Priorat - Spain's Driest Winegrowing Region?

Gratavinum Vineyards

Or at least that's what we’d been told. Arriving in Priorat on 2nd November, we were greeted by a deluge that made our planned vineyard tour quite impossible. The only course of action was to go straight for lunch and wait for the storm to pass. You have no idea of the sacrifices we have to make in this job!

We dined at El Celler De L’Aspic in Falset, a contemporary Spanish restaurant where the food was excellent and the wines were even better. Well, we were the guests of Gratavinum! The star of the show was undoubtedly our host’s GV5; a magnum of the 2006 vintage was quite magnificent and was a great welcome to the region.

After lunch, with an incredible eighteen inches of rainwater flooding the streets, we climbed back aboard our minibus, undaunted by the elements in our mission to visit some vineyards. Because we were to be in Priorat for less than 36 hours we were determined to head for the hills and, although the terrible weather meant we were only able to see one vineyard, it really was something quite special. Planted with 135 year-old Carignan vines, its position next to a cemetery prompted a quip about there being no shortage of calcium in the soil! The rain was still falling so heavily that we couldn't even open the bus windows to take photographs causing us to resign ourselves to Mother Nature’s onslaught and adjourn to the winery.

Gratavinum is an organic and biodynamic estate that farms hillside vineyards planted with venerable old vines, so to have some extra time to talk to winemaker Jordi Fernandez was an opportunity not to be missed. Enthusiastically and, thankfully, in very good English, Jordi explained in detail exactly what he was doing in the vineyards to create a perfect growing environment for his vines. In line with biodynamic teachings, he used an astrological chart to track the phases of the moon and the movement of the planets to highlight the most auspicious days to carry out all of the various processes involved in grape growing and winemaking.

Although simple, humble even, the winery was more than amply appointed and it was one of cleanest wineries I have ever visited. The phrase "You could eat your dinner off the floor" really did apply here. Good hygeine is always vital in a winery, but it is particularly critical when making organic and natural wines as they do at Gratavinum because there is far less sulphur dioxide used (it is an antioxidant and an antibacterial agent). There are lots of contrasting views on the efficacy of biodynamics and we weren’t in Priorat to learn how to write horoscopes, the proof of the pudding was always going to be in the eating, so to speak.

The wines Jordi makes are not in any way industrialised or manipulated, they are just pure and unadulterated expressions of Priorat. We were given the opportunity to taste his full portfolio of five wines, each of which was a delight to drink and collectively made for an exceptionally enjoyable experience. Here are a few of my notes:

Gratavinum 2πr 2010
(60% Grenache, 25% Carignan, 10% Syrah and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged for 14 months in new and second year French and Hungarian oak barrels)
A full, ripe black and red fruit nose with some animal notes behind (always a good sign!). Fresh, with some new oak nuances. A great entry to the palate with plenty of chewy black fruit, bright acidity and a dry minerality beneath. Tannins were all present and correct, and were noticeable on the full, mineral finish.

Gratavinum GV5 2009
(70% Carignan from 50-70 year old vines, 25% Grenache and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged for 13 months in new French and Hungarian oak barrels)
Deeply coloured with a fresh, mineral, black fruit and liquorice nose, opening into aromas of pencil shavings and a hint of spent match behind the ripe fruit. Complex. Wonderful and sweetly fruited on the palate, with some balancing spice and graphite flavours. Big, ripe tannins that don’t over power. A full, majestic and fresh finish with ripe dark fruit lingering. Fantastic Priorat.

Gratavinum Del Coster 2010
(100% Carignan from 105 year old vines planted in Llicorella slate soils. Grapes given a pre-fermentative cold maceration for 7 days prior to vilification in new French oak barrels of 400 litres. 18 months ageing in new French oak, again 400 litres)
Deep, dark and concentrated. A rich nose, with notes of rosemary and minerals beneath the bold, ripe, dried berry fruit. Damsons and brambles were noticeable with air. Chewy, fresh and elegant on the palate leading into a huge, long finish. Firm but very rip tanninse. Sensational.

Gratavinum Silvestris 2015 (Tank sample)
(85% Carignan and 15% Syrah, a natural wine made with no added sulphur dioxide)
Intensely fruity with notes of exotic spice. Full and chewy on the palate, with bold but not overpowering tannins. As this was a tank sample, we will await the bottled wine to give a fuller note.

Dolç d’en Piqué 2011 (37.5cl)
(Late harvested Grenache, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon, grown in Licorella slate soils. Aged for 12 months in 400 litre new French oak barrels)
Deeply coloured with intense aromas of dried red and black berries. Full and well fruited on the palate, with a perfect level of sweetness to carry the fresh fruit flavours that were backed by some hints of toast and vanilla. A great wine for chocolate!

When all was finished and the final handshakes done, we walked outside to once again board our bus. The rain had stopped and the air was filled with the perfume of a rosemary plant growing outside the winery door. A few steps further on and the aromas of wild thyme also permeated the air. It was surely no coincidence that these aromas were also discernible in the wines, too.

We’d like to thank Jordi and all at Gratavinum for such a truly wonderful and informative visit, the memories of which will linger for many years to come. Upon our return, we were thrilled to learn that they had found a few magnums of the 2006 vintage of GV5 we had enjoyed so much with lunch. These will be shipped along with the other wines we ordered, so keep an eye out for them appearing on the website very soon. We were only promised a very small number, and in the name of fairness we’ll be selling them on a first come, first served basis.

See our Gratavinum wines here, and take a look at its sister properties of Parés Baltà and Dominio Romano also.

Gratavinum Winemaker Jordi Fernandez

Gratavinum Winemaker Jordi Fernandez