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THE ORIGINS

THE OENOLOGY SCHOOL OF FALSET

THE OENOLOGY SCHOOL OF FALSET

In 1982, when we got permission to offer the advanced/second-degree vocational/professional training (Certificate of Higher Education) in vine growing and oenology, we became fully involved in these studies, and in the following academic year, we had more enrolled students. Besides the boys and girls from the region, and other neighbour regions, many sons and daughters of cava producers from Penedès also came to attend these studies.
First, in order to learn about this speciality as quickly as possible, we went two summers to Bordeaux to talk with professors at the Oenology University and visit the oenological stations. We talked with the specialists of the region and asked them questions in order to understand the scope of this speciality and the parameters that defined it, which were mostly the importance of the quality of the wines and how this quality defined the prices. All this regarding the winemaker, because this is what interested us. We needed to be clear about how we had to work in order to become excellent oenologists and, on this basis, be able to transmit it to the students.

Obviously, we had to stick to the subjects of the program, but I wanted something more, based on the Confucius’s principle “I learn by doing it”. I already applied this principle at the school Viaró, but there the budget was enough to allow the students to have the material, the tools and the equipment to “learn by doing things”. However, at the school of Falset, we had to manage, both students and teachers, because our department’s budget did not have the basic elements to “do”, what was essential to learn.
Once I understood that we could not only rely on the school budget, I decided to look for financial means through the practices that we were going to do during the academic year.

One of the things we did were the research projects (treballs de recerca). The Ministry of Education (Conselleria d’Ensenyament) launched a call for school research projects every year, the CIRIT awards, with cash awards. This was extraordinary because we killed two birds with one stone! When I was teaching and a subject from which we could take an experience was risen, we established it, and it was given to a group of two or three students who were interested in it. This way, every class did different experiences, and the entire class understood them, because the students saw the results. Every year, we submitted three or four experiences, and the ones which were lucky enough to be awarded represented money which helped us to increase the income of the department. We did it for 5 years, and we submitted 15 research projects in total, 7 of which were awarded. These awards were given at the Palau de la Generalitat, and students and teachers went there to accept them. This was very important because the students were well motivated, and as a consequence, the learning process was much more effective.

Another thing we did was daily pruning. The pruning time came, and I thought to take this opportunity for the students to learn how to prune by pruning.
I contacted the owner of a vineyard, and I proposed him to prune his estate with the students, at a reasonable cost. I promised him that I would always be there, teaching the students and supervising their work. He agreed to it, and we did it for a couple of years.

The third activity was to make a wine, bottle it and sell it. This entailed buying the grapes, between the students and the teachers. We proposed it to the parents, and they found it very positive. Therefore, besides the wine-making practice, they would also practise the commercial concept. Taking advantage of the fact that we had grapes, we did different experiences, such as carbonic maceration and sparkling wine experiences, and more.

The students were really motivated, and there was an excellent environment in the classrooms, which made the students learn very well. Using this good atmosphere, we thought that it would be interesting for the students to visit the most important wine-making regions in Europe. And this is what we did, at the end of the academic year and after the exams, we rented a coach with driver, and we were ready to travel around Europe!

We managed to reduce the overall travel costs. We stayed in campsites, which was something much more motivating and informal for the students. Rafel, a cook from Falset, came with us, and he cooked our meals. We took the cooking utensils from the school residence kitchen and we carried provisions for a week.
Montse and I prepared, months before, the visits to different producers and wineries or wine institutes. We did it for 4 years, from 1984 until 1988. Therefore, we visited the regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, the Changins School in Switzerland, the Geisenheim Grape Breeding Institute in Germany, Alsace, the Italian Piedmont, etc.

They were very useful trips, because we made 3 or 4 visits every day, and the students already had some questions written. In the morning, the cook made our breakfast, and he gave us a sandwich for lunch. At the end of the day, we went back to the campsite and the cook made our dinner. After dinner, we sat in a circle and we talked about the visits and the remaining doubts for the following day. Two students had to write a summary of all the visits of the trip to distribute it later to everyone.

Those were very intense years, because I was able to apply the teaching method that I learned from Professor Piaget during my studies in Switzerland. However, when the school began to depend on the Ministry of Education (Conselleria d’Ensenyament), it was all over. We could not buy grapes collectively, to make wine and sell it, we could no longer do many experiences because there was not enough money… Anyway, I will always remember those years like a period when we were able to stimulate all those young people to be trained in order to work for society. Nowadays, most of them are making wine around the regions of Catalonia, and many of them are the ones who make up the group of wine producers of the current Priorat.

