Emptying your bank account to purchase a vineyard without the benefit of any formal oenologic study and at the urging […]Keep Reading
Emptying your bank account to purchase a vineyard without the benefit of any formal oenologic study and at the urging of a group of like-minded friends would by any reasonable assessment count as folly. So should you find yourself in this lamentable position it would only make sense to name your nascent wine after the humanist who so mockingly and humorously wrote the book on praising folly, Erasmus of Rotterdam. Follies and fools seemingly lack judgment but how often are the words of truth manifest in the guise of motley? As literary trope and as Jungian archetype the fool exerts enormous power and those ensnared by folly either fall to ruin or rise to fame. Only hindsight winnows genius from misfortune.
In 1988 Daphne Glorian, at the time employed by an English Master of Wine in his Paris office, was in the throws of epic folly and spent her life’s savings on 17 terraces of hillside vines just outside the village of Gratallops. Newly minted friends René Barbier and Alvaro Palacios encouraged her and together with Carles Pastrana and Jose Luis Perez, they pooled their talents and resources to make a new style of wine in a region rich in history and raw materials but without much of a proven track record for fine wines. In 1989 the modern Priorat was born: one wine but five different labels, each which would one day become known around the world: Clos Mogador, Clos Dofi, Clos Martinet, Clos de l’Obac and Clos Erasmus.
Today Daphne’s property goes by the name Clos i Terrasses in recognition of the Clos upon which her fame was established and the terraces that she farms. The estate is planted with 75% Garnatxa, 20% Syrah and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.
The first vineyard, the original folly, is named Escalas. At 1.7 hectares, it is her smallest site planted on seventeen terraces carved out of a steep slope and surrounded by woods. North-facing, its seemingly inauspicious aspect creates the perfect conditions for ripening Garnatxa slowly and nurturing unusually vibrant Syrah, a variety which normally struggles in this hot and arid region.
In the early 1990s Daphne added Aubagues and Socarrats to her holdings. Aubagues is 2.5 hectares in size and like Escalas, it was replanted in the mid 1980s . It has a diverse exposure that spans two ridge tops, so the Garnatxa is grown to take advantage of the warmer parts of the vineyard with its deep soils while Syrah is reserved for the cooler, shallower, north-facing slopes. Even in youth, the Garnatxa from Aubagues is aromatic and inclined towards red fruit flavours.
Socarrats is the largest vineyard, totalling just over 3.5 hectares, where Garnatxa, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are planted up and over a hillside from southeast to northwest. Here her 2500 vines of Cabernet Sauvignon suffer each year, not being suited to the heat and llicorella soil. Each year Daphne resolves to graft them over until she tastes the wine they produce and each year they are granted a reprieve.
Guinarderes, acquired in 1998 is now 3.5 hectares in size and is the location of the densest plantings at Clos i Terrasses (96000 vines/hectare.) Facing south and southeast, Guinardares is the hottest site, the first to be harvested and primarily planted with Garnatxa with a tiny portion of Syrah.
By climate and topography, most farming in the Priorat is sustainable but when Daphne hired Ester Nin as her viticulturalist in 2004 they made the decision to convert from organic practices to biodynamics. From its start, Clos Erasmus has been a wine made from young vines blessed with being planted in the right spot. Old vines are self regulating and are rather easy to farm, or more accurately, ignore. Young vines require more effort and intensive farming so the conversion to biodynamics was the logical next step in the evolution of Clos i Terrasses.
In Spring and Autumn cover crops share the land with the vines and several times a year they are ploughed back into the soils by hand, by mule or in the case of the wide terraces of Escalas, by a small tractor. Many of the vines are staked so from a distance you might think you were in Côte Rotie, the rest, apart from a small section of head-pruned vines are cane-pruned.
Harvest is declared based on how the fruit tastes, the balance of sugar and acidity and the ripeness of the skins and seeds. Picking is done by hand into small crates that are transported to the winery where the grapes are cooled overnight before destemming and sorting into fermenters of various materials. Originally the wines were fermented in fibreglass tanks which were largely replaced by oak fermenters about 10 years ago, but now the winery employs concrete and amphorae as well. Fermentations are spontaneous and temperature control is a rudimentary cold water jacket. Since extraction is not really an issue, there is infrequent but gentle pigeage and the wine stays on its skins for at least 5 weeks. Often the primary fermentation is not complete by the time the wine is moved to barrel.
Clos Erasmus and Laurel are not vineyard designations, but they do begin to take shape in the vineyard. Due to the meticulous farming and observation that takes place throughout the year, by the time fruit starts to reach the cellar in autumn much of the blends have already been mapped out by Daphne. When the primary fermentations are winding down these decisions begin to coalesce and wines intended for Laurel are racked into a combination of 20 hectolitre wooden tanks and second- and third-fill 228 litre French oak barrels. It rests for 16-18 months before final blending and bottling.
The nascent Erasmus is slated for twelve 228 litre French oak barrels. In any given vintage about 7 of the barrels are new and 5 are second-fill. In some vintages there will a declassification of a barrel into Laurel. Clos Erasmus remains in barrel for 18-20 months before bottling. In 2011, the very difficult decision was made to declassify all the Clos Erasmus into the Laurel making it the only skipped vintage in the nearly 25-year history of the estate.
Only 3000 bottles of Clos Erasmus are bottled in an average vintage despite new plantings and vineyards being developed. The goal at Clos i Terrasses is to retain the character of Clos Erasmus while continuing to improve the quantity and quality of Laurel. To facilitate this evolution two new vineyards are being developed and experiments using concrete and amphorae in the cellar have started with the 2013 vintage.
It may have begun in folly but through extraordinary effort and a relentlessness that borders on madness, Clos i Terrasses, much like the Priroat, continues to evolve and innovate. It is hard to imagine a world, only a quarter century ago, where wines like the five Clos did not exist but even more remarkable, is imagining what they will become in another quarter century under such talented stewardship.Close