Who: Joan-Ramon Escoda.
What: Vi de Taula, Conca de Barberà, Catalonia.
Where: Prenafeta, Montblanc, Tarragona.
When: Since 2003.
Joan-Ramon Escoda is a pioneer and leading voice of natural wine in Spain. With his wife Carme Sanahuja, he founded the winery in 1997 in the Conca de Barberà region of southern Catalonia, started producing bottles in 2003 and stopped using sulfites in 2007. Today, from 15 hectares, he produces wines that are recognised from Barcelona to New York to Tokyo as some of the most exciting wines in Spain.
The Conca de Barberà is an hour west of Barcelona, inland and uphill from the Mediterranean but only around 30km as the crow flies. It’s a beautiful, wide-open landscape that affords a great environment for wine-making, with its Mediterranean climate, altitude of 400 to 600m, and breezes. The Romans made wine here 2,000 years ago, then the great Cistercian Monastery of Poblet, just a few kilometres from Escoda, renewed the tradition in the twelth century – and it’s likely the monks brought with them from Dijon the Chenin Blanc and Pinot Noir that still exist in the region.
Joan Ramon has been making wine for a long time. He worked his way through a couple of large cooperatives then did a spell at one of Catalonia’s leading progressive and organic wineries in the 1990’s, Can Rafols dels Caus. After working in a tiny space at his own Domaine since 2003, in 2012, Joan Ramon and Carme started to build an impressive new cellar at the heart of their estate with a commanding panoramic view towards the town of Montblanc and the Conca region. They’ve also created a highly recommended on-site restaurant called Tossal Gros, the name of the mountain behind the cellar and which is run by San Franciscan and ex-Bar Brutal Chef, Kaya Jacobs. They keep chickens, pigs, sheep, goats, and horses. Most of the vineyards are surrounded by woods and forest and all of them are untouched by neighbours which has permitted them to practise biodynamic and organic farming since the start without fear of contamination from the majority who still don’t.
The soils are marked by limestone, which Joan Ramon believes lends the wonderfully edgy and mineral acidity to his wines. He encourages cover crops between the rows and treats the vines with herbal preparations in order to protect and promote moisture in the soil and biodiversity, which come through as energy and complexity in the wines. Joan Ramon is co-founder of the H2O natural wine salon in Catalonia, the name referring to “vegetal water” which is how he likes to see his wine. It’s a term that sounds perhaps pejorative until you consider…
In the cellar, Joan Ramon keeps it simple. Hygiene is scrupulous, and no additives are used, the wines are worked as little as possible. Some of the wines are made in inox, many now in clay jars of various sizes (amphora) and there remain a few old barrels for the Pinot Noir, La Llopotera, and Paradetes Cuvées.
The wines are manifest of Joan Ramon large personality. Bright, fun, confident and opinionated, he’s also a great listener and passionate wine lover. All of this reflects in his brilliant wines, that possess balance, complexity, energy, difference, refreshment and great fun.