It was one of the prettiest county roads of Ampurdán, some had known it even before the highway. So near Perpignan, yet so far from everything. At the time, long before the Spanish border opened up a string of brothels, just after getting past the traffic jams in Perthus and having trembled, shamefully, at the sight of the ridiculous cardboard caps worn by the “Guardia Civil”, it freed us from the heavyweights of the Nationale-II. There was but a small panel on the left that read "GI-602 Capmany", and with it the promise of beaches, sun, fiesta, the old road from Rosas and Cadaqués that twirled between pines and oaks to the rhythm of the first “Blaupunkt” car radios, before the vines and the olive trees, those very Mediterranean promises, would announce the official arrival of the holidays, or of the harvest of love, even.
I drove down this dream-like road again two weeks ago on the last day of my vacation. Under a gray and wet sky. And I thought of The Garden of Earthly Delights. I’m not talking about the green, phantasmagorical Lost Paradise which can be seen on the left side of the painting, no, I mean that it was like being in the Prado looking at the right panel of the triptych by Hieronymus Bosch, at the dark light of his vision of the Damned. There was a deathly silence in the car. On both sides of the lovely GI-602 there was a forest of charred tree trunks, rocks split by fire and a penetrating smell of ash.
You must have heard about it, 14,000 hectares of forest and scrubland were burnt in Ampurdán in July, a tragic fire that lasted more than a week, and whose smoke spread to Barcelona and the Balearic Islands and which I talked about here. I then promised myself to go for a drink at the spectacular bodega “Terra Remota” which was miraculously saved from the flames by firefighters from Zaragoza, so here we are.
"Spectacular", I said about Terra Remota. But spectacular bodegas in Spain are everywhere; it’s kinda like guessing who’s got the most spectacular one around. From Priorat to La Rioja, the country is covered with them; thanks to the banks’ generosity, EU subsidies and construction madness of which we now know the side effects. "Spectacular", the word may be a little inadequate because here the architectural is masterful, there is more finesse than fluff in this elegant building of rough concrete and broken lines, perfectly in line with the slight gradient of the granitic ridges of Ampurdán’s Pyrenean foothills, almost as a nod to the low walls of old southern vineyards. Given the disastrous weather during my visit, I suggest you rather have a look at the images that are on the property’s website. This winery is the brainchild of Pepe Cortés and Nacho Ferrer, two architects from the region who have carefully avoided the grandiosity so popular in the ”Mondovino”. Bravo!
But beyond the appearances of this beautiful "package", it’s what goes on inside that counts. Because, thanks to Grenache and Tempranillo, the winery is still here. We will need to talk about this one day! Especially at a time when in France, politicians who specialize in sustainable “misdevelopment”, have decided to promote and subsidize picking. Vine is one of the best fire retardant available, townspeople do not know this, but in fact it can be used as green barriers which are infinitely cheaper than those precious Canadairs. Without it, scrubland and Mediterranean forests are in danger! “Terra Remota”, whose green roof was in flames late July, survived the fire of Ampurdán, like a green island in the middle of Hieronymus Bosch’s Hell, thanks to the brave aforementioned firemen, but also and especially thanks to its army of fearless vines.
It’s what happens inside that counts, I said. Because this "architectural finesse," this smoothness that I pointed out externally, I also felt it on the inside. Obviously, this is not the same as the maze and the cobwebs of the old “Rayas” cellar that Jacques Reynaud showed me all these years ago; don’t come looking for traces or for a pastiche of a past that cannot be recreated (not for the nostalgic). We are in the twenty-first century, that’s all.
In fact, what I like in this fire-surviving bodega is that everything, from its entrails on out, every detail exudes intelligence. Marc Bournazeau, who dreamed it up with his wife Emma with that extraordinary "caveman luxury" touch, wanted it so that winemaking would only be possible for two. It was therefore necessary to think things through, to organize and to streamline, a bit like sailboats designed for solitary transatlantic crossings. And, as is often the case, what’s beautiful also happens to be practical. Incidentally, they are also actively green and use a cool water recovery system (very useful at the time of the fire!).
What I also like at “Terra Remota” is the "receptive" side of things, and that includes a secret dining room which can be reached through a back door and a narrow corridor which reminds me of the pharaoh’s chambers in the Egyptian pyramids. I also love the clever and friendly idea of picnics on the property with dedicated space under the pines to grab a bite to eat and / or a nap. This is certainly one of Spain’s finest modern bodega and probably the most beautiful one.
It goes without saying that only a newcomer could have built such a cellar: Marc Bournazeau, known among rugby-lovers for being the youngest president of the USAP, became a winemaker long ago. In Roussillon, of course, or in Maury or gavatx country to be more exact, where the Ariège-born Bournazeau owned the château Saint-Roch, but also in Chile, where he has made wine for years in Las Niñas. “Terra Remota” was inaugurated in 2006. I must admit that I had tasted some of their first wines, made from newly deflowered vineyards, and they had failed to impress me. Hence the interest in returning to pop my nose in their glasses.
Unquestionably, wines have changed. I could talk about the white “Caminante”, Southern but good, or the “Caminito” rosé which I like for its “muy seco” side and which would surely do well when confronted with a dish of Costa Brava fish, but for me the cherry on top at “Terra Remota” is the “Camino”, the property’s mid-range red. Sorry for the strange compliment, but the “Camino” (with a very marked grenache-syrah streak but refreshed by Cabernet) is not your typical "Spanish wine". And it’s even less Catalan. No gold metals and flamboyance; the breeding is digested, discreet, and should be even more so in the future. This is along the lines of wine drunk at “bodybuilding” contests, close to the hearts of too many an American production that is still being praised beyond the Pyrenees. Yes, we can talk about evolution (perhaps through biological conversion), a change desired by Marc Bournazeau who keeps his eyes wide open, unlike many local winemakers (who, by only speaking patois eventually become unintelligible). From an oenological point of view, the wines of “Terra Remota” are also followed in France, which makes sense.
But the best news during my visit is this clear juice that I tasted directly from the vat, a 2012 white Chenin at fermentation stage. The big fear, after the fire of Ampurdán, was that grapes would be "smoky" on this sample, but it is absolutely not so. Thank goodness! In any case, Marc Bournazeau is working with professionals who have produced "post-fire" wines, should there be any problem, especially with the reds.
In this devastated, lunar, infernal landscape, which draws tears from the eyes of grown men, Terra Remota is a great message of hope. Sure, Nature will resume its rights, it will take time, but around the vineyards, scrubland and forests grow green again. Again, let’s help the peasants of Ampurdán by toasting to their health. In this regard, why not support Marc Bournazeau’s idea, an idea that should be taken up by all the winemaker of the region? "Purchase six bottles and we’ll plant a tree." I’ll take a case of Camino, please!