As the nights become cool, the landscape begins to shift from verdant green to a fantastic display of gummy-bear colors. Carinyena turns fiery red and Garnatxa takes on shades of gold, a final burst of energy to tell the world who they are. It is the time of year when nature informs the people which varieties are planted where and that the time for harvest is near. The colors are a result of nature responding to the cooler temperatures, pulling plant energy inward. The decision is, of course, more than just visual. Every vineyard has its moment of readiness and each grower has their own way of choosing what that should be.
Winemakers visit the vineyards every day, anxiously awaiting the moment when the grapes are at their optimum, ready to be collected. When the time comes, everyone is up before the sun, shears in hand, crates waiting alongside the vines. Harvest begins. The movements are swift and sure. Yields are so low that care must be taken to remove anything that might resemble a raisin or undesirable fruit. Hands are sticky, bodies sweaty and exhausted, but no one stops. The grapes need to get to the cellar swiftly and undergo through further scrutiny upon arrival. Day after day, running on steam, the work continues until the harvest is complete and the grapes are in the cellar on their way to becoming wine. Now everyone’s attention is inside attending to the fermentation, so the vines are left to follow their own destiny as nature dictates.
The cadence of nature is reassuring: peaceful slumber becomes a frenzy of bloom and growth
The Priorat is a cornucopia of deliciousness. All summer long there were blackberries, peaches, figs to be collected. Now the time has come for the olives and quince. But eventually the colors fade and the leaves dry, quivering in the cold air as if afraid to let go of their branches. As winter approaches, only a few remain, along with some stray raisins and the leaves on the ground still have work to do. They will decompose and become one with the earth again so they can give themselves back to the vines as organic matter.
The cadence of nature is reassuring: peaceful slumber becomes a frenzy of bloom and growth, which ends with a blaze of glory before pulling its energy inwards to regenerate for the vintage to follow. Vintage 2023 was a difficult one. There was no rain and little reserves from previous dry vintages. The old vines had intuitive knowledge and strong, deep penetrating roots to find the moisture they needed. Younger vines looked to their people for support. The crop was smaller than years past but everyone agrees that the final flavours are extraordinary.
Scroll down for a selection of images from the section of Ethos Priorat entitled ‘Autumn: Apogee of the Vintage’
All words and photography by Elizabeth Hecker © 2023
About the author
Elizabeth Hecker spent 15 years meeting the people of the Priorat, young and old, whose lives have been defined by the vines for generations. She photographed the cycles of life through the seasons. Alone in the vineyards, hearing only the sound of the air and the occasional bird singing, sensing the multitude of fractured pieces of ancient slate supporting her place on the Earth — this was the genesis of Ethos Priorat.
Chapter One, Nature, presents an in-depth look at the terroir of the Priorat, including climate, soil, biodiversity and the rhythm of life through the seasons. Chapter Two, Spirit, recounts history from the time of the Carthusian monks, who occupied the region from the 12th century through to the revival that began in the year 2000. Over time, the people have experienced both significant prosperity and great strife to form an enduring culture as pragmatic as it is romantic. The final chapter, Wine, celebrates the acclaim the Priorat enjoys today. It takes readers on a sensory journey from the vineyards to the cellars as the fruit transforms into wine.
Elizabeth’s hope is that the depth of the story of the Priorat will inspire curiosity about the origins of every wine we drink and remind us how important it is to take care of nature so nature can take care of us. If you listen… the wine is talking.