Priorat- Part II. Clos Mogador

 

Celler Clos Mogador

Celler Clos Mogador

 

Although the phrase ‘living legend’ is often flung about with the hyperbolic abandon of wedding confetti, it is genuinely hard to find a more apt title for René Barbier.  Few wine regions in the world owe its success to one winemaker more than Priorat does to the founder of Celler Clos Mogador.

Despite the Agricultural Ministry recognising it as having potential in 1932, a combination of phylloxera in the 19th century and political upheaval through the 20th saw most Priorat vineyards abandoned and the area heavily depopulated.

Coming from a long line of winemakers, René Barbier arrived in Priorat in the late 1970’s when the region was producing little more than bulk jug wine for the Barcelona market.  Determined that it had huge quality potential, René convinced seven* other winemakers to experiment on this parched, baked llicorella (local slate) soil.  These early pioneers formed a winery producing one wine from their collective grapes, but released under their respective names.

Their powerful wines quickly gained international attention for the concentration, minerality and purity of fruit.  They went on to become some of the best known wines in Spain: l’Ermita, Clos de l’Obac and Clos Mogador.  Old, abandoned vineyards were snapped up as investment poured in to Priorat, tripling the area of land under vine in 35 years.

This oenology revolution culminated in 2000 when Priorat was awarded DOQ status by the Catalan government; one of only two Spanish regions (Rioja the other) to achieve this premium accolade.

Despite his global recognition in the wine world, René Barbier is an immediately hospitable, approachable and likeable gent.  On a recent visit to the Clos Mogador winery he gave me a private tour of his vineyards in an old Mitsubishi 4×4.  He told me in his dulcet, deliberate manner (so even my elementary Spanish could keep up) that Clos Mogador was the first wine awarded Vi de Finca staus, recognising it as a single vineyard wine of unique character.  Using no pesticides or herbicides these steep terraced vineyards are teeming with insects, wild flowers and grasses; the oldest vines producing as little as 250g of exceptionally concentrated fruit per year.

 

 

Back in the winery I was entrusted to the next generation of Barbier winemakers, René IV, whose perfect English gave my miniscule Spanish a welcome break!  Working with his father for over 20 years, René Jr is as affable in manner and as he is passionate in winemaking.  Unwilling to simply grasp his famous sire’s coattails, René Jr is continuing to innovate with his wines, both in Priorat and neighbouring Montsant; full-bodied whites, ageworthy rosé, natural wines, and the use of large local amphorae are just part of his experimentation.

Drawn to wine styles of unique character- sherry, aged Rieslings, Tokaji- René makes a lot of wines that wouldn’t have mass market appeal.  Instead he makes the wines he likes to make and drink; a fortunate luxury when your name is René Barbier!  Luckily for us he is incredibly talented at what he does.  A morning (and well in to the afternoon!) spent trying his wines shows his impressive range of winemaking skills.  Each wine unique and crafted with consummate skill; the Barbier family, synonymous with quality, is in very capable hands to continue their impressive legacy of innovation.

 

* Although we now refer to them as the Big 5, René Jnr assured me there were originally 8!

Priorat- Part I

 

priorat

After returning home from an unforgettable Catalan wine trip last week, the holiday hangover (figurative and literal) has dissipated just enough to thank a few great people who made this trip possible.

We started the trip in the daddy of Catalan wine regions- Priorat DOQ.  One of only two premium-tier wine regions in Spain (alongside Rioja DOCa), this is a rugged, parched landscape, with steep, low-yielding vineyardsGarnacha and Cariñena (Grenache and Carignan to you Francophiles) make up the bulk of the production.  These are powerful wines with deep forest fruits and a minerality that comes from the slate and quartz soil, known locally as llicorella.  Generally high in alcohol, don’t plan on doing much for the rest of the day if you have a couple of glasses during the siesta!

Many thanks must go to Patrick Webb of Coast to Coast wines.  Together with his partner Anna, we spent our first day visiting fantastic wineries across Priorat.

The highlight was a trip out to Celler Burgos Porta– a remote organic winery, set in a steep valley, run by the indefatigable Salvador.  If you want to check your fitness level, try trekking around a Priorat vineyard in 30 degree heat after this guy! Still, the fantastic Mas Sinén 2008 at the end makes the effort that much more worthwhile!

Later in the day we spent an exhilarating, if bum-numbing, hour and a half travelling through Juan José Escoda’s (Jou) Prior Pons vineyards in his trusty, well-travelled ‘office’ (an old 4×4 stacked with files and rock samples!).  Growing on steep hillsides around the town of Vilella Alta, this unforgiving terrain is constantly threatened with drought; when we were there in June, they had not had any rain for over six weeks.  This low rainfall means the fruit gets great concentration of flavours, but the yield per plant can be as low as 300g in older vines, one-fifth that of neighbouring Penedès!  This is a key contributing factor why many Priorat wines can seem expensive compared to other Spanish regions.

Prior Pons’ Planets is available in O’Briens Off-Licences nationwide and offers a good value introduction to Priorat DOQ.  Well worth a try.

Check out the blog next Friday, when I’ll post about a morning spent with two generations of one of the biggest names in Priorat- René Barbier of Clos Mogador.  Until then, sláinte and enjoy the weekend.

HB.