Josep Rabasa is part of the group of players from Pallares who, after a period in Barcelona, decided to return home. "Before, those who left Pallars no longer returned, but lately it is more difficult to survive in the city and, in addition, the Internet makes it easier to earn a living here", comments the director of the Batlliu de Sort wineries, who in the In 2010 he tasted the first harvest of his mountain vines planted in Olp, one of the 14 towns that make up the municipality of Sort (Pallars Sobirà).
Josep studied Economics in Barcelona, worked in the finance sector and before turning 30 he undertook a return to Sort, where he was the manager of a bank office. “It all started with four friends and relatives who thought the time had come to do something for Pallars, we wanted to help promote this area. After many conversations, a few gin and tonics and visiting wineries with different denominations of origin, we decided to make wine up here, a thousand meters high”, he recounts. The first step was to buy, in 2007, the Casa Sabrià farm, an old 20-hectare dairy farm, in Olp, a population center with 51 registered residents. In the meadows where the cattle grazed, they planted vines of the Pinot Noir, Riesling and Viognier varieties, which in 2010 gave the first 700 bottles.
“We started with a lot of uncertainty and passion, our big doubt was whether it would really be possible to make wine. Now we already produce 50,000 bottles of reds and whites and we have the potential to reach 70,000”, says Josep, 52, who initially combined banking with the winery, but since 2015 he has dedicated himself full time to the viticulture. “We are small and I do everything. We have generated between three and four jobs and at the end of September, when the tourist season ends, we gathered around twenty people for the grape harvest. Our objective is to grow and generate more employment”, he adds.
It should be noted that Batlliu de Sort feeds on the grapes from the fields of Olp and, to a lesser extent, from that inherited from its plantations of white and black garnacha, macabeo, tempranillo and merlot from Tremp, in the neighboring Pallars Jussà region in which the bet on mountain wine began earlier.
One sunny August morning, while sipping a cool Riesling followed by a Viognier on the terrace of one of the huts that are part of the estate, this former banker affirms that he would not go back for anything in the world. Living off the land is hard, but also magnetic and rewarding. “This project has been worth it for personal growth, because I like the countryside and the wine. This is an exciting sector, every day I do something different”. Its three reds and three whites are sold in similar proportions in the Catalan market and abroad, mainly in Europe. He regrets that in nearby destinations, such as the Val d'Aran, it is difficult for him to penetrate.
To publicize their wines among the local population and tourists, this August they offer meals in a large hut next to the winery, and some summer Sundays they organize concerts so that the public can taste them. All are covered by the Costers del Segre-Subzone Pallars denomination of origin.
His project is anchored in the trend of cultivating in a respectful way with the land, beyond the norms established by ecological certification and two steps away from the precepts of biodynamics. “What we do is traditional agriculture applying current knowledge, we protect the biodiversity of the fields”, he underlines.
The Olp vines emerge in an enclave in the peripheral area of the Aigüestortes and Estany de Sant Maurici national park overlooking the Monteixo peak, at over 2,900 meters. "In front we have the station of Port Ainé, behind the Montsent de Pallars, the Montorroio... We are in a high mountain area, in winter the temperature drops to minus seven degrees, which suits us well because it is a purge, kills the diseases".
In addition to Monteixo, in the nearby Vall Farrera, from the vineyards you can see one of the population centers that are part of Sort, Castellviny, where only one family resides all year round, says Josep. Olp, the town to which the farm belongs, is a little further away.
After Alta Ribagorça, Pallars Sobirà is the region in the Catalan Pyrenees with the least population, specifically with 7,190 inhabitants in 2022, according to data published by Idescat. Few but increasing if we analyze a historical series of four decades: in 1981, there were 5,455 residents. A peak can be seen in 2009 and 2010, when they exceeded 7,500. The evolution in the capital, Sort, has been similar: from the 1,895 people who appear in the 2002 register, it has risen to the current 2,192 and with a maximum of 2,387, in 2010. Olp has 51 registered compared to 33 from the early 90s of the last century.
During the sunny hours, Batlliu de Sort's three dogs doze and seek shade. One of the females has had puppies, more playful and energetically defying the heat. The dogs are key to keeping fallow deer, roe deer and deer at a distance. "At night they go through the vineyards and prevent the deer from eating the grapes," explains Josep. Wild fauna has become a real headache in many wine-growing areas.
Batlliu de Sort is a new wine project, the first in Pallars Sobirà, says Josep, but it must be remembered that in the past the vineyard already grew in the Pyrenees. For this reason, this winery has sought the complicity of the regional council and the Incavi to recover varieties planted in the past in these places, the majority in Pallars Sobirà, among them the canaril, royal, neral, mancens and trobat, of reds, and the popa cow, white, among others that are not registered. On his farm, a small experimental field works to study the evolution of these vines and determine the possibilities that, in the future, they give birth to great wines.