Conca de Barberà and trepat, local and mediterranean
It's no news that vineyards around the world are striving to achieve a local, strong and vibrant range of varietals. Gone are the years when what came from outside was better than what came from inside, or maybe not entirely? The landscape of that time ceased to attract us and we began to look elsewhere, searching in our history to find ourselves, to represent us and to identify ourselves in the midst of an extremely saturated and homogeneous market.
In this race to be different, a lot of time and money was invested in locating what was unique to each one of us. Many microvinifications had to be carried out in order to highlight certain varieties that had fallen into oblivion. And when they began to see the results, they had to locate all the vines they had and to repopulate certain areas. Our protagonist today is Conca de Barberà, a small appellation of origin that in its own way has also put the focus on its own and has redirected the bow of its ship to position itself and grow through this new concept.
Conca de Barberà is located in the province of Tarragona, near the Sierra de Prades, one of the coolest areas in the region. With only 25 registered wineries, it is at a turning point in its race for the micro-localisation of the area. Conca de Barberà has historically been, after the Penedès, one of the major suppliers of grapes for sparkling wines with the Cava label, especially of the parellada grape. But in addition to supplying grapes for wine for the second fermentation in the bottle, it was also an area where mainly white and rosé wines were produced.
After cava, rosés were the D.O.'s identity card. The latter were made with a variety called trepat and were wines with a certain commercial success in Catalonia, where they were highly valued. This local grape was widely used in La Conca, but without much conviction.
The main problem was the low colour and alcohol content of the wines. However, the great advantage it had was that it could sprout again after a spring frost, which to a certain extent guaranteed production in frosty years, although its oenological qualities were not entirely convincing.
Although Conca de Barberà was dominated by whites and rosés, mainly produced by the cooperatives, the truth is that in terms of tasting, the individual projects that had already been bottled showed a predominance of reds over the rest of wines. These wines that we tasted years ago played with grapes such as ull de llebre (tempranillo), garnacha, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah.
They were structured wines, with high alcoholic content and with a felt presence of oak ageing. We could say that these reds as a whole did not offer a differential image of the area, something that the most well-travelled and knowledgeable producers were well aware of.
Conca de Barberà, the home of trepat
The first single-varietal trepat wines that we tasted in the Peñín Guide were of a very different style to the one that brings us here today. They were rosé wines, either in the still Conca version or in the fizzy Cava version.
In Cava, some producers combined this variety with pinot noir because they understood that both had a similar and complementary character. However, although these wines were present, there were no examples of trepats in reds.
The first red trepat known in the area comes from a distant time, specifically from 1987. In the eighties, while they were fighting to obtain the Denominación de Origen certification, one of the main problems they had was that in spite of having a lot of vineyards, nobody was bottling in the region. In order to encourage the trade of their wines, a common space was created so that the cooperatives could bottle their wines in what was known as the Union of Cooperatives. Oenologists from several cooperatives worked in this space, and one of them, a young man trained at the Bordeaux school called Joan Rabadá, today the technical director of the Castell D'or winery, dared to make the first red Trepat wine, made as a young wine using carbonic maceration.
Although this first incursion of trepat as a red wine was made in 1987, the truth is that this type of production did not continue until 2004, when Carlos Andreu (Celler Carles Andreu) decided to bottle it again, with Rabadá's guidance.
At that time, no one could have imagined that this variety would become an asset for the appellation. It was in 2007 when the first vintage of this trepat red came onto the market: Carles Andreu Trepat 2004. Many branded this winemaker as crazy, but he had a hunch that it could work despite the low colour and alcohol content of the grapes.
In order to light the fuse, viticulture had to be adapted, as it was understood that in order to be able to make and bottle a Trepat red wine, certain customs had to be changed, and the vineyards had to be thinned out by green pruning. This guaranteed that the wine would have an alcoholic content more in line with the type of wine they wanted to make. Throwing grapes away was not in the DNA of the winegrower at that time, so many farmers did not follow this folly.
Despite the doubts raised, the wine got there, and it did so as new ideas arrive, imperfect, unpolished. It was a first step, a first vintage that gave way to a second and then a third, until the wine began to shine, a shine that caught the attention of prescribers, producers in the area and consumers.
The great leap that led to the turning point mentioned at the beginning of this article was precisely to focus its communication on this new type of red wine. These elaborations had to have an impact on the conscience of the producers, to the point that today there are many producers who are committed to these vinifications, and all of this despite the fact that they are wines with a medium-low structure, which implies a lower ageing capacity, at least until someone proves otherwise.
It is commendable how the D.O., despite how reviled this variety has been in the past, has been firm in its commitment to this grape and has maintained its criteria in spite of everything, to the point of transforming the negative into positive.
In our last foray into this variety, three wines dazzled above the rest: La Font Voltada 2016 T C (Abadía de Poblet), with 93 points; Julieta 2019 T (Josep Foraster) with 92 points; and La Font Voltada 2017 T C (Abadía de Poblet), with 92 points. However, there are many more examples with which to enjoy the fresh and smooth style of their wines, such as Mas de la Pansa Trepat 2017 (91), Josep Foraster Trepat 2019 (91), Pólvora 2019 T (91), Carles Andreu Trepat 2018 (90), Domenio Trepat 2016 (90), Les Gallinetes 2019 (90) or Abadía de Poblet Negre 2018 (90).
Not everything is trepat in La Conca
In spite of this change of trend and this commitment to softer wines, the two most highly rated wines from La Conca today belong to the Familia Torres winery. The red blend Grans Muralles 2017 (95 points), a blend of grenache, carignan, querol, monastrell and garró, which in recent years has been defined as a model for rescuing some hidden Catalan varieties such as garró and querol, and the white chardonnay, Milmanda 2018 (94 points), the first wine to put the D.O. on the world wine map, are at the top of the pyramid. Both coexist in a style that seeks the elegance of structured wine, a kind of oenological taming with excellent results and with potential for ageing. The paths of wine are inscrutable.