Terra Alta is one of those hidden places you might never find unless someone takes you there. This is perhaps the region’s appeal. It isn’t exactly inaccessible, but let’s just say that it enjoys a certain anonymity. As the very place name indicates, Terra Alta (High Land) refers to an elevated place above the Ebro River. The very river is in charge of surrounding the mountains of the region and, from a bird’s eye view, of defining the silhouette of this land in the south of Catalonia.
A very young Pablo Picasso was invited to Terra Alta by a friend from the region called Manuel Pallarés. Picasso would pay long visits whilst recovering from an illness, and would learn how to observe rural life in order to paint and draw it. In his biography, written by the French Henry Gidel, Picasso affirmed that he had learned everything he knew in Pallarés’ village. The artists’ first visit was apparently some sort of initiatory journey. According to his biography, Picasso spent weeks living in the mountains, “in the heart of the savage wilderness: thick forests, ravines, frozen torrents. They slept in a cave, on beds of grass, and cooked rice on bonfires.” This didn’t at all prevent him from drawing and painting. His first cubist paintings were a result of this experience.
The village where Picasso would stay is called Horta de Sant Joan. From Batea, a nearby village where all of Casa Mariol’s fields and wineries are, you can see the mountains that Picasso painted on the horizon, known under the name of Puertos de Beceite. That is where the source of the Algars and Matarraña rivers lies. These rivers pass through Batea, all the way to their mouths in the Ebro River.
Batea is the most extensive village of the region. Around 4,000 hectares of vineyards are cultivated, making an annual production of around 20 million kilos of grapes. Agriculture is mainly grown on dry land, with a low rainfall rate, and long hours of exposure to the sun in the summertime. The vineyards are kept in a healthy state thanks to the combination of two predominant winds: the ‘cierzo’, which is very dry, and the ‘garbí’, a local humid wind.
There are some links of interest about the region at the bottom of this post. You will find recipes and pairings with local dishes by clicking on “pairings”.
When Casa Mariol opened their first shop in Barcelona, the press said: “Casa Mariol, ambassadors of the Terra Alta”. Without a doubt, this local wine and those of us producing it are responsible for representing this unknown land that has plenty be discovered.