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The rebirth of Empordà or the vinous post-adolescent
Empordà is like a postcard, envied by many while also the source of pride for others. Its landscapes have inspired a multitude of artists both here and elsewhere. With its idyllic, rugged beauty and clear, colorful skies you could create a series of Pantone of colors from it. Its poetic corners and its people are both touched by the genius of the Tramuntana, a wind that is at once an agitator and a purifier. Empordà is a terrain of the sea and mountains as seen in the best of its gastronomic offer. But more than looking at this postcard, I invite you to discover Empordà as the land where the Greeks arrived and as a land of slate and granite, embraced by the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean Sea that is caressed by the sun and the strong northly wind, a land of vines that, when one talks about wine, have flourished and are unabashed.
When we talk about the wines of Empodà we have to go back centuries in to the past because there is a long tradition of wine. After the Greeks and the Romans, we know that the religious centers like the monastery at Sant Pere de Rodes cultivated vineyards and were great producers of wine. In fact there were vineyards in a good part of the Albera Mountains and up until the Pyrenees, all spread over terraces. But phyloxera devestated wine production and most of the vines that were replanted were done so down on the plain, abandoning the best terroirs up on the slopes. The main driver for this change was the growth of tourism that was seen in the second half of the 20th century. It coincided with the peak of the winemaking cooperatives which despite their great value to the people living in Empordà had wines of low quality.
The rebirth of quality wines in Empordà originated in the end of the 1990s when some winemakers started to look to better methods to make wines from the plain, although this translated in to planting many foreign varieties in locations that were less than adequate. With years and thanks to Didier at Mas Estela as well as being able to export to foreign markets, we have learned to value the local varieties, the good terroirs and organic viticulture or, at least, to respect the territory. This is, in fact, the direction that we went with the majority of the cellars in the region in recents years, each making their own way and pace. It is a change that we believe in deeply.
The reconquest of the Empordà terroir
Once conscious of the Empordà terroir that had been lost, we started to work, little by little to rediscover it. It’s for this that we climbed the steep slopes with thin soils to find the old vines. We believe in these soils although we know they’re difficult to cultivate. We hope that the generations to come are pleased when they look upon the legacy we’ve left. We want to be proud of what is ours: we want to see the new Carignans, we want to recuperate the profound Grenaches that we lost with phyloxera, we want to give a new lease on life to Lledoner Roig (Grenache Gris) as well as discovering our roots farther. Because this locale, to paraphrase what Dalí once said, is something unique that bonds us. And if we want quality, this is the path. We want to mirror what has happened in our cuisine and show that excellence is indeed possible.
Director & Enolog Espelt Viticultors
(text based on the masterclass for DO Empordà from the 26th of January at Monvínic)