We go to the Falset Cooperative to talk with its president, Ricard Rull, and the head of wine tourism Maria Martí. We are welcomed outside the most emblematic building in Falset: the Wine Cathedral, a modernist building designed by the architect Cèsar Martinell. Like most of the cooperative wineries at the beginning of the century, and thanks to the financing obtained by the Bank of Valls (Banc de Valls), the Falset cooperative winery was able to be built in 1919.
If the outside part of the building impresses, the inside impresses even more. Its height and the basilica plan (main nave and two side ones, a church) show us that utility and aesthetics can be perfectly combined. And as a relic, the two wooden tanks full of vermouth, original from 1919, incredible! And the building materials are very simple, cheap and easy to get: bricks and stone; but used with exceptional functional grace.
Catalan vaults support the tanks, now made of stainless steel and cement, and “make sure there is a constant circulation of air,” as Maria explains. Therefore, they avoid overheating, and they also communicate corridors and make work easier. Also, the cylindrical underground tanks are separated by ventilated insulating rooms. The building was designed jointly by Cèsar Martinell and the winery’s first wine maker, Erasme M. Imbert, who explained his needs for making wine, and the architect knew how to incorporate it into the design.
The roof is made with wooden trusses, the central nave keeps the original trusses, and Alicante tile, to allow more ventilation. Its lightness made it possible to work on rather decorative brick columns, highlighting the elegance of the building. Also original, there is the water tank on the outside part that we can now see by accessing one of the outdoor terraces where the empty demijohns rest, but in a very few days they will be full of wine kept outside day and night (sol i serena), the future rancio wine. Considered one of the stars of the winery, especially in the 60s and 70s, when a large part of the production was sent to Barcelona.
Back inside, we access one side of the building where we find the experimental winery, the old access to the oil mill, which now houses cement eggs and demijohns. Trying new things. “It’s never being still,” Ricard tells us.
The Falset Cooperative is currently made up of 350 members and, obviously, the most important section is the wine section. But it hasn’t always been like this. “Other activities, such as the sale of eggs, apples or cereals, have become economically more important activities for the members at other times,” explains the President.
This building, like others from the same period, represents the visible architectural manifestation of what agricultural cooperatives in Catalonia were at that time. At the end of the 19th century, in the middle of the phylloxera crisis, the country looked for new ways to organise the economic and social interests of the countryside.
Farmers and owners made a united front against the crisis: through structures of vertical solidarity, they tried to adapt agriculture to the new conditions of the agricultural markets; keep a certain social peace and invest to “adopt new agricultural techniques to promote agricultural growth, and appease the social demands of farmers”1 This investment entailed the construction of complex and efficient infrastructures such as this winery that we are dealing with.
The professionalisation of the cooperative meant a before and an after, and above all, it was the key to the survival of the entity. The members are organised in a Governing Board made up of 12 members, from among whom the president, the secretary and the treasurer are elected. But the cooperative would not need this Board to work, because the members set the guidelines and collaborate in everything they can with goodwill.
The Cooperative’s infrastructure is very expensive, but nowadays it is clearly committed to the quality of the product. “Nowadays it’s not about producing a lot, but about producing little and with value,” Ricard tells us with conviction. Those years when more than 3 or 4 harvests were owed to members are long gone… Thanks to the good work, the situation has been reversed, and now they are in balance. And the farmer is happy.
The future is about continuing to bet on quality, wine tourism (where the Cooperative has also been a pioneer) and innovative sections, such as the future local energy community, the details of which are being finalised in order to start its activity.
1 Jordi Planas, tesi doctoral.