Celler Noguerals (Catalonia, Cornudella)
DO Montsant & Do Priorat
Ramon Almazora is a dental technician by day. By night and weekend, he runs the minuscule 1-hectare Corbatera vineyard, located in the small village of Cornudella de Montsant. Ramon's grandfather established his magnificent parcel, co-planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Grenache in the 1930's. For more than 80 years the wine has been made just one way--Picked all on the same day and fermented together to make just one wine--a Montsant of remarkable depth and purity.
Ramon Almazora took over the the winemaking from his father in 1999 at Corbatera, but his father's presence looms large. Ramon's father began working their parcel in the 50's and trudged from the village everyday for almost 50 years to tend their wonderful plot of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, plus some olive trees. It is a 3km hike, often with a horse and some equipment. Then, back to the village for lunch, and after, another 3km back to the vineyard. For half a century!
All of what the senior Almazora grew was sold to the cooperative wineries and then returned to the family as generic wine. But...it paid the bills and along with the production of olive oil, the tending of bees, and a few other crops, provided a living for the family. When Ramon returned to the family "farm" at the turn of the century he was determined to make more of what he knew was a special place.
He convinced his father that they should begin making their own wine and began renovating a small old bakery next to their house into an intimate winery. I counted 9 barrels and would put the whole thing at about 600 square feet. They make just one wine and at the elder's insistence, they pick co-ferment all the grapes on the same day. Tradition dies hard.
When I tasted his Corbaterra Montsant 2011 just last month my eyes bulged from my head. What a wonderful and complete red wine, ready to drink right now and perfect during wintertime. And at just $22, hard to beat!
The Finca Mas de L'Abella is an old farm located near the village of Cornudella de Montsant. Before WWII Ramon Alzamora's grandmother was taken to L'Abella when she was a little girl in order to protect her from what was to come. In later years he often heard her speak of the "Abellars"--the place where the bees are kept, but he never knew precisely where it was.
In 1999 Ramon learned that L'Abella was available for purchase and was surprised to find out that it was only about 10 minutes from his village! All those years he had never actually known that the farm was literally in their backyard.
Such is the pace of life of and the movement of information in Catalunya, and specifically in the Priorat. This is a rugged, high elevation place only 90 minutes from Barcelona by car, but seemilngly a world away--full of peacefulness and tranquility. (if it wasn't so darn hot in the summer we could happily live here)
Last year I drove with Ramon to Abellars from Cornudella village. The 10 minute trip was mostly on a one-lane dirt road with lots of potholes and barely suitable for a tractor. Then lo and behold we came to a small old farmhouse (a finca) that Ramon had not long ago converted to a winery. Here, he makes about 8000 bottles of Priorat from four hectares of vines. To call this a micro-winery would be a stretch.
The vineyard is a dry-farmed wonderland of black slate--locally called licorella--and grows Garnatxa (Grenache), Mazuelo-Samso (Carignane), and Cabernet Sauvignon. At 400 meters of altitude one might imagine a cool climate red wine, but no, these Priorat are inky and glass-staining, with great concentration and depth of flavor. Ramon makes this wine to drink young, a youthful counterpoint to his more powerful, barrel-aged Priorat.