And today, on 8th March, our humble tribute to the working woman. We chose a conversation between two women: Sara Pérez, our Sara, and an incredible woman, Maria Carme Simó, from Bellmunt. She is, first of all, a farmer, but she was also president of the CIT (Tourist Initiative Centre), mayor of Bellmunt del Priorat, and president of the Gratallops Cooperative. Determined, with a strong character and full of humility.
The scene: her house, her dining room. The background: the vineyard, the plot. She admits that she likes it, and although now she gets very tired, she still goes there to do the pruning, green pruning, the first fertilisation, the first and the only one (the vine well sprayed, from top to bottom), and then the grapes harvesting.
76 years old, and you can notice her strength and simplicity. She shows tenderness and a great enthusiasm. When we talk about her career, she seems surprised, like she did not choose it, but she did choose it, “because they could have left, but they stayed”. Yes, they were some of those who stayed to work the land, like their grandparents and great-grandparents. Without any female role model, she lost her mother when she was 8 years old. She went on with her life, and she finished working in the fields, like “her father, her uncles and aunts, everyone… the entire family”. And when Sara asks her if she was the only woman, she answers yes, of course. All of them were men, but she was comfortable, so she stayed there, with them, at the top of the hierarchical structures.
The farmer Maria Carme has vines, olive trees, hazel trees, and a couple of almond trees. The task she prefers is pruning, and she does not know why. “I like pruning, even though the vines are old and ugly. (…) Some of them are very ugly. Others are not ugly, they are beautiful and big, like this”. She asks Sara: “You are a technician, (…) Why? Because they had to plant them in a single line…” She tells us that his godfather planted them, and he planted them when he had some money, because they did not go to the bank to find money. But the father did not plant any vine. This means that her vines must be more than 100 years old, but they have never been analysed to be sure of it, logically… She has a vineyard, all the grapes of which are Garnacha, and a very fertile land with a lot of grass in spring: “Every season, there is a different kind of grass. Now, it is blue, now there are small yellow flowers, white flowers, some buds, and finally more yellow and white flowers (…) And I don’t see the vines!”
Sara asks her if there is generational replacement, and she says: “I have my neighbour, a young boy who studied in Falset and Tarragona”. However, she also talks to us about his nephew, who has planted vines, and about other less young people like the boy next to her, who are still young after all. These people have been buying and working estates. In Bellmunt, at least, not so many estates have disappeared.
To talk about the determined Maria Carme, we go back to the old Priorat, where all the farmers were members of the cooperative and “cooperatives were having a difficult time, they didn’t sell the wine (…) and farmers went their own way”, says Maria Carme. A chief executive from Madrid “in times of Franco” thought that Priorat deserved to be considered, and the CIT (Tourist Initiative Centre) was created, a kind of tourism office dedicated to make Priorat known everywhere. It was invited to trade shows around Spain, and Carme was elected president soon after its foundation. She was the president for 25 years. Sara asks her what they promoted, and she, amused, answers “smoke”. Because in Priorat there were not restaurants or accommodation yet. In fact, if the area was known, it was as a wine region, not as a touristic destination. Therefore, “It was something rather advanced for that time, something that maybe didn’t work that much, but…” mentions Sara.
Democracy came, municipal elections for the different councils were held, and Maria Carme was elected mayor of Bellmunt in the first elections. In fact, when Sara asks her “How did you come up with the idea of becoming mayor?” she answers, as expected: “The idea of being mayor didn’t come to my mind”. It came to her by chance, and she could have said no, but she didn’t, and she dared to be mayor in a moment when there were only 7 female mayors in Catalonia.
A bit later, she was elected president of the Gratallops Cooperative. Again, they proposed it to her, it was not her idea. She also accepted this time; she did not think about saying no. She accepted, and she was president in a very difficult moment for cooperatives. We must remind that “farmers went their own way”. In fact, Maria Carme was on the board of the Bellmunt Cooperative, but they decided to distance themselves and leave the regional cooperative, and it was then that she went to the Gratallops Cooperative. The Bellmunt Cooperative did not prosper; as a matter of fact, it disappeared. An intuition? She does not know, but there must be something.
