D.O. Conca de Barberà (Catalonia)
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The evolution of viticulture in Conca de Barberá has been strongly linked to the history of the region, which dates back to the time of the Romans, possibly even before. However, it wasn’t until the Middle Ages when the cultivation of vines began to play an important role in the region, when two institutions, the order of Cistercian monks of the Abbey of Santa Maria de Poblet and the fabled warrior-monks of the Templarios established in Barberà, passed on their knowledge and experience to farmers on how to best cultivate vines in order to produce the best wines.
Viticulture in Conca de Barberà then made further advances in the late 18th Century and mid-19th Century, when the region specialised in the export of wine and schnapps (aguardiente) to Northern Europe and North America, which turned vineyards into almost the only crop cultivated in the region. It was during this period that they built verges and terraces on the mountain slopes to maximise their yields from cultivatable soil and increase production. This era also saw the success of the industry that led to the expedited construction of the Montblanc-Reus train route to quickly and cheaply deliver their wines to the coastal towns of Tarragona.
Then in the late 19th Century, the phylloxera outbreak put an end to this prosperous period. However, with strength and determination, agriculture in the region saw a revival, helped by the strong demand for cuvées for the production of Cava in Penedès.
Conca de Barberà is located in the northeast of Spain, in Catalonia (Comunidad Autonómica de Catalunya), north of the province of Tarragona. The production area owes its geological formation to the erosive action of the Francolí River and its tributary, the Anguera. The combined action of these two rivers over the millennia has shaped the appearance of this part of the region like a river valley surrounded by mountain ranges: to the east, the mountains of Miramar and Cogulló; to the west, the mountains of Tallat and Vilobí; to the north, the mountains of Montclar, Codony and Comalats; and to the south, the Prades mountains. The vineyards that come under the D.O Conca de Barberà span across a territory comprising the municipalities of Barberà de la Conca, Blancafort, Conesa, Espluga de Francolí, Forès, Montblanc, Pira, Rocafort de Queralt, Sarral, Senan, Solivella, Vallclara, Vilaverd and Vimbodí. The DO Conca de Barberá is home to 6,000 hectares of registered vineyards, 860 growers and 27 wineries.
Recently, the DO Conca de Barberà has created and placed the new “TRE PAT” label into circulation. This label can only be used for wines that are made exclusively with the Trepat grape. The aim of this new label is to raise awareness of this native variety, which represents the terroir and climate of the region and, above all, is a reference of differentiation for the consumer.
Climate, Soil and Varieties
The region is home to a Mediterranean climate which transitions between the softness of the Tarragona area, given its relative proximity to the sea, and the continental nature of the province of Lleida. The modest altitude of the Sierra de Miramar and the Strait of Riba allow some influence of the temperate, humid winds from the coast, but on the other hand, the marked winter inversions accentuate frost in the lower parts. However, the combined action of the reliefs and altitudes contribute to the emergence of microclimates with notable features.
The soils in the region are mostly lime bearing and poor in organic matter. Some are clayey, with a characteristic reddish colour, a loose texture and brown colouring. There are river terraces at the bottom of the basin. In the southwest corner of the region and in the foothills of the Prades Mountains, slate soils (llicorella) are also present.
The D.O Conca de Barberà authorises a considerable amount of grape varieties. The white varieties Macabeu, Garnacha Blanca, Chenin, Moscatel de Alexandria, Parellada and Sauvignon Blanc are authorised, as well as the red varieties Trepat, Samsó, Garnacha Tinta, Monastrell, Ull de llebre (or Tempranillo), Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Syrah, as well as small plantations of Garró and Garrut.
However, despite the vast range of grape varieties, the region is still seen as home of the Trepat variety, considered a native variety to the Conca de Barberà, although it can also be found in Costers del Segre, in the subzone of Río Corb, la Baja Segarra, as well as a small region of the Conca de Tremp. The variety is sensitive to frosts, as well as excoriose (a fungus that can cause damage to the leaves, branches and berries). However, the Trepat has proven to be resistant against Botrytis, but fears the drought, so the somewhat cool soils turn out to be the most appropriate. It adapts well to most rootstocks and works well with short pruning, but also emits many flare-ups of old wood, forcing growers to practice green pruning. The Trepat grape produces rosé wines that are light, fresh, fruity, and clean, with a pleasant raspberry colour. Red wines made with the Trepat grape have colours, aromas and a palate that make them truly unique, producing a fresh wine with a color between cherry and ruby and purple trim, while notes of red fruits and liquorice fused by a spicy touch of pepper and bay leaf stand out in the mouth.
Wines and Wineries in the DO Conca de Barberà
In 1997, wineries in the region founded the Asociación de Embotelladores de Vinos y Cavas de la Conca de Barberà (the Conca de Barberà Association of Bottlers of Wine and Cava), with the aim of promoting the wines and cavas from the DO Conca de Barberà as high quality products with the warranty seal that comes with the denomination of origin classification. Currently the organisation has 22 associated wineries, including cooperatives and private wineries.
