The old historical Priorat coincided in its geographical demarcation with the current territory of the DOQ Priorat appellation. This speaks to the tangible presence of the past, whose traces still define the culture and status of the wines from this region, once part of Roman Tarraconensis.
Here the land has always been home to grapevines and tree crops in the sheltered embrace of the Mediterranean. However, we can't understand the current vinicultural paradigm of Priorat without knowing its past. Few places have been as permanently marked by historical events, their influence palpable to this day.
A stairway to the gates of heaven
Priorat's destiny was inextricably linked to the Christian Reconquista at the beginning of 1162. This was when Alfonso the Chaste, king of Aragon, ceded the land to the Carthusians, who built the country's first Carthusian monastery¹, Scala Dei, in 1194.
The relationship between wine and the Carthusians can be described as symbiotic, or wholly natural if you prefer. The religious order created by Saint Bruno always had a deep connection to viticulture that went beyond liturgy. The development of winegrowing and its culture in Priorat reached a decisive turning point due to a public outcry by the region’s population assigned to the lands of the new monastery and the need for a marketable product.
¹It is worth noting that the construction of Scala Dei (stairway of God) predates the first Burgundian Carthusian monasteries in Beaune and Dijon.
Garnacha, Cariñena and Syrah grapes (l. to r.) in the vineyard of El Lloar (DOQ Priorat, Familia Torres)
The monks were soon growing the two Priorat varieties par excellence, Garnacha and Cariñena. Serfs, squires and knights brought cuttings and shoots in their saddlebags from Aragon to give the vineyard personality. In the vineyards beyond the Carthusian complex, teams of peasants and monks worked together under the orders of a procurador, a type of team leader who also served as cellar master.
A taste of the Paleozoic: the soil
Priorat enjoys (and struggles with) a Mediterranean climate, which displays a continental influence in the westernmost part. Here winters are mild during the day, but the low temperatures take on a new dimension at night. The summers, by contrast, are very hot and dry. The marinada or sea breeze brings in moist cool air that tempers the hours when the sun is at its strongest.
Llicorella slate soils in the vineyard of El Lloar (DOQ Priorat, Familia Torres)
If there is one thing that defines the renowned personality of Priorat wines it is the very soil they grow in: llicorella (slate).
Shaped like an amphitheater, the region reaches out to the tectonic trench of Móra d'Ebre and to the pre-coastal mountain range, where it opens up to the east. This is where a crack runs through the middle of the mountain range, guarding the secret that gives the wines of Priorat their uniqueness. The slate known as llicorella, dating from the Paleozoic Era.
DOQ Priorat: an appellation of steep slopes and terraces
The only way to grow wine in this rugged terrain, with its precipitous slopes, was to carve out the extraordinary terraced vineyards that define the Priorat landscape. Some are so narrow they can only accommodate two vine rows, which makes mechanized vineyard work and harvesting impossible.
Terraced vineyards seen from the Familia Torres winery in El Lloar (Priorat)
As Joan C. Martín reiterates in his book Pasión por el Vino [Passion for Wine, published in Spanish by Hedonismos], “The outside contribution had more to do with culture than the grapes themselves, because it showed a way of interacting with local species that was only possible due to the demands of the new viniferas.”
The style that saw Priorat rise to the top as a DOQ or qualified appellation of origin resides in the firmness and elegance of its reds: rich, spicy, with an expressive and aromatic nose, velvety perception on the palate.
The Torres family continues the Carthusian legacy at its charming but distinguished winery in El Lloar. Here Perpetual, Salmos and the naturally sweet Secret del Priorat sleep the sleep of the righteous, vintage after vintage, to awaken in the glasses of the most discerning wine lovers.
Salmos, Perpetual and Secret del Priorat (Familia Torres)
Three absolute musts that embottle the experience acquired over the past thirty years of tireless work and devotion to bringing out the best of the land—a land where nothing is easy but everything is possible.