We might have more vocabulary than the Spanish, but sometimes culture and language are so inextricably entwined that the right word in English just can’t be found.
Verema (or vendimia in Castilian)—meaning grape harvest or wine harvest—is one such example. As a historical wine-producing nation, the Spanish are not left wanting when it comes to vino-based vocabulary. Verema signifies that the time has come to reap the benefits of the summer heat, when the grapes are at bursting point, filled with hundreds of sunshine hours: it brings a whole new meaning to the harvest festival, and ‘vintage’ just doesn’t cut it.
So, this month we’re suggesting a jaunt to one of our fine local wine regions, Priorat, to catch a glimpse of the verema in action, sample a little of its produce, explore the impressive surroundings, and experience a true escape from the city.
At first glance, the rocky mountains of Priorat can appear rather arid and exposed, with a low population and stretches of somewhat barren land. Looks can be deceiving, however, for within this secluded region, the difficult land has been painstakingly worked since time began. Dry-stone walls support terraced slopes, where steep vineyards wrap around the curvaceous landscape.
As any self-respecting Spanish wine fanatic will know, the region of Priorat has two different wine classes or Denominacions d’Origen—DOQ Priorat and DO Montsant. For the uninitiated, a DO is a mark of quality given by the Spanish wine regulation system to specific approved regions (DOQ is a higher status). Both areas comprise around 1,800 hectares of vineyards, planted between 100m and 700m above sea level.
Winemaking in the region dates back to the 12th century, when the monks of Escaladei started to cultivate vineyards around their Carthusian Monastery. Indeed, the name Priorat is derived from the prior who once ruled over the local villages. The ruins of the Cartoixa d’Escaladei still remain and are well worth a visit, but the monks fled in 1835, when their land was seized by the state. Wine production continued in the area until the late 19th century, when many vineyards were destroyed by the phylloxera pest, causing widespread economic ruin and emigration.
Replanting began immediately after and the DO Priorat was established in 1954, applied to the small area that once belonged to the monastery. On land that has borne grapes for over seven centuries, devoted vintners have since worked hard to gain a deserved spot amidst the elite.
DO Montsant, on the other hand, is relatively new, created in 2001. Its dynamic wines, however, have caused quite a stir, and the region has attracted the attention of the most respected experts worldwide. Named after the mountains into which the vineyards are carved, the DO almost completely surrounds its neighbour, Priorat, and, since its designation, has seen rapid growth, with over 57 cellars currently operating.
Both DOs are known for their complex, powerful reds, nectar of exceptional grapes cultivated in a dry soil with a high proportion of black slate and quartz, known as llicorella. Low-yield vines and a challenging terrain makes for back-breaking, costly labour and an expensive product, but also some of the most sought after wines in the country.
Time to get down to some tasting? Follow our suggested wine cellar tour (see end of article), carefully planned by our resident wine expert, Miquel Hudin. And if that whets your appetite for more, visit the 12th-century Castell del Vi in Falset, to find out more about the Priorat wine culture.
Roll up your sleeves and join in the verema on the second Saturday of September, when the village of Poboleda celebrates its ‘Old-fashioned Harvest Festival’; a unique, hands-on version of the vineyard tour. Visitors and locals are taken, literally, step-by-step through the wine-making process, collecting the harvest by hand early in the morning, followed by an open-air breakfast in the village, and culminating in a good old-fashioned grape stomp.
If you’ve had your fill of vino, familiarise your palate with some different flavours. Priorat’s geological features, together with its extreme temperatures, create ideal olive-growing conditions. Intense aromas and flavours characterise the award-winning extra virgin olive oil, for which the region has become known. The most common olive variety is arbequina, and a range of olive-growing techniques are employed in the zone. Witness the mills in action and take part in a tasting session of the region’s other luxury liquid, with an oil-focused ramble across the region.
Recommended mills: Molí Gratavinum, Cooperativa de la Serra d’Almos, Cooperativa de la Bisbal de Falset, Molí Miró Cubells, Cooperativa del Masroig and Cooperativa de Cabacés.
And when your palate can’t take any more, let the great outdoors provide the sensations. The limestone, slate and granite landscapes also make fine terrain for a whole host of outdoor activities. The limestone crags that surround Siurana offer world-famous rock-climbing with sheer drops and overhangs a-plenty, or catch a bird’s-eye vineyard view, paragliding across the Montsant mountain range. Looking for something slightly less white-knuckle? Countless hiking trails traverse this trekker’s paradise, leading visitors through the spectacular territory on foot or by bike. Ancient hermitages, natural rock pools, and dozens of stone-built villages are dotted along the fascinating routes through the Llaberia, Prades and Montsant mountains.
Don’t miss: the fairytale village of Siurana. This charming clifftop outcrop was the last Moorish stronghold in Catalunya and, after many years of isolation, maintains an air of yesteryear amidst its cobblestone streets.
The local tourist board has managed to combine wine tasting with all kinds of activities, from trekking and kayaking, to literature and even guided tours with actors. Visit www.turismepriorat.org for more information and ideas.
Local festivals that take place during September include:
- Portes obertes in Poboleda: September 6th, 11am
- Festa del Vi i la Verema a l’Antiga 2014, Poboleda(see above): September 13th, 7.30am
- Festa Major de la Mercè 2014, Scala Dei: September 24th, 11am
- Festa Patronal de Sant Miquel 2014, Torroja delPriorat: September 29th, 11am
See here for our list of recommended wine cellars.