‘Burgundian approach’ now adopted in Priorat

Winemakers in Priorat have moved from a Bordeaux approach to winemaking to a Burgundian approach according to one producer in the northern Spanish region.

Scala Dei's chief winemaker Ricard Rofes is going back to the winemaking style of the '70s

Scala Dei’s chief winemaker Ricard Rofes is going back to the winemaking style of the ’70s

Speaking to the drinks business during a recent trip to the region, Ricard Rofes, chief winemaker of historic estate Scala Dei, said:

“Priorat pioneers like Alvaro Palacios and René Barbier started off making wine in more of a Bordeaux style with heavy extraction and concentration, working with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in addition to Garnacha and Cariñena.

“Now winemakers in the region are moving to more of a Burgnudian approach to winemaking and are seeking more elegance and finesse in their wines. Neither Cabernet nor Merlot grows well in Priorat, it’s too hot for both of them, so we’re phasing them out as it doesn’t make sense to grow them anymore.

autumnal vines in Priorat

autumnal vines in Priorat

Rofes revealed that since joining the estate in 2007, he has taken the winemaking back to the style of the ‘70s as the wines from that era had the best expression and ageing potential.

“When I arrived at Scala Dei I tasted the wines we had from the ‘70s. They were largely more alive and bright than those from the ‘80s and ‘90s, which were dead.

“I asked myself why and looked into the winemaking techniques used in the ‘70s compared to the ‘80s and ‘90s.

“I found the wines responded best when we used ripe stems to add tannin and fermented the wines in concrete tanks then aged them in foudres rather than standard barrels so the oak influence is lessened.

“At high altitude, the stems ripen at the same time as the grapes, in mid October,” he said. Rofes believes Garnacha is comparable to Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir in terms of its finesse and delicacy as a variety.

“The grape is trendy now in Spain and the US, and people are becoming increasingly receptive to Garnacha in the UK, but its naturally high alcohol levels work against it as a variety,” he admitted.

“Growing it at high altitude adds freshness and vibrancy to Garnacha and gives it longer ageing potential,” he added.

Rofes expressed concerns about climate change due to an inability to irrigate on Priorat’s signature liorcella slate soils. “It’s hard to irrigate on slate soils, which is a problem in dry years, so I’m worried about the effects of climate change, which is also causing alcohol levels to rise. You can get Garnacha’s here with 16.5% alcohol,” he told db.

As for the 2016 harvest, Rofes reports that it’s down by 20% due to drought conditions in the region, resulting in small, concentrated berries.

One Response to “‘Burgundian approach’ now adopted in Priorat”

  1. Tiffany Cox says:

    Will Priorat eventually make wine in a Priorat style? It seems they have searched for an identity for quite some time now and it would be refreshing to see them stand on their own. Giving reference to regional wine-making styles such as “Bordeaux/Bordelaise” or “Burgundian” may be intended to help the message reach the reader/consumer but in my personal opinion it does little to further the understanding of a region that is quite removed from either of those areas. Rofes’ own explanation of his approach to the wines seems quite sound, I just don’t see why it needs to be viewed through the lens of Burgundy. He’s just responding to what he has to work with in Priorat and developing methods for success where he is at. That seems quite smart, but assuming that stem inclusion, concrete fermentation vessels, foudres, and the varietal characteristics of Grenache somehow all add up to following in the footsteps of Burgundy actually seems ridiculous.
    Otherwise, a great article and nice to have some insight into an exciting region with wonderful wines.

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