Weekend Getaway, Day 2 - Scala Dei
Day two started with a lovely breakfast of juice, cafe con leche, toast and sweet bread at our hotel, and then it was off and away to follow our well-thought-out wine tasting itinerary. We headed down the windy road toward Escaladei and marveled at all the vines seeming to magically protrude from the rocky soil. We would learn later in the day that it is precisely those rocks that give the wine its signature mineral flavor.
We, of course, flew right by our first stop Escaladei (okay I was only going like 20, but it felt like we blinked and the village was past us). The wineries don't really have addresses; it's more like "on the road leading to La Villa Baixa" so we were kind of uncertain what we were looking for to begin with. No pasa nada. We made a u-turn, saw a sign for wine, and although it wasn't the winery that was on our itinerary, it looked good to us!
Who knew we would stumble upon such a gem?! We encountered two Catalan gentlemen who kindly offered us a private tour of the facilities followed by tasting. The Cellar Scala Dei is the oldest in the Priorat region and originated from monks living in the old buildings who made the wine. Cool, huh? Our 2 hour tour meandered through the area where the grapes are sorted and chosen, past the huge storage tanks, through the warehouse where the wine is kept on pallets and into the ancient room where the barrels of wine are kept to mature for about 12 months. It was so incredible! The glass bottles you see above are some of their best wines, can't remember exactly what they're doing out there, but I thought it was pretty. :)
This is the old part of the building where they store the wine ready for distribution. The region is known for making very high-quality wines, and they sell a large amount in the United States. I did a search on Specs Online using the key words "Priorat" and then "Montsant" and actually found many of the region's wines. I didn't find any from Scala Dei, but I know they're out there!
This giant room of tanks was so modern against the more historical backdrop of the village and architecture. I loved, however, that they are very proud and very careful to preserve the landscape in the wine. They use modern technology to the extent that it helps with production but not to the extent that it would interfere with the integrity of the wine. We learned that the rocky soil is actually slate, and you can taste the mineral in the mostly Grenache and Carinyena grapes.
Another fabulous big, old door! If you notice, the date above the door says 1692, although I believe our guide said that the room actually dates back farther than that.
Behind the door! The walls were almost a meter thick, so the room was cool and climate-controlled for the wine to age. These oak barrels are bought from either the US or France and can only be used for up to 3 years.
Time to taste! After seeing exactly how the wine was made and learning about the history of the region and the vines, it was time to taste. The bottles pictured above ranged in prices from 9 to 16 Euro.
We tasted another of their celebrated, more expensive wines not pictured here called Cartoxia which I believe was about 35 Euro.
I loved hearing about the vines and the cultivation process. There are basically three different ways they grow the grapes, either on flat lands in the valleys, on terraces up the hillside or on slopes. The sloped areas are the hardest to farm and are thus the more expensive wines.
Part of the fun of the experience was getting to know our Catalan guide! I believe his name was Fernan but I'm probably spelling it wrong. He is a rock climber who moved to the region ten years ago and now has two little girls who attend a small school in another village called Calabaces. I loved hearing his passion for the area, his pride in Catalunyan wines and just generally getting to know him. He gave us most of the tour in English, but I got practice my Spanish as well. The Catalunyans also have their own language, but we haven't mastered much yet aside from please, thank you and hello. I think my mother would probably say that's a good place to start! Manners! :)
Tasting for the joy of tasting and learning about the wine is a relatively new phenomenon in this area and in Spain in general. Scala Dei had only been offering tours for the past 8 months and wasn't yet listed on the materials we had received at our hotel from the local tourism office. They joked that this is their only marketing thus far - that green chalkboard leaned against the Cellar advertising the tours. Worked for us!
This large room was adjacent to the bodega where they sell their wine, olive oils and other wares. The family who owns the cellar uses it for dinners and family functions. How cool, right?! I could just see our family and friends drinking wine, laughing and basically having a great time in here.
The bodega and our guide! We felt so lucky to have stumbled upon Scala Dei for our first stop. We were probably there for over 2 hours and felt like we were given the royal treatment with the private tour, delicious wines, and great conversation with our new Catalan friends.
The Catalan men of Scala Dei! :) Yuri and Fernan (I'm sorry if I'm butchering your names.)
I was absolutely giddy after our time at Scala Dei. We ended up doing an olive oil tasting as well in the bodega and walked away with a bottle of wine, a bottle of YUMMY olive oil and a jar of olives. I don't think we could have asked for a better first tasting experience in the Priorat. To stumble upon the oldest cellar, have a private tour and tasting and to have learned so much about the region, the people and the culture of wine here. Buenisimo!
After we left the village of Escaladei, we were a little behind schedule (no pasa nada). So we decided to skip winery #2 in Cornudella de Montsant and maybe try to fit it in later. So it was off to Gratallops....