José Luis Pérez Ovejero y Montse Ovejero

Mas Martinet

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AROUND THE 1980s… THE TWO JAUMES CIURANA

AROUND THE 1980s… THE TWO JAUMES CIURANA  

This year 2021, in August, it will be 40 years since we arrived in Priorat, Montse, Sara, Núria, Adrià and I (Jordi was born some years later). We came from Sant Cugat, from the metropolitan area where we had many possibilities and offers, but we were looking for the warmth of nature. I grew up and lived in the countryside until I was 25 years old, so it was like going back to my roots.

In 1981, I was offered the management of the school known at that time as Sant Pau. The principal was the priest Jaume Ciurana, who was soon to retire and needed a substitute. This priest had promoted a parent association and founded the school. It included primary education from Year 1 to Year 8, and vocational/professional training studies with different specialties.

40 years ago, Falset and Priorat were not what they are now. There were few young people in the towns of the region, and they worked in Reus and Tarragona. Neither grapes, nor hazelnuts or olives were sold at a price which allowed to balance the accounts. And, of course, old people got older, the crops were neglected, and the few remaining young people left the town and went to the city. Schools in small towns were closed because there were not enough children. This is the situation we found when we came here.

The Sant Pau school was an opportunity for teenagers to learn a trade. It offered agricultural, administrative, mechanic, electrical and electronic vocational/professional studies. The priest moved heaven and earth to make the school work. Later, “the other” Jaume Ciurana, who was the president of the Catalonia Wine Institute (INCAVI) at that time, tried to do everything to include the vocational/professional training speciality in vine growing and oenology. This was very interesting for the young people of the region who were sons and daughters of vine growers, but it was also interesting in general because, in Spain, this advanced vocational/professional training speciality didn’t exist, and if you wanted to attend these studies, you had to go to France.

Jaume Ciurana was linked to Falset because his family was from here, and he was interested in promoting the region. He knew the town well. He told me that, if the oenology school was created, it would give prestige to the region of Priorat, which was already known as a classic wine-making region, but wine in bulk. French traders, and some Spanish traders too, bought the wines, mainly to mix them with their own wines, and raise the alcohol level and the intensity of the colour. He said that the school could be used to learn how to make and bottle quality wines, because the grapes already were of excellent quality. This could be a big enrichment for Priorat, and indirectly, for all the Catalan wines. Jaume Ciurana had it clear, but unfortunately, he died early, and he was not able to see what he predicted.

In 1982, with the priest we visited the wine producers (bodegueros) school of Requena, which gave vine growing and oenology contents, but at a first-degree vocational/professional training level, and we were going to start the advanced/second-degree vocational/professional training. I found it very interesting, because this speciality was very suitable for the area, and from the school, we would try to do everything, and more, so that it had a big influence in the region. Actually, this is what happened.

A special building with a wine-making room/cellar, an ageing room/cellar, a laboratory and a tasting room was built, and we started to prepare all the requirements for the beginning of the academic year 83/84. First, we hired an oenologist and an agricultural engineer, because neither Montse nor I knew nothing about this speciality, and we studied a lot. We spent many hours every day studying, we woke up early and we went to sleep late, specially studying oenology.

During the first two years of the school, the two of us taught chemistry and physics to students from all the different specialities: oenologists, administrative assistants, mechanics and electricians. From the third year, we assumed full responsibility for the vine growing and oenology studies, teaching all the contents.

The president of the Catalonia Wine Institute (INCAVI) Jaume Ciurana made an agreement with the school to provide an official wine analysis service, which was accountant to the Oenological Station (l’Estació Enològica) of Reus, and a technical consultancy service in the cooperatives of Terra Alta, Ribera d’Ebre and Priorat. Therefore, the Catalonia Wine Institute (INCAVI), besides making the extension of a new speciality possible, it gave us financial support, contributing with a part of our salaries for our dedication to these services.

A very active period started for us, which we faced with great enthusiasm. We were sure that a new future was being developed, but we did not expect the magnitude it has had, and I would dare to say that the two Jaumes Ciurana planted the seed.

Montse Ovejero and Josep Lluis Pérez
Mas Martinet

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THE ORIGINS

MN. JAUME CIURANA AND THE SCHOOL

MN. JAUME CIURANA AND THE SCHOOL

Last Monday, we were at Mr. Ignasi Puxeu’s house. He was linked for a long time to the Priorat Teachers Association (Associació Docent Priorat), and from there he witnessed first-hand the birth of the vine growing and oenology school of Priorat, specifically the great task developed by the priest Jaume Ciurana to create it.

