Terroir al Limit
Thursday, June 9, 2016 in News
Terroir al Limit can roughly be translated as The Vineyard at the End of the World. It’s the name of one of the most important producers in Priorat, Spain, a thousand-year-old wine region south of Barcelona that has comprehensively reinvented itself in just the last 20-25 years.
Priorat really is ‘at the limit’ – hot and dry – steep hillsides planted with untrellised vines in poor, rocky, slatey, ‘licorella’ soils – a harsh landscape requiring intensive, non-mechanised farming – and long thought of as good only for crude, high-alcohol wines – over-ripe, over-extracted and over-oaked, overdone in every possible way.
Enter (among others) Dominik Huber, a transplanted German wine enthusiast with a background in business administration, and Eben Sadie, a talented young South African winemaker.
They became friends while working with another progressive Priorat winemaker and made their first Terroir al Limit wine – Dits del Terra (Fingers of Land) – from Carignan grapes in 2001.
In 2003 they moved into a tiny cellar in Torroja, at 400m one of the region’s highest villages. Arbossar (also 100% Carignan) was first made that year, Torroja (50-50 Grenache-Carignan) in 2005, Manyes (Grenache) and Tosses (Carignan) in 2006, and whites Pedra de Guix (Pedro Ximenez, White Grenache and Macabeo) in 2008 and Terra de Cuques (Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel) in 2011.
The wines, made in tiny quantities (typically 100-200 but up to 600 dozen), mostly from old vines, had immediate international impact.
Terroir al Límit is one of the names that are defining the Priorats of the 21st century’, said The Wine Advocate’s Luis Gutiérrez.
His colleague, Neal Martin, enthused: ‘I revelled in these stunning Priorats... These are wines that offer intensity of flavour instead of overwhelming power, and elegance and personality on a world-class level’.
The great achievement of Terroir al Limit, and a handful of others, is a new definition of what is possible in Priorat wine. They have attended to the vineyards and the vines, picked grapes earlier, used old, large-format barrels (up to 3500 litres) and concrete tanks rather than (225 litre) barriques and avoided extractive practices such as foot-stamping and pumping-over (which mixes fermenting wine through the cap of grape-skins). These have been replaced with natural-yeast fermentation, up to 100% whole-bunch inclusion and lower intervention generally.
The result is a level of polish and poise outside Priorat winemaking memory – precise, elegant wines infused with flavour, virtually without oak characters, low in alcohol and with real freshness – a quality not previously associated with the region. In short, wines showing both finesse and power that are approachable but also ageworthy.
Huber’s inspiration is French, Burgundian to be precise, and the model is (what else could it be?) Domaine de la Romanée Conti.
He has been full-time at Terroir al Limit only since 2007 (Sadie returned to his South African interests in 2011), and has begun classifying his wines according to vineyard site. Torroja and Terra de Cuques are the village wines, Pedra de Guix, Dits del Terra and Arbossar the Premier Crus, and Manyes and Tosses the Grand Crus.
The two top wines are both single-variety and single-vineyard, so they give crystal-clear expressions of their different terroirs and grapes. Huber’s focus is now on unlocking the premier and grand cru potential of a number of other vineyard sites in Priorat.
The road has not always smooth, and Terroir al Limit has not always enjoyed the support of its neighbours. Perhaps the worst moment came in 2011 when vandals broke into the winery, drained a number of tanks and poisoned others with bleach.
Huber had to dig deep, emotionally and financially, to survive. But he has come through, and his reward is the knowledge that Terroir al Limit is today producing some of the finest wines ever made in the region, which means they are among the finest modern Spanish wines and worthy of comparison with the best of Burgundy, Barolo, Bordeaux and anywhere else.
Langton’s will shortly be offering new-vintage Terroir al Limit wines in tiny quantities. Stay tuned for more information.