cap de creus

cap de creus

The harvest starts! Heat, drought, wild boars and all the variables you know make this year special. The harvest is a few days ahead and we have already started to collect the varieties of the plan and also the red hawthorn from Mas Marès.

August, the days are shorter and the heat seems to be giving us a break, at least at night. However, the high temperatures in July and the drought we are experiencing -it hasn’t rained hard for many months- have meant that exceptionally this year we had to advance the harvest by a good week.

We say exceptionally, but we know that this reality can be the general tone in the years to come. Climate change is unstoppable and we feel that we must adapt to it as best we can. Making progress in an integrated management of the territory, which takes into account the climatology, soil conservation and the fragile balance of the ecosystems, will favor that we can reap the benefits in the future as well. That is why, since we started the Mas Marès project, we decided that we would do everything possible to preserve the legacy that we as humans have received from nature. Land near the sea, with low bushes, corks and now also vineyards that favor the control and protection of unique species of Cap de Creus.

In these lands where Anna Espelt’s most personal project is built, a few years ago we planted Grey Grenache, with grafts from the old vines of Rabós. This week is the grape we start to harvest, this local variety of Grenache that is rosé. Planting local varieties has for some time been the most suitable decision for our land: they are more adapted to the territory and will therefore need less water and withstand the wind.

Emporda varieties, unique terroirs and a vintage that is just beginning. Happy harvest everyone!

Last Friday, Anna Espelt was on the special program of El Món a Rac1 from Llançà. With Anna Vallhonesta we talked about viticulture and traveling the world and returning to Born. Of what we have learned and of all the work we have left to do.

Anna Espelt el món a rac 1
Anna Espelt in El Món a Rac1

We are always glad to explain our work. Our land, the sea and the mountains, is what defines us and what marks the wines of the Empordà. Explaining ourselves and the territory means talking about our wines and understanding them a little more. We took a look at the why of the integral management between natural parks and vineyards and we talked about how we manage them to promote biodiversity in the lands we cultivate and about the sea, the tramuntana and the sun. Three key aspects that accompany us and that define our wines.

You can relive the interview and tell us about!

Des que el 2004 vam començar a plantar vinya a Mas Marès, al Cap de Creus, sabíem que volíem respectar al màxim l’ecosistema existent i fins i tot aportar-li més riquesa. Us expliquem què és el mosaic i com el treballem a Mas Marès fins crear el que s’anomena tècnicament un sistema agrari d’alt valor natural.

Ja fa quasi vint anys que vam comprar les vinyes de Mas Marès. De seguida ens vam posar en contacte amb el Parc Natural del Cap de Creus per treballar conjuntament en la gestió d’aquell tros de territori. Les vinyes estarien inserides en un espai natural que estimem, calia fer-ho bé. A més, conscients que la mà dels ésser humans hi ha estat present des de fa milers d’anys (dòlmens i menhirs ho certifiquen) calia una gestió integrada de totes les terres.

Mas Marès i tot el Cap de Creus és un paisatge que meravella a tothom que ens ve a conèixer. Darrere de la bellesa hi ha sí o sí una gestió, imprescindible. El 2004 amb l’ajuda de Xavi Vilavella, tècnic del Parc Natural en aquell moment, i de l’Anna Sanitjas, enginyera forestal que va fer el projecte tècnic de gestió i millora forestal, vam idear la distribució del mosaic a Mas Marès. El pla de gestió de les terres tenien i tenen en compte uns objectius compartits:

  • prevenció d’incendis forestals
  • augment progressiu de la biodiversitat
  • protecció de les espècies en perill d’extinció
  • eliminació de plantes invasores

Els elements del mosaic de Mas Marès

El mosaic o sistema agrari d’alt valor natural fa el territori més resilient al canvi climàtic, als incendis, i li aporta més capacitat per nínxols ecològics, per tant més biodiversitat. Les quatre unitats del mosaic de Mas Marès, al Cap de Creus, estan distribuïts estratègicament en quatre unitats que es retroalimenten creant un cercle virtuós, un ecosistema equilibrat:

  • pastures: s’han mantingut les velles, amb les vaques, i se n’han anat creant de noves, desbrossant. Són a la part Nord i per tant la zona més exposada a perills com el foc
  • vinyes i oliveres: amb coberta vegetal verda a la tardor, hivern i primavera. A l’estiu es treballen les zones que limitem amb el matollar, per a fer de tallafocs.
  • suredes: regenerar aquests espais és clau, són ecosistema madur, evolucionat en aquesta zona, perquè sempre n’hi ha hagut. Hem mantingut les que hi havia, hem netejat el sotabosc mantenint els plançons
  • zones sense intervenció: a l’extrem sud, és on hi ha els ecosistemes més establerts. Els deixem que evolucionin de forma natural cap a ecosistemes més madurs a nivell de diversitat. Interessa protegir-los al màxim.

