09-11-2015 ~ 3 Comments

Rally Catalunya and the damage to Priorat wines

In the “When to Go” section of both the Priorat and Montsant books, I realize that there needs to be added a mention of not visiting Priorat during the Rally Catalunya. Well, that should be qualified by adding, “…if you happen to love race cars tearing around roads that twist and turn through ancient vineyards, this is your moment to do some wine tasting as well…” Basically, over a weekend at the end of October or beginning of November this race comes to the county of Priorat and essentially takes it over.

I would assume for most people visiting Priorat, this isn’t what they’re looking for. It’s like going to Burgundy or Napa Valley to enjoy the landscape and some fine wine and instead of this you find dudes racing their rally cars all over the place nearly hitting you, the roads blocked, thousands of people who aren’t even really aware of where the are, and piles upon piles of garbage.

This rally used to take place up in the Costa Brava area as well until the people there fought long and hard to have it not take place and this in a region that’s accustomed to beach tourists… These days, when it arrives in Priorat, the region just has to shut down and try to ignore the people who come with the race as much as possible. While some might say, “Hey, Priorat is a county of just 10,000 people. Surely this brings much needed revenue to the area?” It doesn’t. The people who come to this are either daytrippers from Barcelona or then they camp illegally wherever they find space. They bring all their food, leave all their garbage, and buy little more than bottle water and gas if they’re really strapped. You will most likely find a seat in any of the Priorat restaurants during the time of the race, that is if you can get through the police roadblocks that try in vain to contain the drunken spectators.

Were it just for the congestion, that would be one thing. Were it just for the garbage that would be another as the race organizers do clean up most of it although viticulturists still find plenty tossed about in their vineyards. The real problem that’s come in recent years of the race is one that no organizers can do anything about and that’s the people who come to the races and have taken on a destructive, vandalizing, fuck-these-villagers stance.

Car racing fans are typically not known for classiness–apologies in advance if you happen to be one of the few. But for some reason this type of rally racing brings out the worst of the worst. This video aired right after the races. You don’t need to be able to speak Catalan to see that the owner, Josep Maria of the vineyard for Balmaprat is holding up a 100+ year-old vine that was one of the ones destroyed by the spectators. Old stone terraces were collapsed and plenty of garbage could also be found in his vineyard despite the cleanup attempts by the organizers–the amount these people dump on the ground is incomprehensible. And he has a very small vineyard. For those with more vines, the problem is amplified. The fact that the large and usually very neutral in public, Torres is against this race says a great deal. Also to note in the video was the owner of the small bed and breakfast, Mas Ardevol who says that they close during the days of the rally because, “Our guests don’t come for this.”

This isn’t an isolated incident of this year though. While the problems date back 10 years, the organizers have taken some steps to rectify what they can. I assume this would have more to do with the fact that if you block roads so that viticulturists can’t reach their vines during the harvest and you block children from getting to school, European laws will shut you down in a hurry. But last year there were a group of imbecile spectators that got in to a “grape fight” in one winery’s vineyards, tearing off countless bunches of grapes to throw at each other as well as ripping vines off the trellises. Why? Because they were there.

This year was much the same with people parked around the villages, drinking all night long and partying. The police have tried to control who enters the villages but many still slip through as it’s impossible to control every road. Thankfully a cold snap had this happen only one sleepless night but it didn’t stop people from shitting wherever they liked. Yes, shitting. In the vineyards or down the trails as I found one morning when walking my dog.

But beyond the congestion, garbage and human waste in the vineyards, destruction of the vineyards, blatant disregard for a fragile ecosystem that they are trying to achieve UNESCO heritage status for, and disregard for anyone who lives in the region, there’s the Cava. Amazingly, they do use the Cava sparkling wine to celebrate the wines. Unfortunately they use Adernats which, while a lovely Art Nouveau cellar, is outside the classic Penedès region and is one of the cheapest, mass produced Cavas there is.

Is there a solution to this rally? Yes, stop running the race through Priorat. I don’t have anything clever or glib to add beyond that as there is only one clear and singular answer to the problems that continue to grow with this event and its inability to coexist in this pristine, natural place called, Priorat.