Abadía de Poblet. This winery was born out of the wish of the old Cistercian community to get back in touch with the winemaking tradition of this area. The monks of Poblet brought knowledge of the Pinot Noir grape from Burgundy. It all started in the 80s when the Codorníu Raventós Group made an agreement with the monastic community at Poblet on the future use of their vineyard and thus sparked a great remodelling project of the walled spaces and Pinot Noir plantation. In the year 2000, with the vineyard mature, the winery was constructed alongside the monastery which, beginning at the time of construction, would manufacture the wines of the Poblet ranch. Currently the winery produces 4 wines: Abadía de Poblet, a single variety Pinot Noir that is aged for 12 months in barrels; Intramurs de Poblet Negre, a young wine, and blend of 3 different grape varieties, Tempranillo, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon; Intramurs de Poblet Blanc, a single variety Chardonnay with work on its lees; and Les Masies de Poblet, another single variety Pinot Noir, aged for 15 months in oak barrels (20% new, 80% first year), with production limited to 2,000 bottles a year.
Celler Escoda-Sanahuja. Situated in Prenafeta, the winery was founded in 1997 under the philosophy of respecting the fruit, hence why the winery has been following the practises of biodynamic agriculture since 2003. The winery only uses native yeasts and does not carry out any type of filtration, clarification or stabilisation of the wines, and since the 2007 vintage, the winery has produced their wines without the addition of sulphur in order to produce natural wines following biodynamic viticulture. The winery currently produces half a dozen wines, 4 reds and 2 white under the labels: Collde Sabater, with Merlot and Cabernet Franc, Les Paradetes with Sumoll, Samsó and Garnacha; La llopetera, a single variety Pinot Noir; Nas de Gegant, a blend of Merlot, Garnatxa, Cariñena and Cabernet Franc; as well as their two single variety Chenin Blanc white wines under the labels Els Bassots and Els Bassotets.
Cara Nord. This winery was founded in 2012 by Tomás Cusiné and Xavier Cepero, both of whom have vast experience in the wine industry. The two felt the call of “mountain viticulture” and launched this project with the clear intention to vinify, in the small Poblet Monastery winery, vines that were planted at high altitudes, on the north face (Cara Nord) of the Prades Mountains. The winery currently produces two wines: a white wine blend of Macabeo and Chardonnay, and a red wine blend of Garnacha (42%), Syrah (38%) and Garrut (20%), aged for 6 months in selected French oak barrels.
Bodegas Miguel Torres. This winery decided to set up production in Conca de Barberà, more specifically in the municipality of Vimbodí, where the winery produces two of the best wines in its catalogue: the white wine Milmanda and the red wine Grans Muralles. El Milmanda is made from a single plot of vineyard located at the foot of a castle owned by the Torres family where they grow Chardonnay, the wine is fermented and aged in French oak barrels. This wine presents a strong intensity on the nose with floral and fruity notes of pineapple and citrus, with a toasted and spiced background due to its barrel ageing; with a good structure and great complexity, elegant with a long finish. El Grans Muralles owes its name to the walls that surround and protect the Poblet monastery. The unmistakeable identity of Gran Muralles comes from the slate (llicorella) soils, but also in the varieties that the Torres family managed to recover, such as the Garró and Samsó, together with using modern techniques of viticulture. These varieties together with the Garnacha Tinta, Cariñena and Monastrell make up the spirit of this wine of intense and complex aromas, floral notes combined with ripe fruit (Granada) and green leaf; its palate has good structure and fresh acidity, with power, nerve and a long finish.
Vins de Pedra. This winery is a personal project by the oenologist Marta Pedra, who together with her husband founded the La Vinyeta winery in Empordà. The winery produces 4 very personal wines, each with a defined character. La Musa is a red wine, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes taken from vines aged around 30 years old, cultivated on calcareous clay soils which are poor in organic matter. It is grown at altitudes of 400m and aged for 10-12 months in new French oak barrels. The wine is expressive on the nose, with notes of cocoa and chocolate, and ripe red fruits, with balsamic aromas, toasted with some spicy notes of black pepper. Trempat is their single variety made with the Trepat grape. Then there is Negre de Folls, a young wine produced with a puzzle of native varieties, with intense aromas of raspberries and other fruits with a touch of pepper and liquorice. It is fresh and fleshy with mature well integrated tannins, a balsamic finish, easy to drink. L’Orni is their single variety Chardonnay, made with grapes taken from 15 year old vineyards cultivated at 350 metres above sea level, on calcareous soils poor in organic matter, with interesting bâttonage work on lees.
Clos de Peguera Vilosell. The winery is located in Les Garriques and is a relatively young project led by Xavier Nogué. Along with 5 other winemakers, they produce their wines in the Cooperativa de Barberà de la Conca using vineyards planted at an altitude of 700 metres. These vineyards are located in the municipalities of Vimbodí and Poblet, on various plots which together span 50 hectares on llicorella soils and are on average 20 years old. One of Clos de Peguera’s greatest achievements is their wine Vermell de Peguera, a young single variety Monastrell that won the Gran Vinari d'Or for best Catalan wine at the 2015 Vinari awards. Other wines produced by the winery include: 8 Dies, a young red wine, made with a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Garnacha and Garrut; their white wine 3 Ceps, a blend of Chardonnay, Macabeo and Albariño; and a rosé.