The journey from the Gramona farm to Mas Escorpí passes by the Bourguignon vineyard. Looking toward Riu de Bitlles, we can see a dry stone wall that separates this vineyard from the Serreta one, which is a bit higher up. The wall also supports the slope along the boundary between the two vineyards.
Built into the wall we can see a circular shelter, which is wider at its base than its roof. Above the wooden door, a flat lintel made of a single stone secures the opening. Just in front of this structure is a small semi-circular terrace, which facilitates access and acts as a buttress for the construction. This shelter was used to store the glass bottles in which a sweet wine made from raisined grapes used to be aged. We made this wine a while ago from grapes harvested from the Serreta vineyard with the wine’s ageing taking place just a few metres from the vines where the fruit had grown.
In February 2023, Mallorcan stone craftsmen helped us refurbish the shelter and the wall. It isn’t easy to find these craftsmen; the dry stone construction technique is not simple, it takes experience to do it well, and especially to rebuild structures using this method. Our vineyards are home to dry stone structures which we try to keep in the best condition possible.
Dry stone walling is an ancient building system that is approximately 10,000 years old. The last wave of mass construction with dry stone in Penedès took place at a time when phylloxera was wiping out the vineyards of Champagne and supplying the French wine producers proved to be a good business for the local winegrowers. Shelter was needed for tools, draft animals and people, as they worked in vineyards that were increasingly far from inhabited areas. With this expansion, land at increasingly higher altitudes was turned into vineyards and terraces had to be built to transform the hillside into land suitable for winegrowing.
These needs were met as quickly as possible and using elements within easy reach. This is the essence of this technique: a strategy of minimum effort and maximum performance. To make the land suitable for working, it had to be cleared of the large stones that could damage tools or impede the winegrowers’ work. These same stones were used to build the various structures, from walls to shelters or wells.
This technique was learnt through practical experience. Choosing each stone is as essential as the skill to get them to fit together. There are several ways to build a structure. One of the most common, and the one used for the Bourguignon vineyard shelter, is by overlaying stone blocks. Once the wall is built, to achieve a dome-shaped enclosure, rows of flat stones must be laid and secured, either by shaping them into squares with a tool or supporting them with smaller stones. Each stone block is placed slightly inside the previous one to build the false dome. The ceiling vault is closed with one or more flat stones, called “keystones”. The structure is then completed by covering it with earth and then fixer plants, such as English irises, are planted, which help protect the structure from wind and rain.
Part of the landscape, part of life
Dry stone walls perform several functions. They delimit land and prevent flocks of sheep from wandering across the fields. When they are used to create terraces on a hillside, water moves down the slope more slowly, meaning farmers can make better use of it and the danger of landslides decreases. They act as a habitat for small animals and insects, and especially for moss and lichen, which fill the vineyards with life. They organise and shape the agricultural landscape, they delay erosion, and they help retain moisture in the soil. During the day, they accumulate solar energy and contribute to creating a microclimate conducive to agriculture. Although they are normally not very tall, these walls provide protection from strong winds. In terms of the material, in the Penedès region, limestone reigns supreme.
In addition to the shelter in the Bourguignon vineyard, on our estate, there are examples of this traditional architectural discipline in the walls along several paths, in the forest by the farm, and in the Ágora, Dòlmen and Serra vineyards.
In 2018, UNESCO added the art of dry stone walling to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. We view the task of maintaining the existing structures as another expression of our respect for previous generations and our desire to maintain a rich, functional ecosystem that is consistent with the local area.
In addition to property owners who are aware of this discipline, there are several organisations made up of volunteer builders who locate, catalogue, and often rebuild dry stone structures. One such organisation is the Centre Excursionista del Penedès, which has a dry stone construction section. In Catalan-speaking areas, thanks to the long history of several local initiatives, the Associació per la Pedra Seca i l’Arquitectura Tradicional (Association for Dry Stone and Traditional Architecture) was founded in 2015. This Association is mainly dedicated to promoting and coordinating actions to safeguard popular architectural heritage made from dry stone walls. The Wikipedra page, part of the Observatori del Paisatge de Catalunya (Landscape Observatory of Catalonia), which operates entirely on a volunteer, cooperative basis, inventories, catalogues, and collects information on dry stone constructions.
At Gramona we share the original spirit of the builders: making use of and caring for our surroundings with the resources the earth provides. And we celebrate all the initiatives that help raise awareness of and maintain this important cultural heritage.