Farming Monsant with Joan d’Anguera
This week, Bonney Rowley writes from Joan d’Anguera in Monsant. Thanks Bonney!
The saying, fine soil makes fine wine, has been passed from one generation of winemakers to another in the d’Anguera family. Their estate sits nestled between several mountain ranges and just east of the Ebro river in one of Spain’s newest D.Os, Montsant. This is a region often overshadowed (literally) by the mountainous, and more well-known, region of Priorat. I am struck by the beauty of this area as we drive through the dusty yellow hills and up into the brick colored mountains. Skeletons of stone foundations dot the landscape; relics of the region’s history of war and turmoil. It’s hard to believe that Catalonians only gained autonomy in 1978 after years of civil war and the rule of dictators.
In Monsant, the d’Anguera family has roots that go back almost 200 years. Their estate sits on the best terroir in the region with rare sandy soils. It is more common to find dense clay soils in the area but a river once ran through their property before the government built a dam in the 1970’s, leaving behind sandy top soils and river stones with clay and limestone beneath. As preferences changed to favor more international varietals, Josep Sr. started to grow Syrah to keep the family business alive. He sold fruit and made Syrah centric wines, but never gave up on or uprooted the old Garnacha and Carignan vines that were planted before his time. Josep recognized that the soils specific to his property brought something special to his wines, made from traditional varietals such as Garnacha and Carignan, that thrived. Today Josep’s sons, Joan and Josep, run the family business with the help of their incredibly proud mother Mercè. In an area where many producers aim to make wines that try to replicate Priorat, the d’Angeras strive to make wines that are uniquely their own.
When it comes to their approach in the cellar, Josep and Joan believe that sometimes it’s better to follow your heart rather than your mind. They try not overthink the process nor overwork the fruit during fermentation. All vintages are harvested by hand, rarely destemmed and are crushed by foot. The grapes then spontaneously ferment in cement tanks and age in large old foudres. Their process in the cellar is gentle, allowing them to make wines that are delicate and aromatic. This is the style of wine that their grandparents drank with family and friends around the dinner table. Joan explains that in Oenology school they teach students to make wines that are big, full of alcohol, overripe and extracted. These types of wine are outdated and the exact opposite of the kind of wine the brothers make today. “You must know the rules to break the rules,” Joan says with a laugh. When asked whether they have a favorite vintage, the brothers say of course, but that “each vintage is a self-portrait and you must learn to see the wine with new eyes each year. Sometimes you like what you see and sometimes you don’t. Just as people change, so do vineyards and the fruit they produce.” It’s clear that the d’Anguera brothers are forging a path of their own in Montsant. They are breaking the rules, but deliberately and with an intimate knowledge of the land their vines. The wines of Joan d’Anguera are an extension of the family’s independence, forward thinking spirit and a testament to their Catalan heritage.