Joan Carles Llach is a potter from Penedès. A lover of Catalan architecture and its importance for the architectural heritage of the country and the world: the Catalan vault (volta catalana), the long 50 cm tile, the tiles gutters (he is maybe one of the only ones who still makes them by hand)… And he enjoys making tiles in the traditional way, with wooden moulds, respecting the different colours given by clay… creating paintings on the floors of the houses, and a curious workshop, as it hangs the wooden moulds from the different roof tiles.
Joan Carles also makes wine. “My grandfather was a farmer, and I harvested grapes since I was 10. I hated the world of winemaking because of everything it involved at that moment (…).” But he finally decided to make wine with the minimum intervention, just as his grandfather made it: stomping them with his feet, without touching the cap, aged in jars… And he offers us a glass of one of his wines. A very wild parellada made with a white clay jar (a very porous one) which gives very drying notes to the wine, and a good structure too. A rock’n’roll.
It took him 10 years to have a more or less consolidated workshop, because he chose a privileged place at 550 m height in Penedès, specifically in the municipality of Font-Rubí. But despite being a privileged place, it was inaccessible too, especially at the beginning (it took him a year and a half to have a phone). Now, obviously, communications and infrastructures have changed, and luckily the world has approached to him, making the job much easier.
In 2010, people asked him if he could make jars to age wine. He agreed to make them, but he didn’t know which clay to use, so he started carrying out tests which lasted between 1 and 2 years. He carried out the tests in very small containers and with already finished wines so that he could get the results faster. He tried different types of soils and mixtures. He currently works with three different types of clay, although he could offer many more.
He thinks that not every kind of clay is good for all wines. Each clay provides different characteristics. In addition to this, each soil has different electrical charges, negative or positive. “Ceramic has always been a great conductor and a great insulator too (depending on the formulation of the soil), and it can be used to get the best of each wine” he explains.
He shows us where he keeps the soils (white, red), and the workshop too. In the workshop, we are surprised to see many potter’s wheels. He does not know how many he has (about 16 or 17), but they are of the same kind. A potter’s wheel from a Catalan manufacturer that has already disappeared, but which is very durable, and it is the one he prefers for his work. All the jars are made using the potter’s wheel. What he doesn’t do is repeating shapes, he respects more or less the capacity, but not the shape… it depends on his mood and on how he feels: “if I had to repeat the same piece over and over again, there would be a day when I wouldn’t get up” He likes working with a certain freedom of creation. He works standing and using a ladder. First, he moulds the amount of clay that he can take in one go, and then he gradually adds more. Since he has to let the piece dry because he can’t work it all at once (it would fall down due to its own weight), what he does is working on several pieces at the same time, and then he goes from one piece to another, from one turn to the next one, until continuing with the first piece.
He also shows us one of his kilns, the big one where he can fire the jars. He modified it himself to work from the floor so that he can put the piece directly without having to lift it. Potter and inventor? No, he says he only solves the problems he faces along the way.
It takes him around 10/12 days to mould each piece, 1 month to dry it, 3 days in the kiln, and 2 days more to cool it. After this, he must fill it with water and leave it full for a couple of weeks to check that it doesn’t have any leak, any crack. It is a long and expensive process, customised for each client, because he likes to adapt to everyone’s needs.
And at the end of our visit, he makes us a small piece… with such ease, such practice, such grace … he raises the clay, little by little, in a delicate way and with great care. He is making us a small vase. It’s hypnotic for him, and for us to look at him. “The potter’s wheel is therapeutic, it has the ability to make you escape” he tells us. In addition to this, the potter’s wheel is rhythmic, it follows the rhythm of the body, of the breathing…. And when the vase is finished, he takes a fishing line, the vase folds on itself, and it is completely destroyed in a matter of a second. Then, he tells us: “life is as fragile as this”.
It makes our hearts pound.