Nestled in the rolling hills of Priorat, I wind my way up the steep cobble streets of the village Porrera. I knock what seems an anonymous door, but Carles Ortiz greets us as he is coming up the street. Getting here was no easy task, after catching a train from Barcelona to Tarragona, finding a hire car and following a few misdirections. He is so ecstatic we have made the journey, his sole purpose is to demonstrate what makes the wine so special here.
A Brief History
The block of vines that are 110 years old are also the highest in Priorat located 700 metres over sea level. It takes 45 minutes of very rough dusty road to get there on a 4WD. For generations without cars, the local farmers would walk 90 minutes up steep hill from the village and back again, to work the vines. Back then, they worked the slopes with mules and organic methods, with no machinery. About 30 years ago, coming from a period of dictatorship and after several wars in Europe, the region was extremely poor. Locals had to move to metropolitan areas looking for jobs and some vineyards were abandoned. At that time, the vineyards with terraces didn't make sense anymore since new machinery could not be used.
The Modern Paradox
Nin y Oritz still have some terraces, but the issue is less sun penetration and higher humidity in the vineyard, so even though tractors can be used in place of mules the quality and balance is much harder to achieve. The ancient way of vineyards set in slopes, mean the vines are easier to manage and smaller yields have produced higher quality fruit. However now, "The modern Priorat is in the ancient style”. Local farmers have found the advantages of cultivating in slopes, their quality has become an essential element for profitability in the wine industry, and in turn made the region prosper once again.
A Special Site
Carles offered his services to the family of the vineyard free of charge for the family that owned it, because “it was a privilege” for him to work with 110 year old vines. He was astonished by the vine's history and the quality of the fruit it produced. When the main proprietor passed away, it was a natural progression for him and his partner, Winemaker Ester Nin, to take over the vineyard. The terroir is mostly influenced by the Licorella soil, dense orange-grey rocks that fill the vineyard, but despite the extremely dry conditions, they have enough organic matter to grow herbs and wild flowers in the barren rock. Carles maintains the health of the vines with extremely low cropping and other organic practices, avoiding use of pesticides and herbicides. The difference is visible, as the vineyard next door, where they use chemicals, the soil is grey and barren with not another plant in sight.
Biodynamic Since Day One
The name Planetes de Nin is a play on words - Les Planetes in Catalan means ‘small planets’, and biodynamic practices follows movement of planets and lunar cycles. For Carles, biodynamic growth involves the vines, olives, animals and vegetables, everything in harmony with one another. The Planetes de Nin 100% Garnaxta, the one that comes to New Zealand, is temperature controlled from the moment it left their house in Porrera. The 2015 vintage is aromatic with fresh berries, liquorice and intensely concentrated, yet very refined and elegant for its youth. They proudly have writing on the cork “Biodynamic since day one,” which no one else in the Priorat region can assert. No one else in the area ever thought that they could produce a red wine completely free of sulphur in amphorae, or grow Carignan Blanc organically with small yields. But Nin y Ortiz is all about breaking boundaries.
Nestled in the rolling hills of Priorat, Carles and Esther have a cellar underneath their house, up a little steep, cobble stone street in the village Porrera. Here we find their humble and rustic operation, the large oak barrels, the amphorae vats, each parcel of wine lovingly named. I can now fully understand that the quality and concentration of the wine not only has a close relationship to the terroir but is also a result of the very hard work that goes in.