The origin of Torroja’s name is Catalan: torre means “tower” and roja means “red.” The remains of the little red tower are a reminder of the time when it provided communication with other Moorish outposts. Documents show that the village was founded by 30 people in 1261, by decree of the Count of Prades.
The Siurana River was an important part of village life in Torroja until it was dammed in the 1960s by the Franco administration to provide irrigation for the region. A tall, triple-arched bridge crosses from one mountain to the other over the now-dry riverbed and the gardens that continue to provide seasonal edibles.
Within the village the streets are hand-laid patterns of stones from the surrounding area. The little church has a French Baroque organ that was built in the early 1800s and still sounds glorious. Torroja’s historic wealth can be seen in manor houses from the 18th century, including Cal Compte, which has been skillfully restored.
At the geographical center of the Priorat, Torroja has very temperate growing conditions. Carinyena is the most widely planted, but it is often blended with Garnatxa and other varieties. Llicorella and alluvial soils give the wines the distinction of minerality combined with complexity, freshness and sweet tannins.
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.