This career gave her recognition for her work and for the fact of being a woman, and as such, she was invited to many events. She talks about gigs that she has always tried to avoid, because “What can I say? What can people say about me?” She has always found excuses to not to go to any event: “A lot of work and many problems”. Sara talks about her being an example, and she admits that maybe she is one, but she adds that “I didn’t ask for it”. She does not remember everything she brought to the cooperative and its way of working. She is aware that she changed things, there was a before and an after. She gives Jaume Ciurana, who was the president of the Catalonia Wine Institute (INCAVI) at that time, credit for the changes. He was a person who loved Priorat and wine, oenologist and from the region, and he wanted to change things: “To sell the wine, things must be done well, and we must take care of the grapes from the moment we plant them until the wine is sold”. They went to the different cooperatives repeating the same speech, and “people listened to them and they thought it was music to their ears”. We need to think that there was no bottling at that time, Escaladei was the only winery that bottled. It was the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s. She tells us that “they came with your father, René Barbier and all those, because yes, people paid well for the grapes, and many people left the cooperative because they didn’t collect money in the cooperative”. The wine had to be sold, but as Maria Carme’s father said: “People have to sell, but they also have to collect money”.
She did many things as president. First of all, she was advised by the Cooperatives Federation (Federació de Cooperatives), which means that she accepted that she did not know everything. Then, and maybe it is the most important thing, she hired a manager. “Because there must be a manager. A farmer doesn’t need to know or spend the whole day there, because he/she has work to do in the plot, so he/she can’t spend the whole day there, in an office”. Little by little, the cooperative progressed, and “now we collect money every month”. She says it as if it was something important because, in fact, it is.
Maria Carme: “Had it not been for us, this group of people. Neither René Barbier, nor Àlvaro Palacios or Carlos Pastrana would have found anything if the cooperative didn’t exist. Faced with the evidence, farmers had to do things well. People from other places had to come here to make them understand, because the locals didn’t believe them”.
Sara: “This has happened in many places, but it also has something to do with tiredness, with seeing things from the inside, when you have struggled, when you have worked, and you don’t progress. You don’t see it, they tell you, and you don’t see it, you don’t do it. Then, someone does it, and you say: ‘Ah, maybe’. But… right? We need to learn. It is what you say… we don’t know about it…”
Maria Carme: “Then, some visionaries that must have believed us or I don’t know what”.
Sara: “You saw it before, but you had an intuition, because you struggled before anything was evident”.
It is curious that they were not aware of the struggle, of everything they defended and all the work they did to keep…. but it is true that, from the cooperative, a good job was done. From the cooperative, and also from Assumpció Peyra from Escaladei, Magdalena from Masia Barril (the winery did not bottle, but it was present in every trade show to defend wines from Priorat), August from Celler Cecilio, and many other people who believed in Priorat when it was nothing, among whom there was “that chief executive… What was his name? (…) If he saw it, he would be astonished, poor man. Because that man saw it too”.
We ask her if she would have done something in a different way: “No, I don’t think so. Maybe I don’t think too far ahead, and now, even less. Now I think of today, because every day brings me something different,” she says, very convinced.
Sara asks her if she drinks wine, and she tells us: “A little, on Sundays” with the family, with her sisters. She likes it, and she always has two bottles in the kitchen, but she only drinks wine on Sundays. She mainly gives wine, as Jaume Ciurana said and always remembers.
And as expected, Sara must ask about rancio wines: “And rancio wines? Have you ever made any rancio wine?” A barrel of rancio wine that her father started, a rancio wine from white wine (because rancio wines from red wine go bad). “And do you drink that rancio wine?” Sara asks her. “Yes, I like it, with something sweet. I like to drink it when I eat something sweet”. We try it, and we made a toast. Rancio wine with pastries, such a luxury!
Thank you, Maria Carme. It has been a pleasure talking with you and talking about everything you represent.