The Wine: Bessons 2014
Toni Sanchez Bessons is a red natural wine made from grapes from an old parcel of vines in Gratallops at 500m above sea level. An impossibly concentrated red composed of Grenache and Carignan. 3 years of élevage in wood. Smells like a vineyard on the hottest day of summer. (source: Josh Eubank)
The Producer: Toni Sanchez
In a past life, Toni Sanchez worked at a lab in Tarragona's sprawling petro-chemical district, specialized in the development of luxury shampoo products for women. His short career, he recalls, was the discovery of a chemical compound to prevent 'split ends.' His colleagues were impressed but Toni was unhappy at the shampoo factory. Sometime around the great crisis of 2008, Toni found himself daydreaming about his childhood on a dairy farm in the pastoral hills of Lleida. One memory in particular, a taste, stuck with him: the unique flavor of fresh cow milk in the winter. Toni wondered how he had strayed so far from what he loved. In 2009, he quit his job and enrolled in Enology school.
Few wine regions in the world were so helplessly transformed by globalization as Priorat. As late as the 1980s, Priorat was poor and provincial, known mainly as a producer of boozy table wines, sold by the liter in the working class botigas of Barcelona. Twenty years later, the regional capital of Gratallops was a Robert Parker-inspired boom town, with pretend chateaux, Michelin stars and a never ending parade of wine buyers in suits. The tastemakers of the time gave high scores to rich, extracted wines, and Priorat, planted to black slate on the Southern slope of the Serra de Montsant, had an unlimited supply of them. But like the shampoo factory, it all fell apart in the decade following the crisis.
For Toni, the timing was fortuitous. With his life savings he was able to buy a small 1.5 hectare plot outside Gratallops, planted to old-vine Cariyena and Garnatxa. Ancient pines mark the perimeter of the vineyard, providing some shelter from strong winds off the Mediterranean. On a warm day, the air is ripe with rosemary, thyme, and fennel, smells that would be familiar to anyone who has hiked Mount Tam in Marin County. After a couple years moonlighting as an enologist in other bodegas, Toni had a revelation: as out of fashion as it was, he had a soft spot for the over-the-top, opulent style of Priorat that dominated the region in the 90s, but he really hated the taste of sulfites. The result is an amalgam of pre-modern rusticity and post-modern glamour. Starting in 2013, Toni did away with all additives in his winemaking, having discerned that ripe grapes, long élevage, and judicious levels of volatile acidity provided adequate protection of his wines. At the same time, his winemaking highlights aspects of Priorat's history that are younger than his vines, such single-parcel specificity and the use of Burgundy barrels. On the whole, Toni’s wines are reminders that age and authenticity are not always equivalent, that history is made by humans. (source: Josh Eubank)
The Region: Priorat