Of Wine and War
by Michael Douglas Bosc
The village of Corbera D’Ebre is in the Terra Alta wine region around 3 kilometers from Gandesa. It is here that the last battle of the Spanish Civil War in this region was fought. This is not only a story of war but also a story of wine, regrowing out of death, destruction, and hardship. Of the people’s struggle and determination to regain their lives, to produce the wines that are enjoyed today, it’s about a village, a co-operative, a band of brothers, a celler born out of austerity.
It is July 15th 1938. The Republican armies have stormed across the river Ebro in small boats, all the bridges having been destroyed by German bombers practicing their skills for the blitz on England. The fighting was fierce. It ranged across mountainous terrain, through the valley’s and passes. The infantry based attack pushed the Nationalists back inland onto the flat ground of the Terra Alta. Here, Corbera D’Ebre is sited in a perfect defence position built on one of three hills, good all round views overlooking land that funnelled towards Gandesa.
The battle was intense and total, the village destroyed, most of the people had left for Aragon or Miravet to escape the destruction. Today the remains of the original village are tended as a memorial to those who fought and died, a monument, a grim reminder of war and death. The original church stands proud against the skyline a marker to the memorial.
Today the people have started to restore it using it as an exhibition and cultural centre if you look carefully you can still see the bullit holes made by heavy rounds.
The battle of the Ebre lasted four months, destroying Republican forces and effectively ending the Civil War, although the war continued until April 1939. Many people left Spain, entering Southern France as stateless refugee’s. But their suffering was to continue with the fall of France and a Vichy government. These people were eventually deported to concentration camps in the east as slave labour, some survived…
On your way to or from the church you will pass this plaque, a remembrance to those who died, a wall of small plaques each with the imprint of a child’s hand a poignant reminder…
Ernest Hemingway was a war correspondent and reported the battle at Corbera D’Ebre for the North American Newspapers being one of the last to cross back over the Ebre. George Orwell was among many who made up the International Brigades and fought for the Republican Army which were all disbanded shortly after, this was the longest and bloodiest battle of the Civil War, a final loosing throw of the dice. It is quite likely that both these men drank and enjoyed the local wines. After the battle people began to return to Corbera beginning to pick up their lives again, replanting fields that were
destroyed, finding unexploded bombs or shells which cost lives. Replanting where needed, tending olive and almond trees, but more importantly the vines. The village built the co-operativa brick by brick, dug the large holes to contain the concrete tanks to hold both olive oil and wine. The people who whilst this was being done still produced their wines in the traditional way.
The celler kindly allowed me to use these pictures, they can tell this part of the story far better.
The Celler like others in the area has underground vats which can hold 450 ltrs of wine, plus a few above ground which are still used today for the wines they produce on site. Because these vats are naturally insulated by the earth they allow the wine to stay a constant temperature thus many years ago the vintners were way ahead in the green stakes. Also found in the celler are the maturing barrels, stacked here and there.
They have also used some of the underground vats, opened them to make a wine celler. Here because of the temperature, they can store bottles and barrels. The vaults are constructed from a few of the underground vats which have had arches built into them, the walls cleaned, to make the perfect celler.
In the next building are the stainless steel vats. From here this wine is placed into tankers and carried to the Celler UNIO where it is blended and bottled. Celler UNIO is a large celler. Corbera supplies bulk mature wine for bottling, this is available in Tesco’s, and many restaurants in the Barcelona area.
My wife was shown round the celler by two young ladies Montse and Elizabeth. Montse works in the main office of the Celler and it was she who showed us the pictures. Elizabeth speaks English so she accompanied them answering questions, she is also the Wine Blender. Then there is Carlos, he is the man in charge of the Celler. Nice people who love their work and take a pride in it.
As you enter the co-operativa, you will find facing you barrels which contain the wines. This is where you can take your own containers, have them filled with your preferred wine, something which I think is most civilised as does the village. In the display you will also find the Olive Oil sitting as they should be side by side as if at the dining table.
The local wines sold here are Mirmillo and Mas del Tio, both of which are pleasent to the palet and very resonably priced. These wines are mainly for local consumption, and can be found in bottles or it can also be purchased in bulk from the barells in the entrance hall. Yes we do go there for some of our wine, we are made welcome and they know what we like.
By Michael Douglas Bosc