Les zones es distribueixen en funció de la vulnerabilitat de l’ecosistema que volem protegir. En el cas del mosaic de Mas Marès, la zona Nord és clarament la zona més exposada a incendis i per tant a pèrdues. Per tenir un mosaic equilibrat és imprescindible la cura de totes les unitats que requereixen intervenció. Si ho voleu escoltar en paraules de l’Anna Espelt us recomanem aquest episodi de Bar de Vins.

Since we can remember, we have seen cows in Albera and Cap de Creus. Changes in the contemporary world have made transhumance more complicated. The beasts, however, still need to change their minds when winter comes.

For years, we have had an agreement for these cows from Ripollès to graze in our vineyards in Cap de Creus. They win with good pastures: Xavi, the shepherd, tells us that if it rains there will be good grass (hopefully it will be so and it will rain soon!).

The whole environment of Mas Marés also gains with an enriched ecosystem. Thanks to its presence, we help the mosaic, this Mediterranean landscape that is a reflection of the variety of ecosystems and biodiversity. With the cows, one more element is added so that the different ecosystems that coexist in this space create synergies between them. Cows are important because they make for more open space, which is great for other animals to come, such as the little kestrel, which we’ve already told you about. They also reduce flammable biomass and therefore reduce the risk of fire, bringing more organic matter to the soil, thus closing a virtuous circle. If you go up to the Pic de l’Àliga or Pla de Gates you can find the cows grazing quietly again and sunbathing and wind, and hopefully it will rain soon. Tell us if you were able to greet them, did you see them?

Our wines have received very good scores in La Guia de Vins de Catalunya and highlights Pla de Tudela, award for Best White Picapoll.

best picapoll blanc pla de tudela

A new edition of La Guia de Vins de Catalunya, a reference guide to the Catalan Countries that includes a large part of the wines made in our territory. We are very happy with the good scores obtained and especially with the prize in Pla de Tudela, a 100% picapolla monovarietal wine from Anna Espelt’s most personal project, on the Mas Marés estates.

The variety of white picapoll, which in the Empordà we call picapolla, is one of the many varieties that have been found in our region for a long time. The library of varieties that we made has allowed us to identify in old vineyards and then move to other places, such as the Mas Marés estate. It is in these vineyards where we decided to replant the white picapoll as a local variety. It is very well adapted to the climate of the area and therefore more resistant to changes that may come due to the climate emergency.

We were already in love with our white picapoll plants, some of the most beautiful we had ever seen. Now we have one more reason to be proud of this award for a wine from the personal project of Anna Espelt Pla de Tudela. This is a recognition for a long time work to recover local varieties and make them a place in our winery. Here are the other excellent scores:

  • La Vella 2019 9.79
  • Pardells 2018 9.76
  • Les Elies 2018 9.78
  • Pla de Tudela 2019 9.74 and Best Picapoll Blanc Award
  • Cala Rostella 2018 9.71
  • Lledoner Roig 2018 9.70
  • Comabruna 2017 9.65
best picapoll blanc

Dry stone is part of our landscape, one of the reasons we rebuild dry stone walls. Dry Stone Week takes place from 19th to 28th November. More than 100 activities organized throughout the territory of the Catalan Countries to raise awareness of this cultural heritage.

pedra seca

This week will take place the 2nd edition of Dry Stone Week. More than 100 activities that vindicate, update and put these spaces of popular architecture and biodiversity at the center. The conference, organized by various organizations throughout the territory, is a good starting point if you want to know more about these rural buildings.

Dry stone is an ancient technique of separating fields, but also of gaining cultivation space on uneven ground. In addition, over the years we have seen that the vineyards that had dry stone walls nearby were more resilient and with more biodiversity, as the holes between stones are natural dens for all kinds of insectivorous species and small reptiles, amphibians, birds. In Mas Marés we have rebuilt more than 3,000 m of dry stone walls because they are part of our landscape and our heritage, but above all because they are a refuge for a rich and powerful ecosystem.