We met the priest going to Reus with him in one of his business travels. In that time, there were few cars, he remembered. He introduced us to the priest as a man with a very strong character (…) With his strengths and weaknesses. He had in mind the idea of rising the cultural level of Falset and its region. The priest started providing construction and electricity training courses for the Agriculture and Employment Promotion Board (Patronat de Promoció Agrària i de Treball), where the Music Association (Associació Musical) was, behind the church. In its day, that place was a small and run-down sacristy. Because of the courses, the building was repaired, and it became the current building, even though the Ministerio (Ministry) wanted to demolish it, because the works were considered as part of the students’ internship. Mr. Puxeu told us: “He went to Madrid, in times of Franco, to see a minister, I think it was Torcuato, and he told him: ‘Look, here you have the photos of the building as it was before and as it is now.’ He added: ‘What should we do now? Demolish it?’ And, in the exact words of the priest Ciurana: That minister looked at me, and said: You wear a cassock… I haven’t seen you, and I haven’t received anything they have sent me, so do what you want.

The priest reunited the Association and told them that they needed money and a suitable location, and that they had to organise more courses, reach more people. It was on Boxing Day 1961, and as many as 158 people met (in groups of 20 and in different meetings), people committed to make a Pts5,000 non-refundable payment. They continued to provide courses at the abbey, at the music school… and finally at the secondary school… They looked for a place to locate the school (the first idea was the Castle), but Mr. Miquel Puig Cardona, a good citizen of Falset, actually one of the best, because I have met him commercially and personally, a beautiful person, he said, offered him the current plots: “Don’t worry, Mn. Jaume. There, at the mas (farmhouse)… take the plots you need. Go there and choose. Forget about castles.”

And this is how everything started, a 6.5 million pesetas budget, meetings with the Ministry of Education to apply for subsidies, loans (signed by the members themselves): “The Association, 25 members (one of them was me), signed a 2.5 million loan. It was a big amount at that time… quite a lot of money.”  Everything continued to progress until the Association started to provide vocational agricultural training in the plots in front (which were bought for 500,000 pesetas). It wasn’t successful at the beginning, until the vineyard was planted, and that vocational agricultural training was turned into a vocational vine growing and oenology training. He met with Mr. Carol (Falset councillor for Agriculture), different Agriculture delegates… The Government of Catalonia supported vocational agricultural training, but the Association was clear that they wanted professional training. 

Mr. Jaume Ciurana Galceran, president of the Catalonia Wine Institute (INCAVI) and oenologist (and from Falset), agreed that Falset had to aspire to this and more. Falset was between Tarragona, Terra Alta and Priorat, and there was a strong need to have that kind of professional training in the town. Thanks to him, the school carried on, and it was able to provide this professional training with teachers like Josep Lluis Pérez and his wife, Montse Ovejero. “Because we only talk about Josep Lluis Pérez, but I know Montse Ovejero, in the laboratory and in the classes, even though she was in the shadow, she did a lot of work,” he said.

It was a particularly good period for the school and for Falset. People from different places came to attend these studies. The school was expanded, with a building specially designed for these studies, a place where you could follow the whole wine-making process. Mr. Miquel Puig Cardona also ceded the plots, but the Association needed more loans for the construction. The budget was 20 million: a 5-million subsidy and loans, signed again by the Association. Everything was fine, but…

The University of Tarragona offered a speciality in vine growing and oenology, extending the offer in this field. The Government of Catalonia required the school to offer more vocational/professional training, and the Association and the centre wasn’t able to assume all this.  “The priest was old, he wanted to retire, and I was doing the maths.” Finally, it was time to ask The Ministry of Agriculture to take care of it, but they didn’t want, or they weren’t able to do it… No one knows when politics take part in the game. The Association also asked for help from the Council. And this was the end of it. The school had a great success, but it died because of that success.

Mr. Puxeu noted that the school represented a change for Falset and the region, the economic status of the citizens rose. “Before, there were restaurants where the food was substantial and cheap. Then, the food was expensive, but very good.”

We asked Mr. Puxeu where the priest was from, and he told us that the priest was from Arbeca. The priest had estates there, and he sold them. “At the beginning, he brought some apples from his estates to the school. Then, he sold the estates, and I know he did it for the school.” The priest gave so much for the school, even his salary. He told us that, during the first years of the school, they balanced their budget in this way, because the kindergarten was always loss-making. Then, the salary wasn’t enough, so they asked different ministries for money. Thanks to Jaume Ciurana Galceran, the school received help from many ministries of the Government of Catalonia, and this is something to be thankful for, because there was no money at that time.

He finished smiling and saying: “Luckily, it ended well, because today we have the Institute, which does a good job.”  And there is no need to go to Móra, because the general opinion from the Ministry of Education was that the students from Falset had to go to Móra. This is what the priest and the Association wanted to avoid, and what allowed Falset to have, before and now, its own Institute. “Just do the necessary work and send the students to Móra”.  

Thank you very much for all the work and effort put in.