Last Monday, we were at Mr. Ignasi Puxeu’s house. He was linked for a long time to the Priorat Teachers Association (Associació Docent Priorat), and from there he witnessed first-hand the birth of the vine growing and oenology school of Priorat, specifically the great task developed by the priest Jaume Ciurana to create it.

We met the priest going to Reus with him in one of his business travels. In that time, there were few cars, he remembered. He introduced us to the priest as a man with a very strong character (…) With his strengths and weaknesses. He had in mind the idea of rising the cultural level of Falset and its region. The priest started providing construction and electricity training courses for the Agriculture and Employment Promotion Board (Patronat de Promoció Agrària i de Treball), where the Music Association (Associació Musical) was, behind the church. In its day, that place was a small and run-down sacristy. Because of the courses, the building was repaired, and it became the current building, even though the Ministerio (Ministry) wanted to demolish it, because the works were considered as part of the students’ internship. Mr. Puxeu told us: “He went to Madrid, in times of Franco, to see a minister, I think it was Torcuato, and he told him: ‘Look, here you have the photos of the building as it was before and as it is now.’ He added: ‘What should we do now? Demolish it?’ And, in the exact words of the priest Ciurana: That minister looked at me, and said: You wear a cassock… I haven’t seen you, and I haven’t received anything they have sent me, so do what you want.

The priest reunited the Association and told them that they needed money and a suitable location, and that they had to organise more courses, reach more people. It was on Boxing Day 1961, and as many as 158 people met (in groups of 20 and in different meetings), people committed to make a Pts5,000 non-refundable payment. They continued to provide courses at the abbey, at the music school… and finally at the secondary school… They looked for a place to locate the school (the first idea was the Castle), but Mr. Miquel Puig Cardona, a good citizen of Falset, actually one of the best, because I have met him commercially and personally, a beautiful person, he said, offered him the current plots: “Don’t worry, Mn. Jaume. There, at the mas (farmhouse)… take the plots you need. Go there and choose. Forget about castles.”

And this is how everything started, a 6.5 million pesetas budget, meetings with the Ministry of Education to apply for subsidies, loans (signed by the members themselves): “The Association, 25 members (one of them was me), signed a 2.5 million loan. It was a big amount at that time… quite a lot of money.”  Everything continued to progress until the Association started to provide vocational agricultural training in the plots in front (which were bought for 500,000 pesetas). It wasn’t successful at the beginning, until the vineyard was planted, and that vocational agricultural training was turned into a vocational vine growing and oenology training. He met with Mr. Carol (Falset councillor for Agriculture), different Agriculture delegates… The Government of Catalonia supported vocational agricultural training, but the Association was clear that they wanted professional training. 

Mr. Jaume Ciurana Galceran, president of the Catalonia Wine Institute (INCAVI) and oenologist (and from Falset), agreed that Falset had to aspire to this and more. Falset was between Tarragona, Terra Alta and Priorat, and there was a strong need to have that kind of professional training in the town. Thanks to him, the school carried on, and it was able to provide this professional training with teachers like Josep Lluis Pérez and his wife, Montse Ovejero. “Because we only talk about Josep Lluis Pérez, but I know Montse Ovejero, in the laboratory and in the classes, even though she was in the shadow, she did a lot of work,” he said.

It was a particularly good period for the school and for Falset. People from different places came to attend these studies. The school was expanded, with a building specially designed for these studies, a place where you could follow the whole wine-making process. Mr. Miquel Puig Cardona also ceded the plots, but the Association needed more loans for the construction. The budget was 20 million: a 5-million subsidy and loans, signed again by the Association. Everything was fine, but…

The University of Tarragona offered a speciality in vine growing and oenology, extending the offer in this field. The Government of Catalonia required the school to offer more vocational/professional training, and the Association and the centre wasn’t able to assume all this.  “The priest was old, he wanted to retire, and I was doing the maths.” Finally, it was time to ask The Ministry of Agriculture to take care of it, but they didn’t want, or they weren’t able to do it… No one knows when politics take part in the game. The Association also asked for help from the Council. And this was the end of it. The school had a great success, but it died because of that success.

Mr. Puxeu noted that the school represented a change for Falset and the region, the economic status of the citizens rose. “Before, there were restaurants where the food was substantial and cheap. Then, the food was expensive, but very good.”

We asked Mr. Puxeu where the priest was from, and he told us that the priest was from Arbeca. The priest had estates there, and he sold them. “At the beginning, he brought some apples from his estates to the school. Then, he sold the estates, and I know he did it for the school.” The priest gave so much for the school, even his salary. He told us that, during the first years of the school, they balanced their budget in this way, because the kindergarten was always loss-making. Then, the salary wasn’t enough, so they asked different ministries for money. Thanks to Jaume Ciurana Galceran, the school received help from many ministries of the Government of Catalonia, and this is something to be thankful for, because there was no money at that time.

He finished smiling and saying: “Luckily, it ended well, because today we have the Institute, which does a good job.”  And there is no need to go to Móra, because the general opinion from the Ministry of Education was that the students from Falset had to go to Móra. This is what the priest and the Association wanted to avoid, and what allowed Falset to have, before and now, its own Institute. “Just do the necessary work and send the students to Móra”.  

Thank you very much for all the work and effort put in.

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