Let’s participate in the Seca de la Pedra Seca, there are more than 40 scheduled events, more than 20 trainings and more than 30 disclosure acts about the Catalan Countries. You can also come to meet us and learn first hand why we rebuild the walls of dry stone.

You have the calendar of activities and the location map on the Dry Stone Week website. Don’t miss it!

‘Empordà is definitely on the move. It is well past its flirtation with international vine varieties’

The Catalans seem to take conservation seriously. To the extent of removing an entire Club Med holiday village in order to restore the geologically unique north-eastern tip of the region to its natural state. Knocking down more than 400 buildings, which admittedly looked as integrated within the landscape as a caravan site, is surely taking rewilding to a new level.

This dramatic decision was inspired by the 1998 designation of Cap de Creus — the rocky outcrop in the hinterland of the seaside town of Cadaqués and the famous El Bulli restaurant — as a protected natural park. By 2010 the resort had been excised from the landscape and today the extraordinary rock formations of Tudela, where the Club once was, are again as nature intended.

On the August Saturday morning that I visited, the carefully landscaped trails were dotted with shiny Lycra as runners and cyclists made their determined way up them. My host was the energetic Anna Espelt, who runs her family’s Espelt wine operation, which has the most vineyards, 172ha, in the local appellation of Empordà (although the vast Perelada operation sells more wine).

Espelt’s tourist-friendly modern winery in Vilajuïga is based quite far inland and draws from vineyards in several different locations, but I feel Anna’s heart is most moved by those she was encouraged to plant in Cap de Creus, within sight of the sea. “I feel very good in this place,” she smiles as she takes in the view of the deep blue Mediterranean, the resort town of Roses in the distance and a bronze-age menhir that was unearthed by her father at the foot of her vineyards.

Before the phylloxera louse, which is fatal to vine roots, arrived back in 1879, Catalonia was wine country. By the turn of that century, a wine region with about 10,000ha of vines had been almost wiped out. Today, evidence of the 30,000km of painstakingly built stone terraces for vines can be seen on many a hillside. There are currently only 1,821ha of vines in production in this recently revived denomination.

It was partly to honour Cap de Creus’s viticultural legacy that Espelt planted vineyards there. The vine trunks were so spindly I thought they were only a handful of years old but they bear witness to how tough conditions here are for vines. The chilly tramuntana whistles through the mountains from the north, and the vines are buffeted by winds off the sea too. The park’s guardians are keen to encourage biodiversity. They see vines as more fire-resilient than many other plants in a landscape that is tinder-dry in a “normal” summer, let alone 2021 which, Espelt tells me, has so far seen just 153mm of rain.

The precision of that number is testament to the pain imposed by the drought but also Espelt’s scientific training. She was meant to be a biologist but in 2000 the opportunity to carry on her grandfather’s wine-producing legacy lured her back from California where she had been a cellarhand. She was very much thrown in at the deep end. Nineteen years ago, they planted 25ha of vines on Cap de Creus, partly to encourage others. Her first mistake, she says, was the decision to trellis the vines on wires rather than plant them as standalone bush vines, which would possibly have been more resilient and less thirsty. Nevertheless, the single-vineyard varietal wines they have yielded since 2017 are pretty impressive.

She has named them after places on Cap de Creus that have a special meaning for her. The white, made from Picapolla, as they call tangy Clairette grapes here, is called Pla de Tudela, after the beach where she particularly likes to swim. The red is made from Garnacha, a grape that is called Lledoner Negre here, and seems to be slimmed down and freshened up with each successive vintage. It’s called Cala Rostella after a pine-covered outcrop overlooking El Bulli.

These special bottlings are offered at the same price and I wondered if the Spanish market was ready to pay so much for a white wine. I was assured that the white sells out faster than the red, although admittedly it is made in smaller quantities. According to Espelt, “For many years we thought Empordà was a red wine area but now we learn we should focus on whites too — especially from the local varieties Lledoner Blanc [Grenache Blanc], Lledoner Roig [Grenache Gris] and Carinyena Blanc [Carignan Blanc].”

Espelt also covertly converted the family’s vineyards to organic viticulture and says she waited to break the news to her father, an agrochemical merchant, until after a bibulous Sunday lunch.

