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Harvesting in the Priorat 2009: Wine Tourists, Wine Festivals and Grape Picking

US Visitors Recently, a friend of ours Raymond Magourty, was given the opportunity to work the harvest for a Mas Doix, a prestigious wine producer in the town of Poboleda who’s recent Parker Points have elevated it in popularity, is located in the Priorat. With his background in wine, and desire to learn more about about the Priorat, the winery took him on as an apprentice during the harvest. Hence over the next few months, Raymond will be chiming every now and then with his day to day experiences working a Cataluna harvest! To see his first article, go here.

Thursday, September 10th
The Mas Doix bodega (winery) is in the tiny remote mountain village of Poboleda in Priorat. We don’t get a lot of visitors, I think 2 appointments in the past month and there is little or no passing traffic. However, today we had a visit by group of 10 Americans who work for a somewhat larger organization than Mas Doix. Very good group included two MW students so the questions were thoughtful and occasionally thought provoking. We split into two groups and drove to the oldest Mas Doix parcel ‘Bladi’ – a tiny vineyard of 100-year-old Carignan vines that root up to 100 metres deep into the strata. The vineyard is on a very steep terraced slope at 450 metres altitude and boasts spectacular views across the valleys; our party was noticeably impressed by the location, landscape and views. The trek up the mountain side on gravelly roads in an old Toyota 4×4 was not to everyone’s liking, and I’m a little rusty behind the wheel in this type of terrain, but I managed not to kill anyone so all good. Afterwards we had a group tasting of two vintages of Salanques, the ’06, ’07 and the Doix 2006. They loved the wines and I think they departed in a rather good mood. Later it was back to work for the humble cellar staff. We transferred the Pedro Ximenez to another tank to remove the heavy lees – the juice is much clearer now that it’s been stabilising for a day. We then inoculated with yeast to initiate the fermentation that converts the must into wine. During the fermentation we constantly monitor the temperature and the density of the must, but more on that another time.

Saturday, September 12th
And it came to pass that on my first weekend in the middle of a sleepy mountain village there was a festival of wine. Up and down the steeply sloping Carrer Major (Main Street) in Poboleda a succession of 18th  & 19th century houses threw open their doors for a day of tasting and festivities. Eager wine fans traveled from all over Catalunya and further a field to partake in tastings, musical performances and old fashioned feet-operated grape crushing. The population of Poboleda probably rose by factor of 10. Each of the bodegas from the village and the immediate surrounds were represented and had tasting stands. Our ‘Salanques 2006′ was particularly popular and drew a steady stream of people all day. I wandered off and got to try some good wine by Mas d’en Gil, Celler Mas d’en Just, Bodegas Burgos Porta and Mas Martinet among others. There was baroque music for most of the day in the church and a concert once the tastings ended. Once darkness fell the dragon emerged and something called the Correfoc (‘Fire run’) was underway. Groups of costumed and often masked ‘Diabalos’ lit fireworks, sparklers, and bangers and rampage through the streets. Their job is to play with fire and people and to dance like maniacs in a sprightly and festive manner long into the night.

Monday, September 14th
Quiet a frustrating day in one of the most beautiful vineyard locations I’ve ever seen. The picking team left the bodega at 7:30am on a cool autumn morning and veered off the main road about two minutes after we departed the village. We then journeyed for almost ten minutes down really rough dirt track and eventually up a hillside to reach the sloping plateau where a small vineyard where we grow some younger Grenache and Carignan is located. In the centre of a small valley with rolling wild natural vegetation on all sides, the only signs of man were two ancient C18th abandoned vineyard workers stone cottages. The countryside here is quiet and everyday one is distracted by the natural surroundings.  The frustration arose from seeing how much crop we had to leave behind on the ground. An exceedingly hot spell in august coupled with a lack of rain resulted in greater than usual heat stress for some of the younger vines in this parcel and we were literally selecting healthy berries from bunches in order to maintain quality. The rest are rejected and left behind on the ground in the vineyard. It’s a very slow process but one that is essential to ensuring that only the healthiest grapes are kept, it’s also hugely frustrating for those who’ve put a year’s work into producing a crop, only to reject a sizeable proportion of it at the final hour. But the rules are simple – great wine is made in the vineyard and if you want to maintain quality you must reject fruit that is too dry/raisoned, under-ripe or otherwise damaged. Your always at the mercy of the elements and right up until the moment that you cut the grapes from the vines nature is liable to throw anything at you.

For more photos, go my Flickr page.

More soon….

Cheers,

Raymond Magourty

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