Sao del Coster – Gratallops – #SundaySips

25 Oct
gratallops7

Village of Gratallops – Monsant Range in the Background – Image Courtesy of http://www.turismepriorat.org

Day 3: We checked out of the lovely Cal Compte, bid farewell to Graciela and Vincente, and navigated our way out of Torroja, and made the long trek to Gratallops (10 minutes).

Career Major (that's Main Street to you) in Torroja

Career Major (that’s Main Street to you) in Torroja – door to Cal Compte first arched door on left

We arrived at the central plaça in the village of Gratallops (pop. 300) at 9:00 a.m. and there stood ex-pat Timmer Brown of Catalunya Wine (@CatalunyaWine and http://www.catalunyawine.com ). I had connected with Timmer through Mike at Please Bring Me My Wine (@PBMMW) in the UK. In the beginning, I did not know that Timmer was Canadian and a hapless Toronto Maple Leafs fan. But, once I did, I knew that I had a hook. We greeted Timmer in the typical Canadian fashion (for the uninitiated, that’s a 2-4 of Molson Golden, a pound of back bacon, and Tim Horton’s double-doubles). Timmer had graciously agreed to show us a bit of the flavour of Priorat through its wineries and through the relationships that he has built over the past little while with wineries there. Timmer works with wineries in Catalunya – promoting, assisting with social media and building web sites. We couldn’t have been more appreciative of his enthusiasm or generosity. After the usual incredibly tight parking endeavour, he led us to our first winery, Sao del Coster.

plaque

A plaque outside the door at Sao del Coster – granting Qualification for DOQ Priorat

Now, if we were expecting a separate new building with flashy signage, we would have been disappointed. Sao del Coster is located on a narrow street amongst residences and other mysterious businesses. We knocked on the door of the top floor of the winery (there are three floors – that’s what real gravity fed looks like) to no avail. We wandered down the sloping street around to the other side of the building which was the first floor and knocked again. We were greeted by Xavier Barrachina, Sao del Coster’s winemaker. He goes by the name of Javy and having  a nickname just fits him – informal, accommodating, friendly.

A Misty Morning View From the Terrace at Sao del Coster

A misty morning view from the terrace at Sao del Coster

Xavier took us up to the top floor (stairs were a bit narrow and one staircase was a spiral one – where are the worker safety inspectors?) where the fun begins. We weren’t there five minutes when one of the investor/owners, Michel Grupper, arrived with his two young children to talk business and with him was Frédéric Duseigneur, a consulting eonologist and biodynamic specialist. What a great coincidence to spend some time talking about the business of Sao del Coster, their biodynamic processes and further ambitions. Sao del Coster is a biodynamic operation. And biodynamic isn’t just different processes, it’s different beliefs and values. Frédéric talked to us about the ‘energy’ in the vineyard soils, the plant, the grape, the barrel. It was a fascinating discussion and reinforced my belief that, in great wine is passion.

Sao del Coster makes approximately 50,000 bottles a year, including their Galicia project. It’s smallish but stay tuned, I’ll be talking about smaller enterprises in further posts.

“When I grow up, I want to be wine.” Sao del Coster primary ferment

Xavier said, “Enough talking – let’s taste”. What? It’s 9:30 a.m. Who do you think I am? I actually swallow my sips, remember. But, as Timmer put it, “It’s never too early to taste good wine.” So, we entered the tasting room……..which just happened to be the same room we were standing in.

We began the Sao del Coster tasting with their Rias Baixas white – ‘X’. Rias Baixas? Yes, Sao del Coster has a Galicia project that’s been running a few years. I like Rias Baixas whites. But, I have to tell you that a crisp, salty white at 9:30 a.m. doesn’t gently arose your taste buds. It screams them awake. An interesting study might be the reviews given by professional tasters in the morning versus the afternoon. This tough love might have been what we really needed to get started but it didn’t provide me with a good opportunity to experience the wine the way I’d have liked. My hint at perhaps having a free bottle or two ‘to go’ to better feel this wine fell on deaf ears. If their craftsmanship on their reds is any example, I’m confident that this 100% Albariño is full value.

