A Visit to  

El Pinell de Brai (Terra Alta, Spain)

El Pinell de Brai is an improbable place. In so many ways the town makes no sense, and maybe this is some sort of baggage from being raised in Los Angeles, but after a couple of days there last month it started to feel like a movie set with its unique cast of Catalan characters and expat hideaways. Located in the heart of Spain’s Terra Alta, and just a couple of hours southwest of Barcelona, Pinell seems like a town where anything goes. In some strange way, and in my opinion, this is the epicenter of Spanish and Catalunyan wine. Yet you’d be hard pressed to find a local who goes about their own business even caring about such developments. Thus, this contrast makes the place feel even more weightier, powerful, and exciting—there is a palpable sense of energy here in this tiny town.

The first thing one sees upon rolling into Pinell is the epic Catedral del Vi (maybe even too epic for the scale of the actual village) designed by Cèsar Martinell, and then, right across the way, Laturb, a sort of hangout / warehouse and shipping space, and one of many locations that Laureano Serres utilizes in the village for his domaine Mendall.

The name Mendall, a word in which Laureano isn’t even sure what it means, comes from the name of his mother’s house when he was a child. Since the early-mid 2000s, and after leaving a corporate gig in Madrid to come back to his home, Laureano has been tirelessly farming vines inherited by his grandfather just outside of town and making wine in the center of Pinell. 

Upon five minutes of hanging out with Laureano, we were already talking about love, loss, death and acceptance—no bullshit chit chat, all in straight away. Sipping on a new cuvée called Toke Rotie (who else is naming wines after weed and the Cote Rotie AOC?) I sifted through Laure’s impressive categorized and alphabetically ordered record collection, him blasting Fairport Convention on the hi-fi.

Containing multitudes of boundless energy, Laureano is a guy who simply follows his gut and accepts the outcomes. Every vintage is different and what’s the point of even trying to shape or mold the outcome of something in which is so closely linked to nature and god? Containing a preternatural sense for farming and vinification, Laureano likes to improvise and to have no plan. Or to put it otherwise, Laure’s actual plan is to have no plan, and like a true improviser, to act and feel purely in the moment. After a mellow evening at Laturb, we all parted and went to sleep early in order to get up the following morning to pick ripe Macabeo at Terme de Guiu.

I woke up the next day eager to wipe off the LA city sheen and to get down and dirty, but Laureano had called off the morning pick because of unexpected moisture up in the hills that morning. Anxiously checking my phone for the go ahead, it happened around 10:30 AM, and after a breakfast at Makeku we headed up to meet the Mendall picking crew to pick for a couple of hours, and then proceeded to Laureano’s processing facility to de-stem and to begin maceration of the grapes. The entire time Laure was smiling and ecstatic, and eager to point things out to me that I may have been missing as I classically spent too much time on my phone taking photos of the action.

After the picking and processing session we had lunch and a ton of wine (including the first wine of Laureano’s daughter, Alicia and her partner Alex, bottled just a few hours before) at the town inn and then proceeded to yet another location which contained Mendall’s Ranci cellar. Vi Ranci, as it is known in Catalan, is an ancient form of winemaking closely linked to the Tarragona region and is fairly free form—barrels are left untopped and added to occasionally and the wine ages for years, usually developing a flor. We tasted around 5 to 6 different rancio wines that are currently aging in small oak casks, and at a certain point in the tasting I completely left my body and went to outer space. Vi Ranci is perhaps the outer limits of winemaking and I don’t think I’d trust anyone else other than Laureano as my spirit guide to take me on the trip. After a siesta that left me in a rather existential mood upon waking, we had some pasta and then called it a night.

I find Laureano’s acceptance of nature and process enthralling and as a guide for how to live one’s life—buddhist sensibilities born out of love and with completely no dogma, and a willingness to accept that sometimes the wine can be shit—”but when it’s good ... it’s really good.”