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Our terroir: the "llicorella"

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This limited terroir, is formed by materials of the Palaeozoic era, mainly Devonian, Carboniferous  shale (formed between 416 and 318 million years ago), therefore the oldest that can be found in Catalonia today. The soils are shallow, usually from a single horizon and immediately below (about 10-15 cm) is the bedrock. They have a low organic content matter and are formed mostly by the disintegration of the slate, which is called llicorella,  and are laminated and broken rocks of a dark copper colour between which the roots of the vines dig deep in search of moisture, water and nutrients.

This section reproduces fragments of the text 'Priorat Vineyard', by Rafael López Monné, included in the book EL PRIORAT (Lunwerg SL and regulatory Council of the DOQ Priorat, 2009):

'in times of the universal deluge whereby God punished men for the sins they had committed, the waters rose 30 Palms above the highest mountain in the world, [...] as the water remained for 115 days as the Scriptures say, one can deduce that with so many days the Earth broke up in pieces to the bottom [...] Just as the earth that fell from the mountains, depending on from where it falls, contains its own substance, so will the wine have the sap according to the barrel it came from'.

In this way an educated farmer from Porrera explained, at the end of the 18th century, the reasons why the wine of his country had a special taste. One needs to know that 'all mountains by common are composed of three spices that are: llicorella, soldó and lime; although there are more spices '. Llicorella – also called licorella, llicorell or llecorell – is the undoubted star of the Priorat denomination of origin, although there are some areas that do not contain it, such as the foot of Montsant and much of the same mountain. The origin of the word is linked to the term llècol, which is used to indicate mood, taste or tasty ‘pastossitat’. The etymology comes from the Celtic likka, meaning stone. Stone, taste, slate, licorella - all of these words have become synonyms in the Priorat.

Currently, the almost atavistic footprint of the stone, slate, is still very present. One merely has to browse the tasting notes of their wines to read of 'mineral taste', 'touches of slate', etc. It seems as though the llicorella dissolves in the sugars of the grapes that grow on it.

This is a specific area, easily definable on a map with a time honoured history, many traditions and spectacular scenery. It is the land of “llicorella”, which quickly changes from the gently undulating mountain slopes to  abrupt cliff faces where an observer always poses the question as to how on earth they even dared to plant vineyards here!

As for the soil, it is relatively acidic with very little organic material. The soil is mainly made up of slate, known locally as “llicorella” (singular) or “llicorelles” (plural). These flat, easily breakable deeply copper coloured stones are where the vine roots delve in search of water and nutrients. It is these soils which are recognised as giving Priorat wines their greatest virtues.

Types of llicorella

The main types of llicorella that can be found around the DOQ Priorat are the following:

1. SLATE

Origin of the sample: Comadecases (Poboleda) and Garranxa (Porrera)

Distribution: It is found throughout the D.O.Ca. Priorat wine growing area. It is the most characteristic soil type in the D.O.Ca. Priorat.

Geological Period: Carboniferous (350 million years)

Features: Metamorphic rock of a fine or very fine texture, it is foliated and breaks up easily. It can present varied morphology in terms of colour and appearance. The prevailing colours are blue or brown.

2. “PISSARRA GRESOSA” (“Saldó” in local language)

Origin of the sample: Solanes (Porrera) and Coll Beix (Poboleda)

Distribution: It is found throughout the D.O.Ca. Priorat wine growing area.

Geological Period: Carboniferous (350 million years)

Features: Metamorphic rock made up of a sedimentary sandstone. It features a grainy texture with larger grain and foliation. It usually breaks up into blocks and it mainly occurs in brown tones.

3. DEVONIAN SLATE

Origin of the sample: Canyerets (Vilella Alta)

Distribution: It is found around a central axis going from east to west in the D.O.Ca. Priorat wine growing area in the subzones of Vilella Alta, Torroja, Porrera.

It is the oldest kind of rock in the DOCa. Priorat.

Geological Period: Devonian (400 million years)

Features: Metamorphic rock of a fine or very fine texture. It is very foliated and breaks up easily.  This rock usually contains a lot of quartz or other mineral veins and a covering of oxides that give it a reddish or yellowish appearance. The main colours are dark blues, greys or near black.

4. PHYLLITE OR FOLITATED SLATE

Origin of the sample: Les Sentius (subzone of Porrera)

Distribution: It is found in a zone, which comes into contact with the batholitic granite near Falset. It occurs especially in the south of the D.O.Ca. Priorat, particularly in the subzones of Bellmunt, Porrera and the “masos” of Falset.

Geological Period: Carboniferous (350 million years)

Features: Metamorphic rock submitted to high pressure due to contact with intrusive materials (granite). It presents a fine grained mud texture and a high level of schist that gives it a very laminated structure. It is of bluish or darker colours. Its main feature is its spots, that give it its freckled appearance.