A Vintners Gem
by Michael Douglas Bosc
El Celler Cooperatiu Del Pinell de Brai
A Vintners Gem
March 10, 2011 by Michael Douglas Bosc
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.
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.
So this morning I returned to Pinell de Brai, to tour the La Catedral del VI, the co-operative cellar to you and me.
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..
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.
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.
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.
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 itself on its 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.