Joan Sangenis is descended from eight generations of unruly locals who farmed various crops in Porrera. His family first started making wine in 1814 and until 1996 they sold their wines in bulk to the residents of the village. Joan's parents Jaume and Merce, who both still tend to the family's vines, purchased Mas d'En Compte in 1988 greatly expanding the scope of the family business. Along with this purchase came a ancient, ruined house in the village that they renovated with the intention of bottling their own wines. With much of the newly purchased vines being in disrepair, they also undertook resuscitating these old vineyards, replanting and awaiting the return of their son, Joan, who was finishing his studies in enology. Upon his return to Porrera in 1996, Celler Cal Pla was born.
The Sangenis family farms 20 hectares of vines located around Porrera. Their oldest vines of Garnatxa Negra and Carinyena are located in the famed Mas d'En Caçador vineyard – arguably the Grand Cru of the village. The remaining vines vary in age from 15 to 80 years old. Farming is done organically, which may sound easy in such a warm and dry climate until you see the incline of some of their sites – here any kind of farming is arduous. In addition to Garnatxa Negra and Carinyena the estate grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnatxa Blanca, Xarel.lo, Picapoll Blanca, Macabeau and Moscatel.
Tiny and entirely composed of craggy, jagged and deeply terraced vineyards, Priorat is a Catalan wine-producing region that was virtually abandoned until the early 1990s. This Spanish wine's renaissance came with the arrival of one man, René Barbier, who recognized the region’s forgotten potential. He banded with five friends to create five “Clos” in the village of Gratallops. Their aim was to revive some of Priorat’s ancient Carignan vines, as well as plant new—mainly French—varieties. These winemakers were technically skilled, well-trained and locally inspired; not surprisingly their results were a far cry from the few rustic and overly fermented wines already produced.
This movement escalated Priorat’s popularity for a few reasons. Its new wines were modern and made with well-recognized varieties, namely old Carignan and Grenache blended with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. When the demand arrived, scarcity commanded higher prices and as the region discovered its new acclaim, investors came running from near and far. Within ten years, the area under vine practically doubled.
Priorat’s steep slopes of licorella (brown and black slate) and quartzite soils, protection from the cold winds of the Siera de Monstant and a lack of water, leading to incredibly low vine yields, all work together to make the region’s wines unique. While similar blends could and are produced elsewhere, the mineral essence and unprecedented concentration of a Priorat wine is unmistakable.
With hundreds of white grape varieties to choose from, winemakers have the freedom to create a virtually endless assortment of blended white wines. In many European regions, strict laws are in place determining the set of varieties that may be used in white wine blends, but in the New World, experimentation is permitted and encouraged. Blending can be utilized to enhance balance or create complexity, lending different layers of flavors and aromas. For example, a variety that creates a soft and full-bodied white wine blend, like Chardonnay, would do well combined with one that is more fragrant and naturally high in acidity. Sometimes small amounts of a particular variety are added to boost color or aromatics. Blending can take place before or after fermentation, with the latter, more popular option giving more control to the winemaker over the final qualities of the wine.