This is the moment man and nature have worked toward since the sun came out and woke up the sleeping vines. Nature has pushed out leaves, pushed out new fruit, evolved into its sweetness, awaiting the moment of picking. There is a fervor in the air. Picking grapes at just the right moment is crucial. There is no formula because nature has its own plan. So everyone waits in ready anticipation: the crates are clean and sitting next to the vineyards, the scissors are in the truck, everything is prepared.
Deciding when to pick varies from person to person. Picking early versus late and allowing more or less hang time is a matter of philosophy. Look at the color of the pip; taste the flesh; use experience and intuitive wisdom to decide. Then pull out a spectrometer for reassurance.
When the time comes, everyone gathers in the vineyards before the sun rises. They eat breakfast on the side of the mountain; coffee, bread and cheese never tasted so good. Then it is back to work, touching each cluster, sticky with sweet-smelling juice. Some people like to remove the raisins in the vineyard; others will wait, return to the cellar and remove the bad grapes there. Some even select grapes one by one, like choosing diamonds for a crown, to ensure that only the most flavorful grapes go into the wine. With production so small, every grape counts.
The earliest discovered wine residue may have come from the Neolithic Era, but the first actual winemaker might have been a cavewoman. In her rush to follow the migration of her family’s meat source, she might have tossed the wild Vitas vinifera she had gathered into her leather pouch. With wild yeasts aplenty, it fermented. The result was good, so she continued to perfect her methods.
Human innovation and evolution have delivered us to a time when the creator of wine is greatly debated. Ego aside, a combination of nature and man has created wine as we know it today, because it takes both to deliver the grapes from the vineyard and transform them into wine.
Winemaking begins in the spring, when the sun warms the earth and awakens the vine. When the time comes to harvest, the grapes leave the tranquility of life on their mother vine and embark on a great journey. This is the moment when the vines turn over their guardianship to human hands.
The existence of science suggests some systematic structure that is understood by the mind. But there are still things to be discovered, surprises that can occur along the way. A challenging vintage might require a level of intuition, an internal vision into the wine’s evolution, to decide what is to be done. Then again, there are the perfect vintages when the wise winemaker stands back and lets the wine make itself.
The oral tradition of making wine in the Priorat remains intact. Ideas about how and when to pick, crush, ferment, press and age have benefited from new knowledge. Innovations such as refrigeration and methods for managing oxygen exposure have also added to the process, along with an awareness of the importance of cleanliness to avoid unpleasant aromatics. A new era has begun, one that will establish its own oral tradition with time.
Ethos Priorat is vividly panoramic. It is best viewed in landscape format to fully enjoy the experience.