The link between wine and religion has existed for many centuries, although to be specific, the wine had to be red and the religion Catholicism. English settlers on America's east coast brewed beer from practically anything, while Spanish colonisers' priority was planting vines for 'communion wine'. Cynics will maintain that the priests drank most of it, leaving thimblefuls for the faithful.
Nearer home the majority of Spanish wine regions have no religious links, except the Priorato region, high up in the Pyrenees and with freezing winters and hellish summers. It had been settled by the Carthusians in the 12th century, and it was the monks who hacked terraces out of steep hillsides to plant vines
A very acceptable Priorato of reasonable value Made with the local Samsó grape blended with Garnacha, very solid and with good fruit. For a first sampling of a wine from this region, a perfect example. Around 14.50 euros.
Into this unusual scenario arrived two hippy drifters, both coincidentally from winemaking families, René Barbier and Alvaro Palacios. While René bought the finca L'Hort Piqué, Alvaro acquired Finca Dofi, now L'Ermita, in 1990. Understandably at the time the locals thought they were mad since all of them were doing nothing more than scratching a living from viticulture.
The possibility that great wines could ever be made in the region was thought of as sheer lunacy, and there was even a proposal on the table for all wines made locally to be funnelled through a co-operative and sold under a generic label.
Back then in 1989 there were only four bodegas in Priorato. Today there are more than a hundred, with well-known names like Jose Luís Pérez, Carles Pastrana, Torres, Castell de Peralada, Freixenet and Codorniu. Four million bottles of wine are produced annually.