Mas Comtal: ancient stones, innovative wines.

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Celler Mas Comtal is so old as a settlement that it’s its own place. There is no village, just a dot on the map, labelled “Mas Comtal”. Turning off the main road to Barcelona you pass a small industrial estate and head out into the vineyards, down a sunken lane, until suddenly, there it is, all alone.

The Mas part means “Masia” or farmhouse but stepping through the tall entrance doors into the traditional broad hallway of a Catalan Masia, not all is what it seems. Looking up, the roof is supported by a massive stone arch, a very visible clue that the core of the building is a Roman “mutatio”, a kind of ancient service station where travellers on the Via Augusta, the motorway of the time, could stop, change their horses and get a bite to eat.

Marta Milà currently heads the business.

Marta Milà currently heads the business.

Beyond the archway, a tasting room for visitors has been designed to showcase ancient remains preserved under the current floor of the building. At 40ha, Mas Comtal is one of the biggest wineries we work with and runs a yearly programme of vineyard visits and activities. The tasting room is a beautiful airy space which looks towards the mountain of Montserrat. The view is gorgeous and Mas Comtal wines are just as lovely. Amongst the most beautiful wines that we import, even the young wines such as white Pomell de Blancs (a chardonnay/xarel·lo blend which changes year on year) never fail to impress us with just how good they are.

Whilst Mas Comtal certainly has a long history the winery is very far from looking backwards in its winemaking. Organic pioneers, in the last 30 years the cellar has been pushing the boundaries in styles and methods of winemaking. In the 1980s brothers Joan and Albert Milà turned their backs on high volume, low quality grape production and decided on a very different approach. 

Old vine xarel·lo grown in the traditional bush shape. That’s Montserrat in the distance.

Old vine xarel·lo grown in the traditional bush shape. That’s Montserrat in the distance.

With a switch to organic vine-growing, the family developed their current range of still, sparkling and sweet wines. The late Joan Milà was an enthusiastic collector of unusual grape varieties which he brought back from his travels. Italian Incrocio Manzoni is still used to make a complex and intriguing white wine and the so-called “Hamburg Muscat” grape the aromatic, eccentric and slightly sparkling favourite, Pizzicato. No other wineries in Catalonia have quite the same eclectic mix of grape varieties.

Currently the business is headed by Marta Milà, Albert’s daughter. The focus is still on quality and sustainability. Mas Comtal were the first of a group of pioneering producers who broke away from D.O. Cava so they concentrate on making high quality traditional method wine under the Classic Penedès label, the first sparkling wine appellation in the world to insist on organic grapes. Sparkling wines are still produced using the same traditional double fermentation technique (like champagne) but unlike cava, where the big producers ship in both grapes and ready made base wines from elsewhere, Clàssic Penedès are only made by grower/producers in the Penedès, from their own grapes and with a minimum ageing on the lees of 15 months.

Mas Comtal wines also carry vegan certification: fining is carried out using pea protein and never animal derived products. Technical details for all of their wines are available on the website as part of their commitment to transparency in winemaking (how many other wines do you know where this is the case?)

Sleeping wines in their barrels.

Sleeping wines in their barrels.

Out in the vineyards the horizon is dominated by the jagged silhouette of Montserrat, keeping watch over sleepy vines in winter and sprouting vines in summer. Exploring with Marta she explains the story of each vineyard. The gnarly old goblet trained xarel·lo, twisted into the familiar bush shapes of my childhood, were planted over 50 years ago, when the family sold the grape to cava producers and the little wine made was sold on draught. Newer plantings are on the lines of wires that dominate the Penedès today. Each row has a brightly coloured twist tie - the pheromone trap that will disrupt the lifecycle of the grape moth and mean less munching on the grapes and no spraying of pesticides on the fields.

There are new plantings too - the rootstocks of American vines, lines of sticks in the bare earth, ready to receive their graftings of traditional varieties like Malvasia de Sitges, once more in favour as more suited to the challenges of climate change. What delights will the Milà family come up with next?

salut i vi!

Rachel

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