2013 Pim, Pam, Poom - Image courtesy of www.saodelcoster.com

2013 Pim, Pam, Poom – Image courtesy of http://www.saodelcoster.com

We started the reds with their ‘fun’ wine – Pim Pam Poom. Xavier explained that ‘pim, pam, poom’ is a Spanish (or was it Catalan?) expression similar to ‘easy, peasy, lemon squeezy’. The name is perfect for this wine. It had the weight and vibe of a fresh Beaujolais. That’s a compliment. If you’ve been playing along at home, you know that I appreciate good Beaujolais. Fresh, on the lighter side for a Priorat red – a chill wouldn’t hurt this wine. It’s 100% Garntaxa so tannins are subdued and red fruit is king. No oak. If they wanted people to enjoy this in the summer with nibbles – Mission Accomplished. I just checked their web site and there are no bottles of this left. Understandable, since they made only 2,300 bottles last vintage.

2012 'S' - Image courtesy of www.saodelcoster.com

2012 ‘S’ – Image courtesy of http://www.saodelcoster.com

The next wine was one that I think we have had in our market – S. This is a blend of Garnatxa, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. Digression: I was surprised by the amount of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah that is being used in Priorat. They’re never the dominant grape but supporting cast members and seem to be the more common grapes in new plantings. You could smell the presence of oak with this wine. I’m thinking a short period but still there. This had a bit of heat, 15% ABV, on the first sip but like many of these wines, you don’t notice it as a hindrance but a quality that grows on you. This would be a great introduction to DOQ Priorat red wines, if you haven’t had them. I’m a little fuzzy on the price point but I’m thinking it was around 18€.

terram

2008 Terram – OK, it may look like I was drinking in bed. But, the nightstand at the hotel was the best place to take the picture. Really. Notwithstanding the fact that I do drink in bed.

The last wine we tried was the 2008 Terram. I love this wine! Garnatxa, Cariñena and a little CS and Syrah combine to give this dark and smoky red lovely balance and a smoothness that I bet we wouldn’t have found until its last few years. So far, our experience with Priorat red blends told us that the nose is almost always Garnatxa – red fruits. This one is 14% ABV, which I think is a sweet spot for this bold, full-bodied, dusty red. Medium length finish and that’s when you get the mineral hit – the schist, llicorella, slate or whatever else you might want to call it comes through. Price point is 25€. In a Priorat red, that’s mid range. Took some of this with us when we left.

Xavier with my Friend, Marty

Xavier with my friend, Marty. Drinking DOQ Priorat at 9:30 a.m. Our tasting table in the foreground How great is that?

Fortunately, as in all businesses, things need to get done and a 4X4 pulled up on the street upstairs with a load of Garnatxa that needed unloading. All hands on deck! Michel’s children, Xavier, Timmer, the pickers (there were 2) and my friend and I unloaded the grapes from the truck. Well OK, I didn’t really do that much. The amazing thing to me was that all these grapes were hand harvested, carried from the terraces down to the truck (that may be no small feat – check out the picture in my first Priorat post here), trucked to the winery 30 crates or so at a time (25 pounds to a crate) and then hand bombed into the winery upon arrival there. It just doesn’t work like that in most wine growing regions. The lack of mechanization and high volumes was quite noticeable

Now, do you know what an empty 4X4 means? Road trip! Timmer, my friend and I hopped into the truck and Xavier said, “Now the fun begins. Trying to get out of town without killing somebody.” Did I tell you that the streets were narrow?

Off we went, out of the village on to the main road to and from Gratallops until we came to a farm lane that led us down off the pavement and through the vineyards. Winding through different parcels of Garnatxa, Cariñena and olive trees is like crack to Rob Ford for yours truly. Up and down through terraces of beautiful gnarled vines. Different unsigned parcels owned by families for years all running together in a cryptic quilt. We stopped by one of the Sao del Coster vineyard parcels that looked out over the valley, across to Gratallops – the view looked almost exactly like the picture at the top of this post.

