TERRA ALTA

A visual introduction to Catalonia's wild west

The view from Teix d'Engrilló, part of the Natural Park of Els Ports, towards Horta de Sant Joan.

Els Ports is a hikers paradise made up of 800 square kilometres of the most remote areas in Catalonia.
The difficult access has preserved most of its rural past, autochthonous vegetation and fauna, which comprises thousand of botanical species and the largest Ibex reserves in the Iberian peninsula.

Morenillo, picked, destemmed and now macerating in earthenware vessels of the wine cellar Vins del Tros.

This almost extinct variety has started gaining attention thanks to tireless work of two renown wine makers: Vins del Tros in Vilalba dels Arcs and Celler Bàrbara Forés in Gandesa. Some have compared it to Claret, yet with those subtle hints of violet its profile is authentically unique.

Abandoned stone shed with almond trees.

Commonly used to store working tools, these sheds, built with dry stone technique, also served as s a shelter from the elements during the long working hours of the pre industrial rural world. Some still show the ghost of an old fireplace, some have fruit trees planted close by.
They are a tangible testimony of the hard toil of generations and there is an increasing awareness of their historical importance and preservation.

Every two years a mythical wine fair, known as H2O Vegetal, takes place at Pinell de Brai in the sweltering heat of summer. It's a wild, eclectic event like no other, whose notoriety has spread from word of mouth. Local, national and international wine makers set up inside the pavilion next to the local swimming pool to showcase unique wines made with pre industrial techniques and minimal intervention.

Detail from a Civil War memorial.

During the last acts of the Spanish Civil War, the Terra Alta became the epicentre of the last stands between the Republican resistance and the Francoist army whose power was bolstered by their Nazi and Fascist allies. Young men and foreign volunteers, drafted into the Republican army in a last desperate counter attack, never stood a chance against the artillery and relentless areal bombardments.

Detail of the original tiled sign set above the old cellar of Celler Frisach at Corbera d'Ebre.

After 200 years of activity this small family business, led by the brothers Francesc and Joan, is expanding with their wine being exported world wide.
Moving out from its old premises in to a larger building, set at the outskirts of town, was a long time ambition.

The new cellar will also serve as a tasting hub and become the first wine shop showing intrinsic wines of the Terra Alta.

Detail from a Civil War memorial.

During the last acts of the Spanish Civil War, the Terra Alta became the epicentre of the last stands between the Republican resistance and the Francoist army whose power was bolstered by their Nazi and Fascist allies. Young men and foreign volunteers, drafted into the Republican army in a last desperate counter attack, never stood a chance against the artillery and relentless areal bombardments.

An old man walks on the shady side of a street at Vilalba dels Arcs.

Founded by the Templars in 1224 , Vilalba dels Arcs reached its golden age in the XVI century and its streets still show the ghost of a wealthy past. The town suffered greatly during the violent conflicts which defined much of Catalonia with half of it destroyed during the Civil War.

At 450 m above sea level, local wine production greatly benefits from the influence of both sea and continent giving their wines a distinct edge.

Landscape brutalism. The gigantic base of a wind turbine dwarfing a traditional working shed.

The relative high altitude and remoteness of the Terra Alta has opened the gate to privatised energy companies. Hundreds of wind turbines, some up to 115 meters in height, have been installed without local consultation.

Yet for some, leasing a field to a corporation eager to exploit the current boom in renewables, has become the only option, being more profitable than continuing working the land.

Harvesting the last of the Garnatxa Negra.

This year has been problematic for the red varieties grown in the Terra Alta. On the 16th of September, in full wine harvest a sudden hail storm of unusual intensity destroyed a large swath of grapes, almonds and olives. Red grapes were most affected as white grapes are usually picked earlier.

Every grape is closely examined in case of rot, before getting picked. This slowed down the work but ensures that only the best goes in to the basket.

Serving Clotxa with botifarra, tomàquets, garlic and olives at La Fatarella, Festa de l’Oli.

Held on the first weekend of December the Festa de l’Oli is a very local celebration of the humble yet nourishing farmers meal which is traditionally eaten on special days.

The round loafs of bread called Clotxa are hollowed out, the inside rubbed with garlic and tomato and stuffed with grilled sardines and local sausages (botifarra). Each morsel is washed down with local wine and the meal is finished off with a square of flat hazelnut cake (coca d’avellana).

Bottles waiting to be filled inside a micro winery.

Due to the paperwork involved some semi clandestine winemakers have set up full working cellars producing outstanding wines while waiting for the official stamp of approval. Some of the wine is made from grapes are harvested from abandoned vineyards, an a common sight with the increasing depopulation.

A vineyard under a blanket of snow.

With only a few roads connecting la Terra Alta to the rest of Catalonia a sudden snow blizzard can brink havoc and villages can get cut off for several days.

Yet, in terms of winemaking, the continental climate influence is a blessing that adds the characteristic crispness and intensity to the fantastic wine that comes out of this territory.

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