“In the Montsant you can shock.” Coming from Dominik Huber, founder of trailblazing Priorat winery Terroir Al Límit, this means a lot. For nearly two decades, Huber has been exploring the edge of what is possible in the Priorat, making energetic, lower alcohol wines from the hot, twisted slopes of llicorella slate in a DOQ famous for power. He has eschewed the preferred modern formula that adds alcohol, extraction, and oak to naturally concentrated, old-vine Carignan and Grenache, without losing the ability to express Priorat’s profound minerality and soul. This grand vision for restrained wines has always captured the attention of wine lovers and professionals eager to drink fresher, more gastronomic Priorat wines. Nevertheless, Huber still stands virtually alone at the limit that he pioneered. With the launch of Terroir Sense Fronteres, his new project next door in the Montsant, he is poised to break boundaries all over again.
The quest is not for shock value. Rather, it is quite the opposite: a return to wines that express a natural, direct connection to the earth. Huber is an admirer of traditional Mediterranean cuisine and its ability to effortlessly transmit this connection through fresh local ingredients, prepared simply. In Catalunya, Huber’s adopted home, the local style of cooking combines flavors and textures from the mountains and coasts, providing immense satisfaction and pleasure without interference of excessive technique. Why can’t the same be true of Priorat and Montsant wines?
Huber’s winemaking philosophy seeks to restore this natural connection to the earth and the vine: vineyards are farmed organically or biodynamically, grapes are harvested and placed into tanks, vats, or amphora (whole bunch) by hand, trodden gently by foot, and fermented with native yeasts. There are no destemmers or oak barrels in the Terroir Sense Fronteres winery and sulfur additions are low.
The son of Bavarian butchers, Huber’s passion for wine was ignited by the stunning power and possibility of the Priorat during an internship with the Pérez family (at Mas Martinet and Cims de Porrera) in 1996. He never stopped coming back. In 2000, Huber spent a whole year working with the Pérez family and met South African winemaker Eben Sadie, who was working at Cims de Porrera. They teamed up to found Terroir al Límit in 2001. Huber explored the region on motorbike, through its twisted valleys and sharp peaks, searching for extreme sites where they could make special wines. One day during harvest in 2006, they were sitting in a café at the foot of the Montsant mountain when a tractor rolled by, towing an eye-catching load of Grenache. The fruit was a luminous color that they’d never seen before in Priorat. Naturally, Huber and Sadie chased after the tractor to taste the grapes.
It turned out that just behind them, high up in the Serra de Montsant mountain range, which rises above Scala Dei (the Carthusian monastery founded in the 12th century by monks from Provence, marking the origin of Priorat as we know it), some of the region’s finest Grenache grows on calcareous and clay terroirs at altitudes upwards of 800 meters. In the highest parts of this northernmost zone of Priorat, there is no llicorella. Terroir al Límit’s top wine, Les Manyes, comes from this rugged stretch of mountain: pure Grenache from a single vineyard on red clay and gypsum at 800 meters altitude, farmed biodynamically, harvested for freshness, and vinified with stems. Les Manyes is an ethereal mountain wine that continues to challenge the status quo in Priorat.
Huber took the reigns of Terroir al Limit in 2012 (after Sadie returned to South Africa full time). When he was finally able to purchase Les Manyes vineyard in 2015, the property came with another extraordinary old Grenache vineyard one kilometer down the road in a zone called Els Montalts, just across the limit of the DO Montsant. Having traversed the Priorat border into the DO Montsant, gazing south over the entire region from its highest perch, the idea for Terroir Sense Fronteres was born.
MONTSANT/TERROIR SENSE FRONTERES
On wine maps, the Montsant is the oblong ring around the Priorat. This impressive circle of mountains, foothills and valleys contains an impressive variety of elevations and terroirs (including calcareous, clay, granite, and slate). Yet, until quite recently, Montsant wine has taken a good-natured backseat to its more exclusive neighbor. Although it is often marketed as baby Priorat and vinified to approximate Priorat power at substantially lower prices, the DO Montsant offers a unique opportunity to work with the same traditional Mediterranean varieties found in Priorat (primarily red and white Grenache, Carignan, and Macabeu) at significantly lower alcohol levels.
Minimum alcohol levels in DO Montsant are 12.5% for reds and 11.5% for whites, compared to 13.5% for reds and 13% for whites in the DOQ Priorat. Huber cites these lower alcohol requirements and Montsant’s fresh, exciting terroirs as a source of freedom. Serbian-born winemaker Tatjana Peceric (Head of Oenology at Terroir al Límit and Terroir Sense Fronteres) is at the helm of the Montsant project, combining her subtle aesthetic and passion for elegant Grenache to coax complexity from every wine. This is the roadmap for making truly light, restrained, yet thoroughly Mediterranean wines that does not exist in the Priorat. And if the possibility exists, then Dominik Huber and his team must do it. This is how Terroir Sense Fronteres unleashes the power of Montsant to shock and delight.
From the heights of Manyes and Montalts, Terroir Sense Fronteres takes us down the Serra de Montsant on hair-raising tracks through rocky dips and turns, and right back up the tortuous path to the top of the Serra de la Figuera mountain and its eponymous village, La Figuera. This town of just 100 people on the west side of the DO Montsant is surrounded by vineyards of Grenache with a uniquely elegant character, so pretty and delicate that it is referred to by the local growers as “Garnatxa Fina.”
Politically, La Figuera is in the comarca (county) of Priorat, although wines made from La Figuera’s Garnatxa Fina grapes fall under the DO Montsant, not the DOQ Priorat. Terroir Sense Fronteres’ Vèrtebra cuvée is a vibrant rendering of Garnatxa Fina’s sheer, crunchy fruit, interwoven with mountain air, flora, minerality, and length. Vèrtebra is a complex and beautiful Grenache that can only come from La Figuera.
Continuing south, the valleys around the village of Capçanes are the source for Terroir Sense Fronteres’ entry-level red and white wines, Negre and Brisat. Made of certified organic Grenache, Carignan, Grenache Blanc, and Macabeo grown on panal (silty loam) soils, the bright, crunchy Negre and the taut, textured, skin-macerated Brisat (the local term for orange wine) are versatile, refreshing Mediterranean wines that add pleasure to any meal.