She pioneered the local renaissance of Grenache Gris, which can make arguably more interesting and perfumed wines than the pale-skinned Grenache Blanc. I had previously been rather unimpressed by the Carignan Blancs I had tasted in the Pyrenees in France, and one or two of the Empordà versions confirmed this. But La Vinyeta’s Microvins 2019, aged for 14 months in old French oak barrels and tasted at its stylish winery, won me over. It was dense, vibrant and had rather impressive grip. That said, both Josep Serra, co-founder of La Vinyeta, and Anna Espelt admitted that the grape doesn’t have that much actual flavour. Perhaps it will end up as a useful blending ingredient rather than as a varietal wine.

La Vinyeta, set up by Josep and Marta Serra in 2002, is another particularly interesting operation, very much informed by the fact that Josep’s brother is a designer in Barcelona. Microvins’ labels are a lesson in providing useful, geeky information in a clever, attractive way. And the team at La Vinyeta have really shown the locals how to entice visitors, with their outdoor café, sheep, cheeses and olive oil. La Vinyeta looks as though it belongs in California.

Empordà is very definitely on the move. It is well past its flirtation with international vine varieties and is now concentrating on the two most-planted varieties, both local: Lledoner Negre and Carinyena Negra, or Grenache and Carignan. These are the same varieties that dominate Priorat, the wine region that fetches Catalonia’s highest prices. Empordà is perhaps too small to be similarly appreciated, even though the average age of these Empordà vines, and their pale-skinned mutations, is impressively high. In a tasting of 73 Empordà wines recently, I was also delighted to see that some of the best wines included single-vineyard bottlings by one of the handful of co-ops — a welcome change from throwing everything into the same vat.

Some of the best wines of all are the strong, sweet ones, made in a wide range of ways and a number of them are completely stunning (after all, in terms of geology and climate, Empordà is a mirror image of Roussillon, home of Banyuls, on the other side of the Pyrenees). But I won’t waste space saying any more about them since I know how unfashionable such wonders are at the moment. I do hope their day will come. Together with their dry counterparts.

Exciting Empordà wines

I gave all these wines at least 17 points out of 20 and am very sad to see how few of them make it to the UK.

WHITES

  • Clos d’Agon, Clos d’Agon 2018 13.5%
  • Espelt, Pla de Tudela 2018 12.5%

REDS

  • Castillo de Perelada, Aires de Garbet 2017 14.5%
  • Castillo de Perelada, Finca La Garriga 2016 14%
  • Espelt, Cala Rostella 2018 and 2017 14.8%
  • Masia Serra, Aroa 2018 14.5%
  • Mas Vida, Vida Nua 2017 14%
  • Roig Parals, Camí de Cormes Carinyena Vinyes Centenàries 14.5%
    • £60 Seckford, £70 Fine + Rare plus duty and VAT (2007)
  • Sota els Àngles, Sota els Àngels 2019 13%
  • La Vinyeta, Microvins Carinyena Negra Bota 2018 15%

SWEET

  • Masia Serra, Ino NV 16%
  • Vinyes dels Aspres, Bac de les Ginesteres NV 14.5%
    • £36.50 Albion Wine Shippers (2004)

Jancis Robinson. Published on Financial Times and on Jancis Robinson website in September 2021.

In the middle of the harvest we observe the vineyards. They have come this far, with all their might, in spite of the drought, in spite of the wind, in spite of the risk of fire this summer. We are very grateful to be able to work and harvest their fruits. We thanks nature to be able to take care of them.

The vegetable covers are yellow, the color of the straw dominates, if it were not the leaves and underneath, the grapes that we now harvest, we would say that the earth cannot bear fruit like this. Plants teach us slow adaptation to changing climatic conditions, resilience is their most authentic way of life. Our obsession is to make their future easy, creating spaces so that the water does not carry away the soils, redoing the dry stone walls, using drip irrigation very occasionally.

We keep on going on harvest ????

Since we know that the climate change is almost irreversible we do not stop asking us what we can do to adapt us in. Of course the world is in a climatic emergency, whose effects stil we are not aware of.

The MIDMACC research project, part of the European program Europa Life, has been working in our vineyards for more than a year to find answers to a question we often ask ourselves: are we doing everything we can to cushion climate change? Mid-mountain vineyards, such as those we have in Mas Marés, can be a good tool to prevent erosion and therefore influence the consequences of climate change. Researchers have placed small machines in the vineyards to find out how the water moves in our vineyards, because this gives us clues about soil erosion. These data will help us determine the differences, at the environmental level, between working in gobelet-trained or in trellis.

Collecting data is a very subtle way to open a window into the future. We hope to be able to tell you all the fruits.