The landscape of the region of Empordà, located in the northeast of Catalonia, is full of contrasts, due to the natural limits of the Pyrenees in the north and the Mediterranean Sea and magnificent Costa Brava in the east. Thanks to these, the Empordà is a unique place, a special territory between the sea and the mountains, marked by the presence of the north wind known as Tramontana.
The history of viticulture in this region dates all the way back to the 6th Century BC thanks to one of the most prominent Greek colonies in the country, Empúries, which eventually gave the Empordà region its name. Even now, there is archaeological and documented evidence to suggest that wines from the region were not only known and consumed in domestic markets, but also in other provinces of the Roman Empire itself.
In the Middle Ages, the vines grew under abbeys and monasteries on the slopes of the Rodes mountain, staggered on terraces and sheltered by the monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes. In 1879 phylloxera appeared in a vineyard in Rabós, the first vineyard to be affected in Spain, ruining what was a prosperous period for Empordà wines. Still, there was a resurgence during the First World War, when wine sales considerably increased to France and Switzerland. Following this, a movement of cooperative wineries opened a new era that improved the quality and process of winemaking, and gradually encouraged the formation of other private initiatives. In was in 1975 when the DO Empordà, initially known as the DO Empordà-Costa Brava, was first officially recognized, finally recognizing the prestige and quality of Empordà wines. A significant point of change is that in the last 10 years, the number of wineries has doubled from 25 to 50, while the number of hectares, some 1,800 practically remained.
DO Empordà is situated in the northeast of Spain, in the Autonomous Community of Catalonia, bordering France (Roussillon), and includes a total of 48 municipalities divided into two districts: 35 in the Alt Emporda and 13 in the Baix Empordà.
The production area of Alt Empordà borders the Pyrenees to the north, the Mediterranean to the east and the plain south, and is sheltered in the foothills of the Sierra de Rodes and Alberas in an arc from Cape Creus form to Garrotxa d'Empordà (Albanyà).
Baix Empordà is the southern portion of the historical region of Empordà. It includes the municipalities between the Montgrí Massif, just north of the river Ter, and the Aro valley, in the south.
Climate, soil and varieties
The DO Empordà region experiences climatic instability, with a strong Mediterranean influences, while featuring the violent Tramontane wind. Significantly, in regard to temperature and insolation, the regions is classified as a Region III on the Winkler and Amerine scale, which means it ideal for growing medium and long cycle grape varieties and ideal for the production of natural sweet wines.
The soils are generally dark, with a certain lime content, loose, good drainage and poor in organic matter. There is some granite content near the coast as well as up in the mountainous regions near the French border.
As for the red varieties, Carignan or Samsó dominate and form the basis of the viticulture in the region along with Grenache. These traditional varieties are complemented with other varieties that have been introduced to the area, mainly Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah. Dominant white grape varieties include White Grenache, Macabeo, and Moscatel (found a much lesser extent), the traditional and newly established Xarel·lo, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer.
Wines and wineries from DO Empordà
DO Empordà is very verstile, producing all types of wines from whites, rosés and reds, through to sweet and sparkling wines, some even under the DO Cava in some municipalities.
Overall Red wines are of good quality, full-bodied, well built and harmonious, sometimes nuanced with careful ageing. The white wines are fresh and tasty, often a blend with native varieties, however the monovarietales are also of remarkable quality. The rosés are characterized by their well-defined cherry color and great personality, they are delicate and fresh with a moderate alcoholic content. A uniqueness of the area is the Garnatxa de l'Empordà a natural sweet wine with own flavor of ripe, warm and silky grape virtues that make it an exceptional dessert wine, together with the Moscatell de l'Emporda, the other own sweet wine in the area.
It is also worth noting that cooperatives also enjoy great success in the Empordà region, especially Empordàlia, Agricultural Garriguella and Cooperative Espolla where their qualitative progress is not only fast, but also interesting for the work they do with almost lost varietals. They sporadically offer wines for quick and easy consumption, including some made from Carignan Blanca, although this has faced some controversy withing the Regulatory Council as it does not appear in the list presented by Brussels of known varieties and accepted to be planted in Europe.
The sweet wines of this region deserve their own paragraph. Although the classic muscat may be considered too sweet today, the production process really showcases the true art of winemaking. The same goes for the classic Grenache, where the vintage is shared with the so-called northern Catalonia in France.
Cooperatives were and are still the basis for the survival of all this producing region, but medium and small wineries constantly proliferate throughout the area. However, it should be noted that since its founding, the great economic engine of the DO Empordà has been and remains the Castillo de Perelada, to which many other wineries look to as a source of inspiration. This winery produces a wide range of wines, from good value every day wines to high end and exclusive wines, such as the Finca Garbet, Finca Malaveïna and the Ex Ex collection, among others. The winery also offers wines made from indigenous varietals, as the Perelada Garnacha Blanca, the Cigonyes Blanc, Finca La Garriga Samsó, etc. However, Castillo de Perelada is not just renowned for the sheer amount of wine it produces, but rather its underling efforts to halt and reverse the gradual decline of the regions reputation, previously seen as a land of bulk wine, bottling oxidized wines with little to offer. It can be said that Castillo de Perelada took the helm and set a new course for the wines of Empordà, and now there are many other smaller and very prepared wineries proposing innovative, genuine, modern and distinctive wines.
Another interesting winery is Lavinyeta. This winery spans across 24 hectares of vineyards, home also to olive trees. Their wines are always produced with the direct involvement of the owners.
Celler Martí Fabra: located in a 12th Century farmhouse, this winery boasts over 24 hectares of vineyards of exceptional quality located in the Sierra de la Albera, producing extremely elegant wines.
Celler Martin Faixó: is a family winery spanning over 11 hectares of vineyards in the hills of Cadaqués, in the Natural Park of Cap de Creus. Located at 300m above sea level on slate soils where the north wind protects the health of the vineyard.
Empordàlia: A winery with its eyes set on the future, with 350 hectares of vineyards cultivating native and foreign grape varieties.
Viticultors Espelt: One of the largest wineries in the region equipped with modern facilities, spanning over 200 hectares of vineyards in the Parque Natural del Cap de Creus and the Paraje Natural de la Albera.
Mas Oller: A small winery spanning just 11 hectares of vineyards which combines a pleasent rustic atmosphere with maximum modernity in the enological development processes.
Celler Oliver Conti: located in Capmany across 15 hectares of vineyards, this small winery was created with the aim of producing high quality wines that are unusual and surprising and bring a touch of fresh air to the region.
Vins JOC is the personal project of Jordi Oliver Conti, passing through the selection of unique vineyards in Espolla, which has long aroused interest because of their rarity, geographic location, age and small production.