what exactly they were up to.
Malcolm Jolley is a founding editor of Good Food Revolution and Executive Director of Good Food Media, the company that publishes it. Follow him at twitter.com/malcolmjolley
Photo of Sara Perez courtesy of Weygandt Wines.