DENOMINACIÓN DE ORIGEN MONTSANT
I first tasted a Celler Capçanes wine fourteen years ago. It was a fine welcome for one who was intent on enjoying and learning more about the wines of my adoptive country. It helped confirm that I had made the right decision to emigrate! Some years later when my wine writer colleague, Tim Atkin, who, with others, was asked to declare the wine he had enjoyed most that year, he named Capçanes’ Cabrida as his favourite, to the surprise of his fellow commentators.
The Co-operative winery Celler Capçanes, though delighted of course, was also somewhat surprised! To be singled out for producing the wine that such a famous luminary preferred, in a year when he had no doubt been tasting wines from all of the ‘best’ wine producing areas of the world, was quite a feat. In some ways though, it didn’t surprise me.
Mas Collet, the Capçanes wine that I first tried, was clearly a memorable delight all that time ago, so it’s no wonder that their flagship wine, several years later, should receive such an accolade. Readers can therefore imagine how keen I was to take up their invitation to visit the tiny village of Capçanes, in the province of Tarragona, and see for myself how this remarkable winery operates.
With some of the vineyards being under 200 metres above sea level, and indeed not many kilometres from the tourist beaches of this southern-most Province of Cataluña, one might doubt the possibility that top quality wine can be made here. However the exceptional terroir, which boasts three different soil types; the advantageous microclimate (it was typically misty and cool in the vineyards on the morning we visited, having left glorious sunshine on the coast); the beneficial vineyard aspects to the sun; and the dramatic difference between day and night time temperatures, mean that any lack of altitude is insignificant.
Practically all of the villagers (pop. 400) agreed to group together and form a co-operative during the 60’s to redefine their identity from cottage industry to that of a corporate entity, thus empowering the growers, with a view to improving profit. All for one and one for all.
En Granel (bulk) wine was the name of the game as there were still not that many wine producing areas in those days which had foreseen the necessity to bottle wine. Whilst not exactly becoming a force in the wine world the co-operative survived, just about satisfying its members.
There was a change in the 90`s. Some of the heavyweight wine producers of the larger area, Torres for example, came searching for good quality grapes to help expand their wine portfolios, and of course their profit! Indeed in 1995 Torres was buying 80% of Capçanes’ grape production. The phrase ‘all eggs in the same basket’ comes to mind, and fortunately the co-operative’s management saw the possible outcome, as it noticed that Torres and others were also starting to buy land in the area. Would this mean that their main customer would soon forsake their grapes, preferring their own?
It’s a long story but the grape growers of this unique area of Cataluña decided to act to protect their interests. They lobbied the powers that be to have the area declared a Denominación de Origen and were successful in creating DO Priorat and DO Tarragona.
It was noted that wines coming from the area around Falset made under the auspices of DO Tarragona had a unique character. Falset was therefore made into a special sub-zone, with wines bearing this information on the label being the most sought after.
Celler Capçanes is in the middle of this sub-zone and whilst enjoying the extra impetus and renown they were also conscious that they were nevertheless still a part of DO Tarragona, which was very much in the shadow of the more illustrious DO Priorat. Back to the lobbying drawing board! They needed a third DO creating, recognising the individual character of their area!
The 2000 vintage, two millennia after the Romans had first planted vines in these rolling hills of Tarragona, was the first for DO Montsant – the new, distinctive DO of Cataluña!
More wines from Celler Capçanes next week – including the Jewish Connection!