The small DO of Catalunya is situated north-east of the Iberian Peninsula, just south of the highly esteemed Priorat, and is the highest D.O within Catalonia at 400 metres above sea level. The soil is predominantly limestone and incredibly dry, meaning that it can only really support three main crops: olives, almonds and grapes.
As the area is fortunate to have undergone very little replanting. It reaps the benefit of having older vines, producing local varieties such as Garnacha Blanca, Macabeo and Parellada in whites and Tempranillo, Garnacha negra and Cariñera (Mazuela) in red. However, foreign varietals are also allowed (Cabernet, Merlot, Shiraz, Muscat and Chardonnay).
Vines and grapes in Catalunya go as far back in time as Catalunya’s own history and culture. The winds and the soil of that cradle of cultures, the Mediterranean Sea, have together moulded grape growing and winemaking in Catalunya. Introducida por los Fenicios y los Griegos, mediante el comercio a través de la Mediterránea, la viña se implanto en Cataluña en el siglo IV aC., alrededor de la metrópoli griega Emporium (Empuries). Durante la época del Imperio Romano, siglos II aC. y V dC., el cultivo de la viña se consolida en Cataluña, siendo cultivada por los propios romanos (privilegio establecido por Cicerón el año 125 aC.).
By the year 100 BC, vineyards existed around all the Roman settlements in Catalunya (Emporiae, Gerunda, Barcino, Tarraco… -Empúries, Girona, Barcelona, Tarragona-), with highly significant production levels; wine was exported to the capital of the Roman Empire, Rome, as well as to Northern African cities and to Gaul (France) and Britain. The wine was transported in amphorae (two-handled clay vessels) manufactured in ovens constructed close to the vineyards, such as Ermedes (Cornellà de Terri) and Castell (Sant Boi de Llobregat)…
The fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th Century AD and the subsequent invasion first by Visigoths and then by Muslims led to a halt in grape growing during the 6th, 7thand 8th centuries AD. During the first half of the Middle Ages, the Catalan lands formed the frontier between the French Kingdom and the Muslim state of the Emirate of Cordoba (this territory becoming known as the Marca Hispánica) and constant fighting devastated the ground and made it impossible to cultivate.
It was during the 10th and 11th centuries that Barcelona returned to its political and economic splendour, thanks firstly to the Guifré I “the Hairy”, Count of Barcelona and later to Borrell II, who achieved independence from the Kingdom of France, followed by the expansionist policies of the reigns of Ramon Berenguer III and IV, Alfons I, Pere I “the Catholic” and Jaume I “the Conqueror”. In the reconquered Catalan lands, the Cistercian monks built monumental monasteries such as the Santes Creus (11th century) and Santa Maria de Poblet (12th century), establishing vineyards once again around the monasteries and making wine in their cellars; the men of the Reconquest were well versed in consolidating the art of their cathedrals (the monasteries) with the fruits of the earth (cereals, vines and olives)..
From the lands surrounding the monasteries, vineyards extended over the whole southern geographical region of Catalunya, becoming the main source of income for the Catalan farming community by 1758 and one of the principal driving forces of the economy – Catalan wines, meads and eau-de-vies were exported to the English markets and overseas colonies, becoming the first chapter in the long history of Catalan exports.
AT owards the end of the 19th century, an artistic movement burst onto the Catalan scene which is still a source of wonder today: Modernism. Architects of the stature of Gaudí (1852-1926), Cèsar Martinell (1888 -1973), Domènech i Montaner (1850-1923) and Puig i Cadafalch (1867-1956) constructed wineries under the auspices of the innovative spirit of the Mancomunitat Catalana (formed in 1913). Examples of these genuine works of art can be seen at the co-operatives wineries of Pinell del Brai, Falset, Gandesa, Nulles, L’Espluga de Francolí, Rocafort de Queralt and Sarral. Known as the Cathedrals of Wine, a visit is highly recommended (see Cathedrals of Wine itinerary).
But viticulture in Catalunya is not just about history, it is also about modernity, about the application of state-of-the-art technology (trellising methods, health and clone control, fermenting under controlled temperatures, ageing of wine in oak casks, analysis and constant quality controls…), resulting in wines of inimitable quality, which, combined with their long tradition, ensure that Catalan wines continue to be acclaimed all over the world. the fruits of the earth (cereals, vines and olives)
Grape growing and winemaking in Catalunya are enriched by important and deep-rooted traditions boasting countless traditional Catalan activities related to the countryside and grape growing. Notable in almost all the grape growing and winemaking towns throughout Catalunya are the Harvest Festivals which take place during the months of September and October.