Viticulture in the Priorat is a delicate balance between man and nature. The steep slopes and schisty soils are challenging. Shortcuts are not available because only small machines or mules can maneuver on the terrain. Wider terraces would create erosion problems. And while the use of chemicals seemed like a good idea in the past, people are realizing that they are not good for the land or the wine.
Most growers limit use of treatments to things like sulfur, and only when necessary. Generally, irrigation is used only in the first year to help establish roots; just a little water is given so that the vines adapt to their native habitat. More water dilutes juice and increases vigor and crop size, resulting in less intense flavors. Organic farming is a matter of course and biodynamic principles are adopted as much as possible for the sake of the vines, not for a marketing advantage.
There are many decisions to be made in choosing, planting and caring for a vineyard. Inheriting solves one problem but may leave a lot of recuperation chores. Buying vineyards offers the opportunity to make choices based on altitude, orientation, soil type and varieties planted. Old vines, young vines, hothouse root stock or vines grafted to cuttings already adapted to the land, bush vines or vertically trained vines — these are all decisions that impact the kind of wine that will be made.
The Priorat vine says, “I have lived a long time on the side of this mountain, season after season, year after year. I have endured scorching heat, scathing winds, scarce or late rains or worse. I have witnessed triumphs and tragedies, struggled and thrived, been loved and forgotten, and still, I am here. I am a journey into the earth in search of nourishment that is mine as much as it is man’s. Survival is the will to drink deeply of life.”
No other fruit can express the distinction of its origins more than a wine grape that becomes wine. There are basic responsibilities that growers must attend to in order to ensure that sense of place. They must understand their land, respect it and cultivate it with consideration for sustainably. They must do whatever they can to encourage the vines to have a vivid voice. The better the growers know their vines, the more time spent with them, the more they will reveal. It is like any intimate relationship. Day in, day out, observing, understanding each other’s moods — over time the vines become part of the family, an integral part of life.
Biodynamics, pruning, tilling of the soil, treatments and the disposition of the moon offer viticultural choices made by knowledge and observation. For some, the decisions are a matter of course because that is how it has been for generations. For others who have more ideals than practical experience, there is a lot to learn. Engaged in the work of the vineyard, listening to nature, warmed by the heat of the sun, lost in a metaphysical schism of time — it may be hard work but there is a rhythm to this life, a balance of existence in which everyone and everything has its role and supports the other.
Ethos Priorat is vividly panoramic. It is best viewed in landscape format to fully enjoy the experience.