In 1194, Alfons el Cast, King of Spain at that time, founded La Cartoixa Fundation (The Carthusian Foundation), and that’s when the “Cartoixan” Monks got moved in Escaladei, but it wasn’t until 1215 that it was officially inaugurated.
The Carthusian monks started studying the land and working on grape growing, inventing their own way to work the land and the grape, up to the point that they were able to write a Manual where they explained how, where and when to grow each type of grape. They grew the vines and collected the matured grape to sell it to wine making cellars nearby. Eventually, they started elaborating that grape themselves to turn it into the fine drink we know it is nowadays. The first time Scala Dei winery bottled their own wine was in 1878, to be taken to the International Expo in Paris that same year. Many years later, in 1974 Scala Dei bottled the first wine named “Cartoixa” under the Priorat D.O. – some of those bottles are still aging even today in the old cellar of the winery.
Geographically, Escaladei is a very tiny village located inside what is known as the Priorat region. Hidden between the Coastal Range “Serralada Litoral” and Montsant mountain (that looks like Montserrat’s little baby, as you will see from the pictures I took. It’s highest peak is “La Roca Corbatera”,1.163 meters high), on the southern land of Catalunya, about 20 Km from Tarragona, where you will also find great roman samples and structures. Also, 20km further down south, you will find Ebre River that flows towards open waters in the Delta de l’Ebre (National Park with a huge variety of birds and animals that live in the rice paddies).
So, as you can imagine, from the vineyards -some of them placed at the very top of Montsant’s mountainside- the views get you breathless. One of the things I found more interesting, is how the mountain’s soil changes colors (from white to yellow to bright red and then into a toasted beautiful brown color) so often, and by very little height difference, and consequently its properties are also others, giving a different “bouquet” to every type of grape. Even the little wild plants that grow around the fields (such as lavender, thyme, rosemary) manage to get their aroma in the grape’s taste, giving each wine a very spiced, fresh or perfumed taste that you will also find in your glass of wine. You will be able to prove by yourself what a difference in taste and texture there is among all of them if you go for a wine tasting at their Cellar!
Its geographic location gives the perfect climate conditions to grow what is known as the finest Garnatxa grape, which is also, as we could expect the grape that is traditionally and mostly grown in this region.
Scala Dei cultivates grapes on 250 hectares distributed among 41 different vineyards strategically chosen at different heights (up to 750m) and different types of soil. If you adventure yourself to go on a walk towards the top of the mountain, you will walk through and past some of those vineyards, and if you watch carefully, you might happen to find several hidden country houses “Masos” built hundreds of years ago, now beautiful ruins telling silent stories.
Don’t forget to stop every once in a while, take a deep breath and observe what’s under your feet, pure nature beauty!
AH! If you like mountain climbing, this land is considered the Mecca for climbers! Siurana, another close by village, has the “Dura Dura” climbing wall, considered the most difficult in the world, so, you may want to give it a try?
I highly recommend a day/weekend getaway to this beautiful virgin-looking land that offers nothing but beauty, taste and a great feeling of freedom and symbiosis with motherland.
If you want to round up the day, you can also have lunch in Falset, the neighbor village, at a restaurant where you will also have a great selection of wines besides eating traditional Catalan recipes kept simple but mouth melting: Restaurant Celler de l’Aspic.
Last but not least, I would like to reproduce a shred of a writing of Scala Dei, the essence of their philosophy, which I will translate underneath the original text:
“Hem callat i hem escoltat. Hem trencat el temps. Hem enfonsat les mans a la terra i hem sentit el seu batec. Ens hem impregnat de les veus del vent i del silenci. I, des de les vinyes d’alçada, hem deixat que el paisatge parli. Hem obeït el dictat genuí del Montsant. El prec silent de la Cartoixa. Les veus dels homes que, de generació en generació, han modelat els ceps. Les paraules aspre i autèntiques de la terra del Priorat. El sòl de llicorella i argila. La provocació de la garnatxa. Hem pres un glop del passat per a guanyar el futur. Som ànimes de vi. Fetes de terra, pensaments i emocions. Un lligam entre els nostres pares i els nostres fills. El fruit d’un temps i d’un espai. Un glop de vida.”
“We stayed silent and we listened. We have broken the time. We have sunk our hands in the Earth’s soil and we heard its heartbeat. We have impregnated ourselves with the voices of the wind and silence. And from the highest vineyards, we let the landscape speak. We obeyed the dictates of genuine Montsant. The silent prayer of the Cartoixa (the monastery). The voices of men who, from generation to generation, have shaped vines. The rough and authentic words of Priorat’s land. Slate and clay soil. Provocation of Grenache. We took a sip of the past to win over the future. We are souls of wine. Made out of dirt, thoughts and emotions. A link between our parents and our children. The result of a time and a space. A sip of life.”