Recuperating ancient grape varieties in Pla de Bages

Over the last 15 years in Spain, there has been a heavy push to preserve old buildings using public funds that were otherwise crumbling into ruin and oblivion. Some might read this cynically as simply a way for corruption to flourish via nefarious members of the construction sector getting overly-plush public tenders. Indeed, there has been some of that but at the same time, there’s the recognition that recuperating many of these structures is beyond private means and preserving cultural heritage is very much in the public interest.

This is how the 19th century house, La Torre Lluvià (also known as vil·la Emília or vil·la Maria) in Manresa came to be reborn. Originally designed by local architect Ignasi Oms i Ponsa in the “Catalan Modernist” style in 1896, it had fallen into grave disrepair and was near total collapse when the city hall of Manresa acquired it in 2012 and began massive works in 2014 that ultimately totaled 800,000€ to stabilize and bring the house back to its original appearance.

Once rebuilt, there came the almighty question: what do we do with it? The typical answer was the one that initially started in 2017 where it became a Punt d’Interpretació i Difusió (“Center of Interpretation and Diffusion”) which I think is best translated into English as a “Knowledge Museum”. But this was something of a stopgap and people sought out what more could be done with it.

Sitting on a parcel of 75ha in the “Green Ring” of undeveloped land that encircles Manresa, they’ve now announced it will become the site of a new olive and almond grove as well as a vineyard to recuperate old and nearly lost varieties (olive, almond, and grape) for the region which resides within DO Pla de Bages who are working jointly with the Ajuntament de Manresa and another group, AMPANS.

They’ve set aside two parcels totaling 3ha. One in the northeast will be planted this year, 2018 but will focus mostly on the almond and olive trees with a smaller portion of vines. The other will comprise the majority of the vines and be planted in 2019, most likely in the spring when it’s typical to plant new vines.

Given that in DO Pla de Bages there are some 25 grape varieties considered native or more appropriately, “traditional” as they’re found in other regions as well, the idea is to establish a nursery to facilitate preservation of these rare vine stocks. Those on the list at the moment include:

  • Turbat – Found in Catalunya but also known as Torbato, an Italian variety from Sardinia that was near extinction and is slowly being recovered. It’s also thought to be in Priorat where it’s mistakenly been labeled as White Grenache.
  • Malvasia Roja – One of the many Malvasia grapes in existence and probably a reddish-berried color mutation of the white Malvasia de Sitges which is itself also known as Malvasia di Lipari and is the same grape as Malvasija Dubrovačka in the south of Dalmatia, Croatia.
  • Negrelló – Also called Punxó Fort and Picapoll Negre in DO Montsant although the later has no relation to Picapoll Blanc (which might be Clairette Blanche) nor Piquepoul Noir in France. At the moment, it’s thought to be found only in Catalunya.

And there are others they’re looking to plant which have yet to be named or fully identified. DO Pla de Bages is apparently the first DO in Catalunya to spearhead such an initiative as they see the need to preserve these grape varieties for the future before we lose them to oblivion. It’s a fitting addition to a lovely 19th century house that was in much the same situation just six years ago.