La Morera is the oldest village in Priorat. It sits nestled against the base of the Montsant Mountains, built of the same calcareous rock. The clean crisp air and golden sun reflect a divine light, which was probably part of the appeal for the founding Moors when they were at war with the Christians in the eighth century.
The Moors called it La Moreira and built a castle so they could observe and protect their territory. Since then it has served many purposes: In 1173 it was part of the lands given to the Carthusians, who used the lower part of the castle as a prison. In 1954, when the economy was suffering, it was taken apart to use the stones for repairing the village streets. It has since been restored and today serves as an example of the many layers of history within the territory.
La Morera is the highest village in the region, with spectacular views of the entire Priorat. It is also the coldest village in the DOQ, so the grape-growing seasons are later than in other villages. This means mostly Garnatxa is planted because it grows better in colder environments than Carinyena. Wines from this area tend to be medium bodied with sweet fruit flavors. There is no llicorella so close to the Montsant, so minerality is not present.
On a clear day the villages appear across the landscape like wedding cakes sprawling down hillsides. They are close enough to each other to feel connected, but before there were roads, which was not that long ago, they were too far apart to reach in a day. Imagine working in the vineyards, seeing a friend on a hillside across the valley collapse from the hot sun and having no cell phone to call for help. These circumstances kept each village reliant upon its own community. But some people managed to fall in love with “exotic” spouses from other villages, though they were all intrinsically bound by the Montsant.
Technically there are nine villages in the Priorat. Only the land around El Molar and Falset is within the DOQ Priorat, not the villages themselves. Scala Dei is technically part of La Morera, but it has its own community and terroir distinctive enough to be referenced independently. Some villages have less than 10% of the population they had at beginning of the century. After the phylloxera epidemic the population plummeted, and by the end of the Franco era the region was in stasis. But the Priorat was not depressed because, while the people had little money, they still had their land and their freedom, which had value all their own.
As the region finds prosperity again, families are returning to their ancestral villages and restoring their family homes along with the regional pride. Narrow pedestrian streets now make room for modern cars, but the church squares remain the place for social gatherings. The older generation stroll the streets, recollecting each stone and plant along the way. Some things are changing, but others never will.
Ethos Priorat is vividly panoramic. It is best viewed in landscape format to fully enjoy the experience.