August Vicent welcomes us to the Cecilio Winery with a glass of delicious sweet wine… a sweet, a natural and sweet Syrah wine with 15 years of barrel ageing… and a very good mood. Joking and friendly, he says “I have tried to keep the winery as it was”, and so it is. A very welcoming, detailed and well-maintained visitor reception area that takes you back in time.
The Cecilio winery was born in 1942. August’s father, Cecilio Vicent (of Valencian origin, specifically from the province of Castelló) was recruited by the troops of the International Brigades without knowing how. They put him in charge of the troops who settled in Gratallops to closely monitor what would be the Battle of the Ebro and the end of the Civil War. The brigade members installed the command of the troops in what would be their home. There, his father met the daughter of the owners of the house, and they fell in love. And when the war was over, he came back, and they got married. Once they were married, his father began to work and recover the very degraded and even lost lands of his mother’s family. And he became a member of the cooperative, as could not be otherwise. The plain of La Vilavella, where he came from, was a plain rich in orange trees but it had no vineyards, so he didn’t know anything about wine. But he was very interested in bringing wine to his town, and he could not do that from the cooperative, because its rules did not allow the private sale of wine. For this reason, he learned to make wine by himself. He followed some elementary oenology courses in Tarragona and Penedès, until he managed to make his own wine at home. And he started from his small winery. Then, the Regulatory Council of Priorat became official in 1954, and it was the first registered winery.
“The decline of Priorat began in the 60s” he says. Moving to Barcelona became a tendency, and working in a city meant working in a different way, maybe more hours, but also having more, “they could buy a SEAT 600 and go back to their villages to show it”. Many lands were no longer worked, and the villages, little by little, were ageing.
“There was a lot of innovation in Priorat when the machines for making terraces and vehicles were introduced” he explains. It was a turning point in Priorat because the animals could rest.
“At home” says August, “we were lucky, because my father had a very good idea. People from Barcelona went to visit the villages, and he started selling wine in retail sale”. They were selling it directly…people would drive by, come into the house and buy. Later on, the cooperative also did it (it could have been the other way around, but it happened this way), because there was little production in Priorat, and there was very little margin for trading with wine. Selling it directly was an option that offered greater profitability to their business.
That’s what they did, until his father got sick and died in 1986. His father wouldn’t let him do anything. He tells us that father and son did not get along very well, they were not friends at all. He says it’s a past chapter, but one that he particularly regrets. But the winery has never stopped. The winery survived. Many other houses in the village also made their own wine, but they couldn’t continue with their businesses. “We were lucky” he tells us. However, I think it wasn’t luck, I think they knew how to take advantage of what they had, and that allowed them to overcome that crisis and continue until today.
In the 80s, those “hippies” arrived, and until then, people worked the land, but only for subsistence. At first, he felt a little compassion for them, but they started to uproot and work in a different way, and they revalued the wine and the land. “Perhaps, the village has been reactivated economically, but not socially. The people who come to work are from outside” he points out.
Now, the winery is run by his daughter and his son-in-law. The whole family participates in the project to take it forward. He is 76 years old, and he tells us that “I can’t complain, I’ve overcome some health scares, but… here I am”. He goes to the field with the tractor every day and ploughs. And you can see him happy and satisfied.
Thank you very much, August. For your welcome, for making us feel at home, for being so straightforward and accessible. And good luck and strength for the survival of the Cecilio winery for many, many years.