Sense of place and sense of purpose

Where the old vines grow into the schist "llicorella" under the mediterranean sun

Location and emplacement

Mas Doix is in the Priorat D.O.Q.

Priorat is a small, mountainous region to be found nestled in the centre of the counties of the Tarragona province in North-Eastern Spain which is also Southern Catalonia.

A difficult terrain, equally difficult to work, a landscape of intriguing angles. From the highest of hills, the Priorat appears to be a sea of dark stone waves, just a short distance away from the true sea, the Mediterranean. The land is surrounded by higher mountain ranges, which display a very different geological heritage.

The Montsant Mountain (1,162 m.) range borders the Priorat wine appellation to the North; the Figuera and Lloar peaks are to the West and the Molló mountains can be found to the East. The region opens up to the Siurana River in the South, whose waters flow down towards the Ebro River.

The Siurana River traverses this wine region from North-East to South-West, carving out a sinuous and tortuous trail, surrounded on all sides by hills.

The wine appellation is made up of nine villages: Bellmunt del Priorat, Gratallops, Porrera, Poboleda, Torroja del Priorat, la Vilella Alta, la Vilella Baixa, el Lloar and la Morera de Montsant, which includes the hamlet of Scala Dei (Escaladei in Catalan) where the monastery ruins are to be found. There are also two further defined areas which fall partly within the municipal areas of El Molar and Falset, the capital of the administrative county.

-  Total surface 180 Km2 - 17,629 HA  - 43,562 acres

-  Total vineyards: 12% land – 2,000 HA – 4,696 acres planted

-  Total grape growers: 600

-  Total wineries: 104

Mas Doix winery was created in the village of Poboleda, at the North-East part of the Priorat, close to the Montsant mountain and the Siurana valley.

Climate

Inland and yet close to the sea, the Priorat is where two great climates meet. The proximity to the Mediterranean sea is decisive and clearly manifests itself in dry summers and winters and in wetter springs and autumns, leading to a prevalence of Mediterranean crops planted here. And yet the Priorat climate can only be understood by observing its complex orography. The mountainous terrain, the periphery of surrounding high mountain ranges and its diminutive and yet decisive rivers are physical factors which make this county unique. These factors also help us to understand the continental influence of this region. The low wintertime temperatures and the extensive temperature oscillations are clear reminders of this continental influence.

The r elative isolation in terms of the influence of the sea and at the same time, the Montsant Mountain Range’s protection from northerly winds, have resulted in peculiar weather conditions. It is particularly worth noting the sharp contrasts between daytime and night-time temperatures. During the summer months, temperatures can drop to 12ºC (53.6 Fahrenheit), whilst they can also climb to highs of 40ºC (104 Fahrenheit), whilst the rocky soils can easily surpass these temperatures. Average annual temperatures are around 14ºC (57.2 Fahrenheit) in the lower areas of the DOCa. Priorat, although they can drop to around 12ºC (53.6 Fahrenheit) around the foothills of the Montsant Mountain Range. Average annual rainfall is between 500 and 600 litres per square metre, increasing slightly towards the northern areas of the wine appellation.

Heat and dryness are more factors that impact how the vines are grown, and hence what Priorat wines smell and taste like. With almost no summer rainfall and zero irrigation, yields are incredibly low—as little as four or five fist-sized bunches per plant. As a result, intensity of flavour is maximized.

The wind factor is also illuminating. Generally speaking the main winds blow in from the north –west. This dry wind is known as the Serè wind and comes from inland Spain. On the other hand, there is a contrasting wind, which comes from the south-east and is known as the Garbinada or Mediterranean sea breeze. This breeze considerably lessens the effects of the hottest hours of the day during the arid and hot Priorat summers.

-  Mediterranean semi arid with trends to Continental

-  Dry summers and winters

-  Rainy springs and autumns

-  2,800 sun hours per year.

-  Average Annual Temperature: 14°C to 15°C (57.2º Fahrenheit)

-  Maximum Average Temperature: around 20°C

-  Minimum Average Temperature: 9°C to 10°C

-  Maximum Temperature: Summer time: 35°C to 40°C

-  Minimum Temperature: Winter time: very variable from year to year, from 0°C down to -10°C

-  Average Relative Humidity: 60% to 70%

-  Average Annual Rainfall: 400 mm

-  Summer months: Sharp contrast between day time (highs of 40ºC (104 Fahrenheit) and night times around 14ºC (57.2 Fahrenheit).

Poboleda has one of the coolest micro-climates in the Priorat. Poboleda is located at the East-Northern part of the Priorat. We have slightly lower average temperature as well as slightly higher average rainfall. We harvest almost 8 to 10 days later than in the Southern part (Bellmunt, Gratallops).

Soil

There are few vineyards planted on soils as ancient as those of the Priorat. The area forms a depression which has been slowly eroded, and due to this, appears very craggy. The area is made up of “comas” or steep sided flat mountain valleys as well as other mountains and valleys which have been carved out by the sinuous Siurana River and where different types of slate abound as well as granite. This is the rocky skin, poor and cold, which is a visible witness to the geological eras which can be traced back 400 million years into the past, to the end of the Palaeozoic era. The soil’s extreme antiquity is a dramatic contrast to the mountain ranges which surround the Priorat wine growing area. These mountain ranges are of Mesozoic origin, from the tertiary era, much more recent.

Priorat is probably the most rugged, hardscrabble wine region anywhere. The soil, if you can call it that, is basically decomposed slate and schist, what the locals call llicorella. It is relatively acidic with very little organic material (2%), but it offers incredible drainage and is porous enough to allow the roots of the grapevines to reach deeper than just about anyplace else on earth.

These flat, easily breakable deeply copper coloured stones are where the vine roots delve in search of water and nutrients. It is these soils which are recognised as giving Priorat wines their greatest virtues. 

It is the land of “llicorella” , which quickly changes from the gently undulating mountain slopes to abrupt cliff faces where an observer always poses the question as to how on earth they even dared to plant vineyards here!

Born of the soil and the region’s specific climate, vines planted here tend to suffer and as a result harvest yields are very low – at less than 1 kg per plant on average. This however means that the wines produced in this area have a very unique personality .

Not coincidentally, you can taste a rousing mineral element in almost every good Priorat red.

-  Schist. Locally called “llicorella” (slate).

-  Palaeozoic schists. Lithic Xerorthents.

-  Rocky soil.

-  Decomposed slate strata with siliceous materials and limestone cements.

-  Not calcareous.

-  Slightly acid.

-  Very low organic matter (less than 2%).

-  Very stony (20 – 50% by volume).

-  Low fertility + rocky soils = very low yields.

Recommended red varietals:  Grenache, Carignan. 

Permitted red varietals:  Hairy Grenache, Tempranillo, Piquepoul, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah.

White varietals:  White Grenache, Macabeu, Pedro Ximénez, Chenin Blanc, Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, Xarello, Piquepoul.

The most planted grape varieties in the Priorat  are red ones. Carinyena (Carignan)  and Garnatxa (Grenache)  are the most important native varieties:

Carinyena:  Late budding and very late rippening. Extreme variety in every way: high yielding and high in acid, colour and generally tough tannins. To be blended with finer varieties. It contributes intensity, depth and concentrated fruit flavours. Known as Mazuelo in Rioja and Carignane in France.

Garnatxa: Early budding and late rippening. Potencially very high sugar level in the berries, which lose colour if yiels are too high. Moderate acidity levels at best. Good drought resistence . Often blended. It contributes richness, juiciness, body and density. Known as Grenache in France.