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This weekend was the wine fiesta at Falset. So on Saturday afternoon we drove to into Falset found a space in one of the car parks which was almost full, and made our way to the main street.  This had been closed to traffic and was where the tasting stalls were usually set out, but this time there was nothing. Apart from the tables and chairs set out in the street by restaurants and bars and some of the cellers that had opened their doors for passing trade, the area was quiet,  where were the people?

 

As we wandered on we found crowds moving up towards the castle.  We had visited Falset Castle De Vi, a short while ago and knew the courtyard was large enough and relatively flat, an ideal place for the vintners to display their wines. 

Each cubicle is approximately 2m x 2m with a counter giving each vineyard and co-operative an equal chance to exhibit their wines. One or two also displayed a small selection of their olive oil. 

The idea is that you purchase a pouch which contain a large wine glass. This enables you to wander round the displays and taste the various wines on offer.  People were wandering off with small boxes or bags with bottles of wine inside, but most were there for the sheer pleasure of tasting and drinking the wines on offer whilst noting their preferred ones for purchase later.  A good social atmosphere abounded, friends meeting, laughing chatting more like a club scene but without the music, but this did not dampen their enthusiasm.

Through all this relaxed jollity, to me, something seemed to be missing. People were going straight from the car parks to the Castle, missing the town altogether.  We walked back towards the main street, looking for somewhere to have a coffee, and it was as though we had walked into a different place or time. Although the tables and chairs were in the road hardly anyone was sat at them, even the cellers who had shops in town had no visitors. This was a shame, the fair could have involved the whole town, people would have been able to sit, drink or eat and watch others enjoying the fair whilst the bars etc., would have had considerable trade.  As it was unless like us people were looking for a place to sit and have a coffee, people were leaving as they arrived from car park to castle then castle to car park.    

The wines were of the usual standard, for the DO Monsant and DOQ Priorat very good.  Full bodied reds,  deep in colour with a richness that denoted a smooth taste. Tinto’s that were a little lighter than the dark Negres, light Rose, a clear pink wine delicate but soft on the palet. The whites some a little dry, others more subtle not exactly sweet but again soft. My wife prefers white wine to red so I bow to her opinion here.  The wine I particularly liked was made from the Grenache grape, something I will be looking into. Oh and yes we did take home some wine.

 

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El Celler Cooperatiu Del Pinell de Brai

I was wondering what to do today as it was one of my wandering days. The sort of day when you want to do something but don’t really know what.  I have been trying to get to El Pinell de Brai, a small village in the Terra Alta region of Cataluna, amongst some of the finest wine makers in the region.I was actually trying to visit the Co-opratieva there. This is a grand building which hides within its walls vast concrete vats. However when we arrived it was the wrong time and day so we have an appointment for tomorrow morning.  As we were leaving the building, my wife spotted a small cellar opposite and we wandered over to have a look.

Celler Serra de Cavalls

What we found was a little gem just like those small vineyards in the champagne region of France, excellent wines without the hype. This vintner uses five growers to produce excellent wine in the traditions of their ancestors but using modern equipment. The results, although with a limited production, are some very fine wines which, I might add although having drank them and been delighted with their flavour, I never for a moment thought I would find the cellar. The wines are, for their quality, reasonably priced from a very good 5€ up to  an excellent 12€.  I have not tried the Blac Barrel but it is definitely on my list. I now know where some of my Petanca friends go for their wine.

The vines used are Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, white Garnatxa and black Garnatxa all of which are grown naturally, no chemical sprays, hence the distinctive taste and bouquet. However you will not find vast hillsides of vines, this is not the way we do things here.  Instead you will find small farms (fincas) dotted around with vineyards who, when the time is right bring their grapes to be pressed. It is  very much a farming community, and they are true to their history they speak Catalan which, as we have found out is a very hard language to learn, but if you live in the countryside (Campo) you have to speak the language.

The Shop

So this morning I returned to Pinell de Brai, to tour the La Catedral del VI, the co-operative cellar to you and me.

This Is Where The Tour Begins

After a beetle invaded the vines and caused untold damage, leaving farmers with little or no income. Some left and went to the cities, others decided to stay replant new vines and start over. Then they got together and decided to form a co-operative, they would grow the grapes and decided that someone who knew how to make the wine would run the cellar. This did two things: First it left the farmers free to concentrate on growing the grapes and second with someone who know how to make wine in charge of the co-op there would be no falling out. So they began to build..

Concrete Vats Each Holding 30,000 Ltrs

They installed concrete vats that held 30,000ltrs of wine, with four rows of these vats about 8 vats long and 2 deep. You can walk across the tops under the beautiful carved vaulted ceilings.

The Vaulted Ceiling

Where the caps of the vats sit like lids on the floor, and the railing which abound everywhere carry water for cleaning them.  The cellar was started in 1918 and finished in 1922, and built by a student of  Gaudi, Cesar Martinell i Brunet, who was passionate about the co-operative movement. The Spanish government was to pay for the commissioned buildings but as the bills got bigger and no money arrived the hand decorated tiles which Brunet had ordered were stored away so that no one could say the builders had been extravagant.

Further Vats and Arches

A Vat Lid

Then during the Spanish civil war, it was badly bombed but when it was rebuilt  the hand painted tiles were taken out of store and placed along the front at long last.

The Tiles In Place

As for the wines they are few but enjoyable. The Tinto is a pleasant fruity country wine with a slight sweetness. The Vi Aperitiu is a pleasant vermouth, with the distinctive taste.  There is also a cooking wine definitely not for drinking, and a white that is not exactly sweet but not sharp. The Mistela is sweet, warm and very drinkable.

It is an unfortunate fact but these days olive oil is the main product at this press with only the listed selection of wines produced. But this is a village that prides it’s self on it’s artists crafts and produce.  If you are ever in the Terra Alta region of Catalunia take a look at this Co-op it is well worth the visit and long may it be so.

 

(c) Michael Douglas Bosc  author

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