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 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. As legend tells it, the Moorish Queen Abdelazia, rather than be killed (or worse, forcibly converted to Christianity), blindfolded her white horse and galloped toward the cliff’s edge. The animal literally dug his heals into the rocks just before the precipice, saving himself but catapulting the Queen to her death. According to the tale of the Leap of the Moorish Queen, a desperate horse heelprint is still visible in stone at the edge of the fateful cliff.
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
IIn 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 more efficiently than the Church, the decrees confiscated property from monastic orders and distributed it to local citizens. In a sign of revolt after centuries at the hands of the church’s 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, Esacaladei was almost completely destroyed.
END 19TH CENTURY: PHILLOXERA HITS PRIORAT
In 1862, a French wine merchant named Monsieur Borty decided it would be an innovative idea to import hardy vines from America to his country to withstand the winter cold. Unfortunately, in doing so, he imported a deadly American plant louse named phylloxera. With no natural immunity, the American vine pest set about systematically killing vines across the whole of Europe. By the end of the 19th Century, phylloxera had arrived in the Priorat. There, it went about devastating the local the local vines with the same ruthless efficiency. With their vines withering and dying, the wine industry in the Priorat almost disappeared entirely.
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.
THE NEW PRIORATS
Some vineyards had been replanted on phylloxera-resistant American roots in the early 20th century, but replanting did not begin in earnest until the 1950s. In recognition of these efforts and the resulting wine quality, 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 native 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 cooperative 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 – 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 that year showed that the Priorat justly deserved the promotion.
“The top tier of Priorats are world class and contenders for long-term aging,” Robert Parker.