As I offer wine tours of various Catalan regions such as Montsant & Priorat, I naturally get contacted by people to guide them. Some come with few preconceived ideas about this beautiful land other than the fact that they like the wines. Others come with a set idea of what they want to do and the schedule that they want to follow. I always strive to be as flexible as possible and create unique, custom tours for everyone I work with, but there are a couple of points I should mention so that people can know what to expect.
As stated in the opening lines of my Priorat book, this Denomination of Origin and to a lesser extent, that of little brother, Montsant are not Napa Valley. It is simply impossible to pull up a list of cellars, drive around, and taste like a maniac (in theory, spitting as you go.) Why is this? It’s for the simple reason that cellars are small, family-run affairs and the person you get the tour from is probably going to be the owner or the winemaker. They have very limited time as they’re usually juggling about 20 things. While these days more than half the cellars are happy to receive visitors, all but two require appointments ahead of time and it should be noted that these two only have drop in tasting rooms as for full visits you need to join one of their scheduled groups.
This may seem annoying to those familiar with how very visitor-centric regions like Rioja, Penedès, Napa Valley, Stellenbosch, or even most of France function. But while it may seem that those regions are more open, if you actually do want the full tour, you need to book that ahead as well. So in the end, it’s not that different, they just don’t have tasting rooms open 9-5.
Then of course there are the cellars that just simply don’t do visits such as Àlvaro Palacios. Many people inquire about visiting his cellar as his wines are exported and represented well. Of course the legendary L’Ermita with its legendary price (1,000€ for 2014 I’ve heard) doesn’t hurt. The general public just can’t do this visit. Only professionals such as sommeliers or wine writers can take this visit and even then, most of us who have, don’t taste the L’Ermita due to its extremely limited stock.
Let’s mention scheduling as I’ve had people contact me wanting to visit 4-5 cellars in a day. I did four in a day once, but quite frankly, it’s very difficult due to each village being about 20-30 minutes from one another and it’s very tiring as the general assumption is that you, as a visitor won’t be spitting the wine. The other problem is that you find yourself on the road most of the day and not enjoying a winery. At most, I stick to three wineries with two in the morning and one in the afternoon. To date, I’ve never had anyone feel like they were lacking in wine goodness with a day like this as visits are very intimate and the owners/winemakers are very passionate people (you come to Priorat pretty much just to make wine, olive oil, or both) and they want to share this with those who come there.
The other item of note is the lunch break. This can start anywhere around 1-1:30 and last until 3:30-4. Some people think they can come and just snack along the way without stopping for a proper lunch. Even if you wanted to do this (which I advise against as the local cuisine is definitely worthy of your time as well), you wouldn’t find any wineries open to receive you. They just won’t do it. The lunch break is sacred and from working the harvests I know very well why: you absolutely must have a break in the middle of the day to recuperate with labor this physical.
So these are a couple of pointers to take in mind. If you want to chat more, feel free to contact me or pick up one of the books and plan your own trip as there are sample (and sane) itineraries lined out in there.
If you want to just taste wines by the glass, check out Vinum in Porrera or Vins i Olis & Calaix de Sastre in Falset, and Bonviure in Gratallops who all offer a selection of local wines to try as well as buy.