Please define the DO Montsant in three sentences.
Pilar Just: Oh? (Laughs) Montsant is a purely Mediterranean region that, due to certain geographical, geological and climatic characteristics, can produce both fully ripe and fresh and fine wines. Geographically, Montsant is only 40 kilometres from the sea, but it is continental in character. The neighbouring Priorat has mainly slate soils, while Montsant has a truly enormous variety of soils and microclimates.
Can a clear, recognisable character be defined with this?
Pilar Just: There is a common denominator: the combination of Mediterranean ripeness and the freshness made possible by the continental influence, the low pH of the soils and the altitude of some vineyards. We don't have to bring forward the grape harvest to get fresh, fine wines.
The DO recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Why was it founded?
Pilar Just: We wanted to distinguish ourselves from what was called "parkerised wines" 20 years ago: great maturity, a lot of extraction and long ageing in barriques. Such ageing makes it difficult to recognise wines even from different continents with completely different grape varieties, soils and climates. Since the DO was founded, we have wanted to rediscover our personality. Now we are continuing this process by trying to further differentiate the differences within our DO area. After all, this is what the most prestigious regions in Europe have always done. I am thinking of Burgundy and Barolo, for example.
The winemaker of yesteryear has become an oenologist
What has changed so far in the two decades of the DO Montsant?
Pilar Just: The development is remarkable. Our membership has grown from 28 at the founding to 61 today. The winegrowers used to belong to the once large cooperatives, they produced wine together. Inevitably, grapes of very different origins were mixed. The current generation has studied viticulture - often at the Faculty of Enology of the University Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona. The young people have gained experience in other wineries and have returned to the Montsant to start their own projects. Now there is a diversity of small family wineries.
How are these modern influences reflected in the growing region?
Pilar Just: There are two aspects that stand out: Firstly, many plots are now vinified separately, which still ended up in the same wine in the cooperatives. This now makes it possible to reflect the mosaic of soils in differentiated wines. But the young winemakers also want to take responsibility for the entire production process from the vineyard to the aged wine. The winegrower of yesteryear has become an oenologist.
A big step for such a traditionally shaped region. Has the DO reacted to this with changes?
Pilar Just: Since the beginning of 2022, the label of the wines of the DO Montsant has indicated who bottled the wine. The Viticultor - Elaborador, is a winemaker who completely controls his own production process until bottling. The Elaborador is a wine producer who buys grapes for production and therefore has little control over the vineyard work. Then there is the embotellador. This is a marketing company that buys aged wine, bottles it and markets it. In between there are many variables, this claim does not define the quality of the wine either. But we are convinced that it is an important piece of information that the buyer should receive before buying a bottle. It is part of our commitment to transparency.
Is that why you also want to define the different terroirs of the DO Montsant as zones?
Pilar Just: The project of subzoning was born out of an awareness of the huge diversity of the Montsant terroirs. It began in 2008 on the basis of a study by INCAVI (Institut Català de la Vinya i el Vi) on the geology and water supply and their influence on the climate. In the second step, we expanded the project by introducing microvinification of our traditional grape varieties Garnatxa and Carinyena from these soils. From this we defined six different zones.
What followed from this?
Pilar Just: After analysing the physical characteristics of each zone, we wanted to go a step further and relate these regions to the aromatic characteristics of the wines. To do this, we put together a tasting panel with 30 winemakers and oenologists from the Montsant. The tasters are to define the main characteristics of the expression of our traditional varieties Garnatxa and Carinyena in each subzone of Montsant. In this way, they are to systematise the expression of the autochthonous grape varieties on the different soils and, at the same time, classify the minerality of the Montsant wines.
It is not easy to communicate this complex information to the international wine public. How do they want to deal with it?
Pilar Just: In the future, this information will be included in the technical specifications of the DO Montsant. With this, we want to be able to indicate the subzones on the labels. In this way, we want to clearly depict the origin - and the work - of each individual winegrower. Furthermore, we offer wine lovers precise and certified information at the same time, which increases their understanding of the wines - and thus their enjoyment. We are convinced that this is exactly what the end consumer expects today: variety and the connection of the wine to its terroir.