23-02-2014 ~ 1 Comment

One very old Iberian wine cellar

Photo by Vinologue

For those who might have seen or remembered it, there was a great line from the 1980s TV series ALF which was, “You crawl under houses, you hear things.” The same can be said in winery visits in that if you happen to do enough of them, you very well may learn things you never thought possible.

Such a thing came my way when visiting the property of Finca Fontanals for the new DO Montsant book. While they make their wine up in Cornudella, their vineyards surround their old family houses that they rent out as “casa rurals”. And while they don’t have their own cellar, in a way, they do.

When a child, Albert Coll, the son running things these days, played around on this big rock with a circular groove on it. He didn’t think much of it until he realized that there was a space below the rock that had been filled with dirt over the years. Little by little he dug it out and found a small cave that’s maybe half by half a meter and a bit over one meter deep.

Curious what this was, he sent a photo to a historian at a local university who quickly became no end of excited. You see, similar such things had been found in the Caucus region where we are all currently assuming the wine we know today was “invented” some 8,000 years ago. This bit that Albert found probably dates back to 400 BCE, but they need to do more testing to affirm this and it shows that winemaking has been happening in Iberia for a very long time.

The system was quite genius and any hipster sommelier today would salivate as to how “natural” it was. Basically, the historic enologist would plop the grapes down in the middle of the circular groove. Then, they would crush them by foot. The juice would them dribble down in to the cave which would slowly be sealed up with clay at the entrance. They would then hungrily wait to get their drink on for a couple of weeks. Upon opening up the cave it was presto drunko with 3-400 liters of wine was on hand for the ancient Iberian man to quaff with glee.