How can two teetotalers set up a winery that becomes a model in the region? The unlikely story of Celler Vall Llach starts with its main instigator: Catalan singer-songwriter Lluís Llach, a very well-known artist in Spain who fought Franco’s dictatorship with his non-conformist music. After the death of his mother in 1983, he inherited her house and land in the village of Porrera and settled down there. Back then, Priorat was an impoverished, isolated region where winegrowers struggled to survive. The area had never recovered completely from phylloxera, and then in the 1980s it was badly hit by the so called “Turkish hazelnut crisis” affecting another key crop in the area.
Determined to improve the living conditions of his neighbours, Llach asked for help from his friend Enric Costa, a notary based in Vic (Barcelona), and “The Magnificent Five” (René Barbier, José Luis Pérez, Álvaro Palacios, Carles Pastrana and Daphne Glorian), who by then were making fine wines in the neighbouring village of Gratallops. José Luis Pérez from Mas Martinet helped Llach to replicate their model in Porrera by refurbishing the village’s cooperative and releasing Cims de Porrera.
During the following years, Lluís steadily bought wine plots –working the steep vineyards of Porrera was really hard and winegrowers often offered them for sale. As a result of all these purchases, he decided to set up his own winery together with his teetotaler friend Enric Costa, thus Vall Llach was born with the 1998 vintage.
Instead of building new, utilitarian facilities, they chose to bring wealth to the village and restored two landmark buildings in Porrera: La Final, the oldest private cellar destined to wine production, located on the town’s main square, and Cal Baldrich, which houses the offices and aging cellars across the different floors. They employed the locals and even today whenever a new job comes up, candidates from Porrera are interviewed first.
Albert Costa, son of Enric and current manager after the death of his father in 2013, says that “while ‘The Magnificent Five’ conducted the winemaking revolution in Priorat, Lluis Llach started the social revolution.”
After studying agronomy in Barcelona and oenology in Tarragona, Albert worked in Australia and California. He is responsible for the change of style in the wines. He has left behind the extreme ripeness and high alcohol levels of the past to focus on balance and finesse. Vall Llach can boast about having a great deal of high quality old vines Cariñena, which is the star grape in most of their wines.
The jewel of the house is Mas de la Rosa, a distinctive vineyard planted in 1900 on steep slopes graded up to 80%. It used to go to Vall Llach, but it was obvious that it should be a premium wine in itself. This red which has been awarded Catalonia’s single vineyard category (vino de finca), has turned into a vinya classificada following the approval of Priorat's new sites and vineyards classification. The majority of the plot is planted with Cariñena as well as some Garnacha, Garnacha Peluda (with downy leaves) and a few plants of white Escanya-Vella (literally “old women’s choker”) so that pickers, who were old ladies, could eat them as they worked. There used to be a farmhouse in the vineyard where wine was fermented in concrete tanks and was later transported to the town in goat skins. Nowadays up to 15 micro-fermentations are carried out in 300-litre barrels and small stainless steel tanks. Less than 2,000 bottles are produced of Mas de La Rosa and are sold at around €92 in Spain.
Porrera Vi de Vila (5,000 bottles, €43) used to go to the old Vall Llach blend, but it is now made with grapes from Mas de la Rosa and from the San Antoni vineyard, above an old chapel in the outskirts of the village. Vall Llach always considered that a wine bearing the name of their village should occupy a prominent place in their range and in fact Porrera Vi de Vila is only second to Mas de la Rosa. Cariñena plays a dominant role in the blend (80%); the rest is Garnacha.
A blend of 60% Cariñena and 40% Garnacha, Idus de Vall Llach (6,000 bottles, around €33 in Spain) was released when Lluis Llach and Enric Costa sold their stake in Cims de Porrera to the Perelada group. As several winegrowers insisted that they wanted to go on selling to them, they established the brand to bring together all the grapes which were not sourced from their own vineyards.
The entry-level Embruix de Vall Llach (65,000 bottles, €18) blends local Garnacha and Cariñena with international grapes (Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah). There’s also a white wine, a single-varietal Viognier called Aigua de Llum (€44, barely 800 bottles are made) which combines fermentation in barrels and stainless steel vats.