Old stone terraces lined the hillsides to prevent erosion. They became as much a part of the landscape as the trees. Little masos, huts in the middle of the vineyards, provided shelter from the hot sun. Mules plowed the earth and transported the grapes. These remnants of history are still in use today. Efforts to establish the Priorat as a UNESCO World Heritage Site are underway to lend further credibility to the value of this heritage.
The DOQ has legislation in place to control the wine sector’s growth. Forty percent of all land must remain forest. There are limits to the depth of new terraces, and on the steeper slopes they are forbidden. Studies are ongoing to monitor cause and effect to ensure that innovation does not replace more essential values.
The fact that Priorat vines have to go so deep to find water is actually a cause for concern, particularly amidst the threat of global warming. Growth brings tourism and the amenities to support it. Serious measures are required to conserve water, preserve its quality and limit carbon emissions to ensure that growth is sustainable in the future.
Belief in the value of history and the willingness to devote oneself to preserving it requires vision and fortitude. As Francesc Capafons, one of the padróns of the Priorat, says, “People love their land in the Priorat. With mindfulness it should not be hard to preserve it."
In the mid-1880s the Priorat was enjoying one of its periods of great prosperity. When phylloxera hit France, winemakers there looked to the Priorat to fulfill their needs. Negotiants bought in bulk. Planting increased and the landscape was covered with vines as far as the eye could see.
But then France stopped allowing imports and Spain lost its colonies. No one was buying the wines anymore. Finally, phylloxera found its way over the Pyrenees, spreading its devastation into the Priorat. There was no money to replant and people were forced to move to the cities to make a living. The vineyards disappeared into overgrowth. The Priorat was wild again.
The Priorat has experienced firsthand how sustainability is a matter for more than just the land. Sustainability is a delicate balance that requires attention to both natural and societal growth; cultivated and forest lands, mechanization versus tradition, biodiversity, the availability of natural resources and energy, and tourism all contribute to a sustainable outcome.
Gazing out into the landscape, listening to the sounds of life, one recognizes why this tiny place in the middle of Catalunya is an oasis worth preserving. History has delivered great highs and intense lows to the Priorat, so the impulse to get what you can while you can is a matter of survival. But at the same time, people are fiercely protective of their land. They know what it means to their survival. Perhaps, in the past, the ebbs and flows of prosperity happened in order to manage the growth of the region. Maybe now, with greater accessibility to outside ideas, the Priorat can continue to thrive without compromising sustainability.
Ethos Priorat is vividly panoramic. It is best viewed in landscape format to fully enjoy the experience.