RANCIOS WINES BY RENÉ BARBIER
Today, we went to visit René Barbier, from Clos Mogador. The father. The founder. He has been now in Priorat for many days, but he still says he does not make part of the history of Priorat. We do not agree with him, because he is a big part of it, a part of its most recent history, but a part of its history after all.
He talked with us about rancio wines… We asked him if he wanted to collaborate with our blog, and he gladly agreed to do it: “I’ll do anything for Sara,” he told us.
And the first thing he did was to introduce us to the society Arrels del Priorat, a project which started approximately during the ‘90s to recover and promote rancio wines from Priorat (he put them on sale in internationally known places, like Harrods in London, or Galeries Lafayette in Paris). A project that he is currently managing with Jaume Balaguer (winery Balaguer i Cabré) in a small winery in Gratallops, and which has made him learn first-hand about the history of rancio wines from our region, from each town and from each house… “The history of a time that has to come back,” as he says. Arrels has allowed him to talk with the farmers who still have an old barrel at home, and who have let the old times behind, even though they still remember them. However, he recognised that it has been a project which has required them a big investment without any kind of repayment. A bottomless pit.
When he told us about rancio wines, he explained to us that “they are the tip of the iceberg of a forgotten world which I think will come back”. Arrels gave him the opportunity to select some rancio wines (12 in total from 12 different towns) and, with a representative drawing of each house done by Isabel, promote them. He wanted to place them in the best places in the world… but he was unsuccessful. Rancio wines are a product which needs to be put into a context, and which also has to be explained in order to understand it and fully appreciate it. The name is the first difficulty. Here, we are very clear about what we are talking about. However, internationally, wines like sherry or Vin Jaune are known… but not rancio wine. “It is an issue we all should think about,” he said.
He told us that rancio wine, apart from being a very local production, is also explained like a way of using the product, which in this case is the wine, as a whole. “There is a lot of imagination, and it is a heritage that farmers have managed to keep and transmit until now”. We set the history of these wines back in the agricultural lands from 1800 backwards, because forwards, in more recent times, the issue gets complicated. But before, rancio wines had a great logic. “All the work was done with animals, and the harvest was extended for more than 3 months…” “…we started next to the river, (…) from white wines. And it is not nonsense (…) it is very fresh. From the river we went up, that is to say, that a bit higher there were consumer wines, and they were fresh, a quality product. They always tasted good, because if they didn’t, they were vinegar, and if they were not vinegar, they were rancio wines (…) And November/December came, their drying/raisining process began, and sweet wines were made…”
They used the harvest in every possible way, and the sale was also adapted. We remembered the wineries in the cities, and he specifically remembered that, when he was young, there were wineries with their own rancio wine, their own barrels, their own fresh wines, sweet wines… “It was what corresponded to the grape harvest” “After a whole life in Priorat, you realise that things were not so badly done after all…” he added, amused.
Then, he compared wines with cheese, any kind of cheese that existed before, which was also a consumer product…. but it was slowly simplified, the different kinds of cheese were unified, and finally there were only 4 of them remaining. Now, we diversify again… and we cannot blame globalisation but economy for it. He talked about “economic engineering”. Looking for profitability, some of the richness of diversity has been lost. “It is like wanting to produce one wine only in the entire region of Priorat, in the cooperatives (…) I will be in trouble again (he laughs), but in fact, what they should have done is to produce the wines for the farmers and be an intermediary in order to promote this general globalisation, like with cheese (…)”.
However, he remembered that, at that time, people went to find the grapes with animals. The garnachas arrived at the cellar at 17 ºC, and the wine “needed time to yield”. “They were not scared like us”. They put the wine inside the barrel of rancio wine because it was not clear for them. There, inside the barrel, the amount of volatile compounds was reduced… the acids changed… the taste changed. It was turned into a rancio wine. What they needed to take into account was that they needed 3 litters of wine to produce 1 litter of rancio wine, because they worked with local chestnut wood. (Chestnut wood and rancio wine, an essential combination, he indicated). The work of the cooper was essential, because the barrels were in the attic, and with the dry weather that we have here, it meant having more wine and taking great care of the barrels. “If you were a cooper, you had to be everything”.
However, they obtained a unique product, a product which has already influenced the local cuisine. A symbol of our gastronomic identity. A very important product for local cuisine, either as a basis or as an accompaniment to a desert… like, for example, the nuts desert known as les postres de músic. Nevertheless, now that we have worked with this product, we realised that it pairs perfectly well with anchovies and artichokes (which are always so difficult).
And rancio wines were transmitted from parents to their children (it was that family recipe inherited over time). That wisdom that we appreciate so much in cultures different from ours, but that we also have.
Therefore, wen René convincingly told us that this history that we talk about has to come back, it is because, behind rancio wines, there is everything a territory wants: personality, tradition…
Profitability maybe is not as profitable when we lose this tradition and personality. “It is not globalisation that spoils things, but our way to understand it (…) You would need to flatten Priorat in order to be as profitable as other regions (…)”.
He thanks the project Arrels del Priorat for the fact of understanding the product, although he recognises that, over time, the essence has been lost. “Since modernisation, we haven’t worked the periods of the vineyard (…). In fact, we have fed this product with large amounts of wine (…)”. Now, lighter and more still rancio wines are being produced… But it is, anyway, a meeting point… We have lost the ability to adapt that our ancestors had, the ability to adapt to different weather conditions and periods of the vineyard. We have lost varieties which adapted to different territories… “Over time, we have become better oenologists, but worse vine growers. In fact, not worse, but we have tried to simplify, and when you want to simplify, you finally lose your identity”.
Rancio wine does not only have the achievement of the product itself, but also the achievement of continuing tradition. For this reason, for the project Arrels del Priorat, René chose a partner from Priorat, because “I am not the tradition of Priorat. I might be a wine tradition, but not from Priorat, although my grandfather and my great-grandfather produced a rancio wine from Priorat, but only as merchants”. The big difference is doing it as a vine grower, and knowing that rancio wine corresponds to a period of the vineyard, to a moment in time and to a space, making it an exceptional product which influences the cuisine, the people, the traditions…
He compared it with biodynamics. He did not say ecology, “because ecology will be obligatory, but we will get slowly to biodynamics,” he said, convinced. The consumer increasingly demands the traceability of the products. Mas Martinet, as well as Clos Mogador, could sell what they produce to a German engineer, and if we bought it from them, we would be convinced that the product is good, and that it is worth the price they ask for it.
Finally, he proposed to take an approach with respect to Priorat. Because, although it is true that, before, rancio wines were produced everywhere, “as a wine, rancio wine from Priorat has a very big personality”.
Thank you very much, René, for your willing to share.