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