HISTORY OF THE PRIORAT
8TH - 12TH CENTURY: FROM MOORISH RULES TO THE CHRISTIAN RECONQUEST
Starting in the 8th Century, the Priorat formed part of the area of the Iberian Peninsula under Muslim/Moorish rule called Andalucía, or alAndalus, in Arabic. That lasted until the middle of the 12th Century, when Ramon Berenguer IV, the Count of Barcelona and a Christian Crusader, led a Christian conquest of Southern Catalonia region where the Priorat is located.
1153: THE LEAP OF THE MOORISH QUEEN
By 1153 the last Moorish holdout was a castle atop the mountain range in the town of Siurana. The Moorish Queen, Abdelazia, rather than be killed or, worse, forcibly converted to Christianity, legend has it that Abdelazia blindfolded her white horse and galloped toward the cliff’s edge. The animal literally dug his heals into the stone just before the edge, saving himself but catapulting the Queen to her death. According to the legend of the Leap of the Moorish Queen, a desperate horse heelprint is still visible in the stone at cliff’s edge.
1194: THE CARTHUSIAN ORDER OF MONKS RECEIVES ESCALADEI LAND
In 1194 – Count Berenguer IV’s son King Alfonso II of Aragon (AKA “Alfonso The Chaste”) gave the Carthusian Order of monks dominion over the land surrounding Escaladei, just down the road from the Priorat town of Poboleda. Founded in 1084 by St. Bruno of Cologne, the Carthusian Order combined two seemingly contradictory aspects of monasticism: hermetic life and community living. And so, Carthusians lived as recluses, but in a community.The Order also loved wine, and the Priorat soon became a center of wine production.
1835: THE ECCLESIATICAL CONFISCATIONS OF MENDIZÁBAL
In 1835 Spanish Prime Minister Juan Álvarez Mendizábal issued decrees known as the Desamortización Eclesiástica de Mendizábal. Driven by the period’s anti-clerical impulses as well as a belief that small landowners would use the land a whole lot more efficiently than the Church, the decrees confiscated property from monastic orders and distributed it to local citizens. In a sign that, after years of abusing their power, the monastery at Escaladei was looted by locals looking for gold the day after the Carthusians left. Several days later, it was set on fire. Within two years, Escaladei was almost completely destroyed.
END 19TH CENTURY: PHILLOXERA HITS PRIORAT
In 1862, a French wine merchant named Monsieur Borty decided it would be a smashing idea to import vines from America to his country. Unfortunately, in doing so he imported a deadly American plant louse named phylloxera. The American louse immediately set about killing France’s vines, which unlike New World vines were not immune to it.But by the end of the 19th Century phylloxera arrived in the Priorat. There, it went about killing the local vines with predictable competence. The wine industry in teh Priorat almost disappeared.
20TH CENTURY: CIVIL WAR
The history of the twentieth century brings the cooperatives inspired by the goverment of Catalonia, which return the illusion of progress and dignity to the peasants. With the cooperative wineries also the modernist architecture of César Martinell arrives in the region. The Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 ends this encouraging panorama, the Battle of the Ebro in which the Priorat played an important role hosting the headquarters of the Republican troops, in one of the bloodiest and darkest episodes in Spanish history. The Post-war decades was misery, hunger and depopulation.
20TH CENTURY: THE NEW PRIORATS
Some vineyards had been replanted on phylloxera-resistant American roots in the early 20th century, but replanting did not begin in some force until the 1950s; in 1954 the region was granted a DO (Denominacion de Origin), Spain’s second highest wine region ranking.
But then in 1979, a french winemaker named René Barbier visited and saw the potential of the oldest Garnacha (Grenache) vines in the area. He quickly bought land in the Priorat DO and, as the 1980s went on, convinced four others – to replant Priorat’s abandoned vineyards and join his reclamation project.
For the first three vintages, from 1989 to 1991, the five wineries pooled their grapes and shared a coop winery in the town of Gratallops. “To their amusement, various wine critics claimed to prefer some wines to others, despite the fact that they were identical,” writes British wine critic Tim Atkin.
In 2000, the Catalan government promoted the Priorat to a DOQ (or DOC, in Spanish), the top wine region grade. Rioja is the only other Spanish region so honored. The top 10 Priorat rankings from Robert Parker’s reviews show that the Priorat justly deserved the promotion.
“The top tier of Priorats are world class and contenders for long-term aging,” Robert Parker.