René Barbier Ferrer is one of the visionaries who revolutionised Priorato wines in the ‘70s. We are referring to none other than the creator of Clos Mogador, also the father of Manyetes and the white wine, Nelin, and whose personal and professional career came to a head in 2004 with Espectacle, under DO Montsant. From that very moment, this wine was capable of uniting the opinions of both experts and consumers, reaped several awards and became an essential part of every private cellar of an ever increasing number of wine lovers.
“I’m obsessed with the expression of the terroir”, stated René Barbier to explain that, from his point of view, “a wine’s identity is the photofit of the place it is born. An oenologist who doesn’t live his vines, automatically becomes the worst enemy of the soul of a fine wine. I personally live with my vineyard and I need its presence. The right amount of nurturing, too much or too little sunlight, whether the leaves shine, whether the vine shoots are appreciative; at the end of the day the grape compensates all your worries to the full”, the winemaker stated with enthusiasm.
This oenologist was born in Tarragona in 1950, son of French viticulturists. His training began in the wine schools of Beaune, in Burgundy, and Limoux, where he obtained his diploma in oenology, a qualification he broadened at the University of Bordeaux through work experience at several prestigious wineries. As a result, he has made white wines in Alsace (Riquewir, Doff au Moulin), worked at wineries such as Moueix, Pétrus, Château La Fleur Pétrus and several estates in Pomerol and St. Emilion; he finished his business training at the Sichels winery and studied the Champagne method at the ‘Café de París’ in Bordeaux.
However, despite his eminently French education, his first professional employment was in Spain, as a distributor and salesman for the Palacios Remondo bodega, under DOCa Rioja, where he worked from 1976 to 1979, the year in which he bought his estate in Priorato, in the district of Gratallops, where he launched his Clos Mogador project planting Garnacha, Cariñena, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. He was initially joined in his winemaking adventure by a small group of friends including Carles Pastrana (Clos de L'Obac), Jose Luis Pérez Verdú (Clos Martinet), and Dafne Glorian (Clos Erasmus), who were later jointed by Alvaro Palacios (author of L'Ermita).
The first wines were made at shared facilities, where each individual provided their own grapes and made their own Burgundy style wine. As a consequence, what started as a simple adventure ended up a resounding success. Later on, in 1999 Clos Mogador was joined by Manyetes and the white wine, Nelin, and in that very same year Barbier founded his new company under DO Montsant,: Celler Laurona, where, in 2004, he created Espectacle.
René Barbier’s vision is rather unique; he believes pruning to be the first step towards quality. “To live within the vine, to be it and exponentially exploit the very best of it, making it healthy, that’s what pruning is all about”, he clarified, deeming that a fine wine’s real strength is found in its surroundings, “the coexistence of the right species contribute to its wellbeing, the biodiversity, olive and fruit trees such as peach, cherry or plums, aromatic herbs, and non-predatory vegetation, enrich the flowering of the vine, making every grape bunch a world of flavours and fragrances”, he explained.
As regards the grape harvest and winemaking methods, at the estates where Mogador and Manyetes are made, the harvest is carried out by hand, always waiting for the moment of optimum phenological ripening before harvesting the crop. The yield is then quickly taken to the bodega in 10-kilo crates and passed through the double selection conveyer belt at the entrance; first the bunches are selected and then the individual grapes.
Fermentation is started with a spontaneous pre-ferment agent respecting the region’s native yeast. Overpumping and plunging take place with the aim of obtaining maximum extraction. The process’ evolution is controlled on a daily basis and a watchful eye is kept on temperatures to make sure they do not reach excessive limits. This process is carried out in ‘fudres’ or large 500-litre open barrels. Maceration is extensive, from 4 to 5 weeks, and drawing off is decided by means of tasting criteria.
The free-run wine is separated from the press wine in wait for the malolactic fermentation to begin. Afterwards, it is transferred to barrels where it is aged between 14 and 18 months. Once the moment of bottling has been decided, the wine is gently filtered and left to evolve in the bottle.
When René Barbier talks about Clos Mogador he refers to a wine which embodies the grand covenant between terroir, complexity and depth. “Garnacha and Syrah provide the delicacy and the sensitivity needed to create its soul; Cabernet and Cariñena make up its minerality, structure and strength. All the elements come together in the most surprising way, making it a benchmark for fine wines in the Priorato region”. The winemaker ended his explanation by pointing out that the experience of various generations is expressed through this wine.
Manyetes takes its name from a place in Gratallops which boasts exceptionally poor soils, is overexposed to sunlight and suffers from acute drought, a location almost at the limits of survival. “It’s a passionate challenge because under these almost desert-like conditions the very essence of Priorato is concentrated. In an obscure corner which is close to suffocation, an ancient hillside still endures, arid and inclined, covered with slate, and planted with Cariñena. An emotional combination in an incomparable place”, Barbier explained vibrantly, clarifying that he wanted to give his wine a touch of femininity and delicacy by adding 30 percent Garnacha. “It’s the result of 15 years hard work, with a vine mortality rate of over 40 percent every time they’re replanted.
These days the landscape compensates all the effort and is prepared to meet its visitors. The end result is a surprising wine, mineral, feminine, pleasurable, subtle, which has stolen my heart. Without doubt, Manyetes is the terrior of Priorato made into wine”, the winemaker stated starry-eyed.
His enthusiasm increases when he describes his white wine, Nelin. “It’s a soul mate concept. It represents the balance between masculine and feminine, and the splendour of youth. A Garnacha Blanca base conjures up the rolling hills, sprinkled with sensations of spices and quince preserve which the slate soils season with mineral notes. The Roussane grape outlines the brooks which meander through the hills. The Viognier softens the landscape in sweet, tender forms which give the wine a unique aspect. Diplomatic and a little exotic, it unites and consolidates other varieties with its juicy and subtle fruity notes”, these three varieties are joined by Pinot Noir which “structures the coupage and gives our wine a future thanks to its tannins and acidity. This foreign visitor, without betraying its origin, gives Nelin the elixir of long life”, René Barbier waxed lyrically.
However, this winemaker’s lyricism reaches its height when he describes Espectacle, made exclusively from Garnacha Tinta from near on one hundred-year-old vines. “This wine is pure magic, terroir, goose-bumps, an oasis of exception, floral tenderness, friendship, gratitude, emotional feelings, and feelings of satisfaction. I wanted this wine to be a discovery, an acknowledgment for those of us who have worked behind the curtains, in my case for the past 20 years, and our devoted public. For me, it’s an ethereal sensation of symbiosis which brings to light a third dimension bringing us together in the same enjoyment. Seldom can sommeliers and oenologists, viticulturists and buyers, winemakers and critics assembled together in one scenario enjoy the same pleasure, the same ‘Spectacle’”.
With these four aces up his sleeve (Clos Mogador, Manyetes, Nelin and Espectacle) plus his way of describing them, it comes as no surprise that, on average, René Barbier manages to export around 70 percent of his production, mainly to Europe, the US, China, Japan, and Australia.
To finish, René Barbier admits that he likes wines which fit in with his philosophy, that are capable of expressing their place of origin, the terroir, the environment. “Every region has wines with that profile, although I must admit that I have an additional soft spot for Garnachas”, the winemaker concluded.