Tucked into a valley, with mountains rising on all sides, Porrera keeps to itself, maintaining a dignified heritage and impenetrable civic pride. Its crest reveals its spirit: A crown for the ruling aristocracy would normally sit above everything else. But the government of Porrera, represented by the columns and book, is above it. Porrera has always had a mind of its own and has been willing to fight for what it believes, but its greatest strengths are its patient progress, tranquility and ease.
By Priorat standards it is a big village, with more than 400 people. But at one time it had a population four times that. Despite its politics, Porrera remains a peaceful community. The village square is animated, with men enjoying a game of dominoes, kids playing soccer and the activity of wineries on all sides. The sunlight tells time on 14 different sundials around the village as the hermitage of St. Antoni silently keeps a watchful eye.
Porrera’s eastern location makes it the beneficiary of strong cooling influences from the sea. This, combined with higher altitudes, creates cool temperatures, but there is also plenty of sunshine, resulting in complexity with freshness to match the classic llicorella minerality. Carinyena thrives here, along with Garnatxa and an array of white varieties left over from field blends of the past.
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.