Beside the vineyard was a fenced compound and the mules were stirring. Xavier said, “The mules are restless. Before we check the vines, I have to feed them.” Why mules, you ask? Well, the terraced vineyards are so narrow and steep that the wineries cannot use traditional motorized vehicles to plow the terraces. They use mules. Cool.

Xavier Feeds the Mules at Sao del Coster

Xavier feeds the mules at Sao del Coster

After the mules, Xavier took us to a section of the vineyard that held Cariñena, Garnatxa, and Syrah. Some of the Garnatxa was already picked. He asked us to assess the pick worthiness (that’s a winemakers terms, BTW) of the Cariñena in the picture below.

Cariñena still on the Vine - Sao del Coster - Gratallops

Cariñena on the vine – Sao del Coster – Gratallops – good view of the llicorella

We picked a couple grapes, squeezed them into our mouths and I said, “Well, I have no friggin’ idea, Javy. But, since they are still here, I’d say, not ready yet.” I was right. The grapes weren’t ready – still a week and a half away. Although they do use the technical tools available, Xavier still relies primarily on experiencing the grape to determine readiness.

billinvineyardsdc

Yours truly and Xavier discussing the advantages of long pants over shorts

We hung out in the vineyard for about 30 minutes and then back in the 4X4 and returned to the winery. Before we left for our next winery, Xavier asked us to sample some 2013 wine from barrel. We returned to the barrel room and began the arduous and exacting task of extracting wine from barrel. OK, it isn’t that exacting or hard.

We saw, we tasted, we played in a field, we bought, and then we said our goodbyes to Xavier, Michel, and Frédéric and wandered off with Timmer down the street to our next tasting at Clos Figueras.

cratessdc

What a great way to taste but, more importantly, to understand wine. In this case, we developed an appreciation of the actual work that goes into the beverage we love. But, more than that we better understood the passion of Xavier and the folks at Sao del Coster. The paradoxical nature of biodynamic farming – the complexity of our controlling natures and the simplicity of working in tune with all of nature.

I have decided that if I could set the Wayback Machine, I’d start my working life as a mule at Sao del Coster in Gratallops. Oh, I know you’re saying, “But, Bill at least twice a year, you have to put on the yoke of slavery and pull a plough through a terraced vineyard”. Yes, I get it, but the rest of the year, you get to stand around with your buddies in a lovely vineyard, eat food already prepared by someone else, and leave the seat up without recrimination. Wait, would I get to drink wine? No? Well, maybe then I’ll pass on the mule concept.

Related Posts:

Priorat – Day 1 Torroja, Porrera

Priorat – Day 2

If you want to learn more about Sao del Coster:

http://www.saodelcoster.com

Other references used:

http://www.catalunyawine.com

http://www.turismepriorat.org/en

http://www.vinologue.com

3 Responses to “Sao del Coster – Gratallops – #SundaySips”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Clos Figueras – Gratallops – #SundaySips | Duff's Wines - November 1, 2015

    […] On our third, and last, day in Priorat we visited three wineries in Gatallops. We were escorted by Timmer Brown of Catalunya Wine (@catalunyawine & http://www.catalunyawine.com ). If your interest in Catalunya wine has been piqued by my posts, visit Timmer’s site to learn more. Last time out it was Sao del Coster. You can view my post on our visit here. […]

  2. Celler Devinssi – Gratallops – #SundaySips | Duff's Wines - November 8, 2015

    […] can read about our tasting at Clos Figueras here and the early morning tasting at Sao del Coster here. As we stabbed the last piece of sausage (and that did not come out like I had hoped), we were […]

  3. International Mourvedre Day, Anyone? – The Red Daily Slosh | Duff's Wines - April 1, 2016

    […] were in Spain last fall. You can read my posts about our trip to Priorat here, here, here, here, and […]

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