We spend the whole month of November 2019 in Spain. Now we are staying in the appartment of our friends in L’Hospitalet de l’Infant. One day we go for an excursion to Montroig del Camp (where we buy leather bags from our favourite leather workshop) and then drive through the Llaberia mountains to the Priorat, to Bellmunt. On the way, we stop at the Ermità de la Mare de Déu.
La Ermità de la Mare de Déu de la Roca – spectacular location
So far we have always ignored the signs pointing to the Ermità de la Mare de Déu de la Roca, when driving through the Llaberia mountains. This time, we turn left and arrive under this sandstone rock with the mysterious building on top. It is the Ermità de la Mare de Déu de la Roca, and I can understand, why this ermità is called “de la Roca”.
The ermità is closed. Turismo of Montroig shows, what it looks like inside. Their site explains that the ermità, going back to the 13th century, has been ingeniously integrated with the red rock. Yes I agree, But – red rocks? Now I understand, why the village Montroig del Camp is called “Redmountain” (in Catalan “roig”, pronounced “rotsh/rotsch”, means red and “mont” is “mountain”): Montroig lies in the fields at the foot of the red sandstone mountains.
We enjoy the view towards Tarragona, with olive groves, forests and the Mediterranean Sea.
Then we climb up to the viewpoint with the pictoresque sandstone formations shaped by wind an water.
From the “sandy” rock, we look back to the ermità. Gorgeous place and very secluded.
We continue on curvy roads across the picturesque Llaberia mountains to reach Bellmunt in the Priorat.
Bellmunt – quiet village of winegrowers in the Priorat
Bellmunt stretches along a mountain edge above the river Suirana.
The table mountain Monsant can be seen in the background.
The village is surrounded by vineyards,…
… and almond trees.
Bellmunt belongs to the wine area Priorat, one of the two highest Quality or DOQ wine areas of Spain. A panel at the village parking shows the nine wine producing villages of the Priorat.
Casa Gran del Siurana is one of the bodegas of Bellmunt. According to their website, the bodega was founded in 2000 and belongs to the Peralada Group, a family owned commercial conglomerate from the Empordà (Catalonia).
This bodega is named after a large house or “casa gran” located on the banks of the river Siurana; it once was inhabited by Carthusian monks from the monastery Scala Dei that owned all nine Priorat villages and introduced vines here in the 12th century.
We slender through the vineyards of Bellmunt that shine in autumn colours…
… and cross a small affluent of the river Siurana.
We admire the elaborate terraces made from stone and…
… carved into the steep mountain slopes.
We return to the village…
… and stroll through the narrow streets with the laundry hanging on the windows.
The village was vivid, when we arrived, as it was full of joyful children returning from school. The smell of lunch was in the air. Now the streets are empty and quiet, it is siesta time. We even do not find a bar open to have a coffee.
We decide to return to our appartment in Hospitalet by driving through the hills of the Montsant DO. We take a foto of this Monsant vinyeard near El Guyamets. The DO Montsant wine region forms a ring around the DOQ Priorat and in general, the Montsant vineyards are less steep and the vines planted more densely. Some innovative villages and wine growers also make excellent Montsant wines, one of the most successful being the Celler of Capçanes.
Some backgorund Information about the DOQ Priorat
Having arrived in L’Hospitalet de l’Infant, we stop at the city library, where we find an excellent book about the villages and winegrowers of the Priorat, written by Sebastian Alba : «Més enllà del vi – DOQ Priorat », Barcelona 2012. It gives general information about the Priorat wine area and each winegrower of the Priorat has a chapter of his own to talk about his background and about his bodega. Though the book is written in Catalan, we understand pretty much of it, as we speak both French and Spanish. From this book we learn:
- The Carthusian monks of the monastery Scala Dei (ladder of God) introduced vines to the Priorat in the 12th century. They owned what is today the DOQ area of Priorat, and the name “Priorat” still reminds of the monastery.
- The fate of the village Bellmunt is connected with their plumb mines. They were closed in 1972 which caused an exodus of inhabitants. The mines can now be visited and a museum tells all about them.
- In the late 1990’s and beginnings of 2000 seven bodegas were established in Bellmunt, mostly family enterprises. The vineyards of one of them, La Gran Casa de Siurana, I have photographed, and another one, Rosa Maria Bartolomé Vernet, is the offspring of a family that immigrated from Andalusia to work in the mines. When the mines closed down, this family stayed. They started their wine growing business in 1997.
“Vinos de España”, Editions Larousse 2008 tells us more about the Priorat. The Priorat is mostly hills, some very steep – up to 30-40%, called “costers”. The best wines come from slate fragmented ground that is called “licorello” here. The Priorat wines have been almost forgotten in the 20th century and revived in the 1980’s thanks to four innovative winegrowers. In 2001 the Priorat received the label DOQ. Today about 22 winegrowers produce Priorat wine that is renowned in the large wine markets of the world and can be ordered in the best restaurants. The Priorat vineyards comprise just 1600 ha in all. 1600 ha… compare that to Rioja, the second of the two DOQ wine regions in Spain: Rioja comprises 48’000 ha. The total of vineyards of the Priorat makes just 3.3% of the total of the vineyards of Rioja. Rioja being so close to France has evolved since the 19th century, when the French turned to the Rioja area, after having been hit by Phylloxera. Rioja is stunning with some prestige winegrowers that have engaged the best architects of the world to build enormous bodegas. The Priorat is more modest with its nine villages crouched on hills among steep vineyards, where vines grow uncongestedly on terraces; the bodegas are sober and functional, mostly owned by families some of which have relations to larger companies from other Spanish wine areas.
Rioja and Priorat – both DOQ regions have their own charm, though being very, very different.