Clos i Terrasses Clos Erasmus 2000
In 1988 Daphne Glorian, at the time employed by an English Master of Wine in his Paris office, was in the throws of epic folly and spent her life’s savings on 17 terraces of hillside vines just outside the village of Gratallops. Newly minted friends René Barbier and Alvaro Palacios encouraged her and together with Carles Pastrana and Jose Luis Perez, they pooled their talents and resources to make a new style of wine in a region rich in history and raw materials but without much of a proven track record for fine wines. In 1989 the modern Priorat was born: one wine but five different labels, each which would one day become known around the world: Clos Mogador, Clos Dofi, Clos Martinet, Clos de l’Obac and Clos Erasmus.
Today Daphne’s property goes by the name Clos i Terrasses in recognition of the Clos upon which her fame was established and the terraces that she farms. The estate is planted with 75% Garnatxa, 20% Syrah and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.
The first vineyard, the original folly, is named Escalas. At 1.7 hectares, it is her smallest site planted on seventeen terraces carved out of a steep slope and surrounded by woods. North-facing, its seemingly inauspicious aspect creates the perfect conditions for ripening Garnatxa slowly and nurturing unusually vibrant Syrah, a variety which normally struggles in this hot and arid region.
In the early 1990s Daphne added Aubagues and Socarrats to her holdings. Aubagues is 2.5 hectares in size and like Escalas, it was replanted in the mid 1980s . It has a diverse exposure that spans two ridge tops, so the Garnatxa is grown to take advantage of the warmer parts of the vineyard with its deep soils while Syrah is reserved for the cooler, shallower, north-facing slopes. Even in youth, the Garnatxa from Aubagues is aromatic and inclined towards red fruit flavours.
Socarrats is the largest vineyard, totalling just over 3.5 hectares, where Garnatxa, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are planted up and over a hillside from southeast to northwest. Here her 2500 vines of Cabernet Sauvignon suffer each year, not being suited to the heat and llicorella soil. Each year Daphne resolves to graft them over until she tastes the wine they produce and each year they are granted a reprieve.
It may have begun in folly but through extraordinary effort and a relentlessness that borders on madness, Clos i Terrasses, much like the Priroat, continues to evolve and innovate. It is hard to imagine a world, only a quarter century ago, where wines like the five Clos did not exist but even more remarkable, is imagining what they will become in another quarter century under such talented stewardship.
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. Its 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 red grape varieties to choose from, winemakers have the freedom to create a virtually endless assortment of blended wines. In many European regions, strict laws are in place determining the set of varieties that may be used, 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 fruity and full-bodied wine would do well combined with one that is naturally high in acidity and tannins. 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.