Time tells us what a wine is like.
Wine tells us how times are.
At Can Bas time is all around us. It is to be found in the ploughed furrow, in the route of the tracks that cross our estate, within the walls of the chapel, in the noble stones of the house or the tiled vats in the old winery. It is also beside the old threshing floors, in the shape of the vines, in place names and in the reflections in the water of an old basin for washing clothes. Time is present in every vat, every barrel and every bottle of wine.
At Can Bas we imagine time as an invisible substance that weaves life together, tying together permanence and change. And despite being imperceptible, time leaves its marks and this - if we can interpret it properly – becomes a part of history.
At Can Bas, history is all around and it is history that has forged the unmistakeable personality of this wine-growing estate. Archaeological remains, documents, art and the landscape itself all bear witness to this. They speak of the history of the estate, but also place it within the history of Catalonia and the history of wine and wine-making.
There is more history than geography in a bottle of wine. Jean Jacques Emmanuel Kressmann, 20th centuryAt Can Bas we like talking about history. We think that both history and culture are defining traits of our terroir. At Can Bas we've found prehistoric remains; we can boast sites from Iberian times, and a Roman villa beside the route of the Via Augusta, one of the Empire's most important highways. There are plenty of vestiges of the middle ages here, as well as documents referring to the development of the wine-growing estate from the 15th century to the present day. At Can Bas there is a winery and a country house that help to understand the history of the Penedès region - and of Catalonia as a whole - through wine and wine-growing. All it takes is a quick look.
A QUICK LOOK AT THE HISTORY OF CAN BAS
The Middle ages and Renaissance
The middle ages and feudal powerCock-crow announces dawn and new times. In the scriptorium at Sant Cugat del Vallès - one of the most important monasteries in mediaeval Catalonia - the abbot signs a manuscript on 18th February in the year 992. He has just agreed to sell a vineyard beside Sant Joan Salerm - the church belonging to Can Bas - in exchange for mills and water on the river Bitlles. The buyer of the vineyard is the son of the viscount of Barcelona. The viscount is interested in populating this frontier region between the Catalan counties and the Saracen domains of Al-Andalus. The imposing shadow of the castle of Subirats defends this part of the Hispanic March. Down on the plain, the peasants plough, fertilise, glean, sow, thresh, grind, prune and pick. They work from dawn till dusk in the cornfields and the vineyards belonging to their noble lords. We are now in the feudal period. At that time Can Bas was just a small tenant farm known as the house of Sant Joan Salerm. Around it villages, fairs and markets are springing up and fine buildings are being constructed.
Twilight and rebirthThe good times and prosperity have come to an end. Now is a time of hunger, and of plague too. There are fewer and fewer hands to work and more and more abandoned farmhouses. With nowhere to turn, suffocated by taxes and feudal injustice, the peasants rebel against their lords. In troubled times there are always some who use sense and wisdom to look after their own. Around 1500 there are men arguing that the earth is not flat and moves around the sun, printers copying books and spreading knowledge at unheard-of speed, and also sailors who have circumnavigated the world. Around the year 1500, the hard work of farmers turns a small tenant farm into a family property known as Can Carbó de Sant Joan Salerm.
Paleolithic age, Iberians, Romans
100,000 – 50,000 BC
Paleolithic sitesLet's visit El Mirador (meaning the Viewpoint), a vineyard perched on the low hill of Els Basets, today owned by Can Bas. Remains of flint and fragments of cut stone show that a small stone age community was working here between fifty and a hundred thousands years ago.
VII – II centuries BC
An Iberian settlementNow let's turn round, speed up the wheel of time and visit the wall enclosing the house at Can Bas. Here there is documentary evidence of silos for storing grain, amphoras of wine and olive oil, pottery produced on site and pots from the other end of the Mediterranean, the result of contacts between the native population and the Greeks. All the indications are that this was an Iberian settlement. The existence of a large earthen jar and turned cups in fine black clay indicate the importance of wine 2,500 years ago.
2nd century BC – 4th century AD
Under Roman influenceAll at once we hear the sound of hammers and chisels on the dry hardness of limestone. Dusty-faced slaves - Iberian, perhaps - deftly lay cobbles and cut stones in place to build the future Via Augusta, to connect the provinces of Baetica, Cartaginensis and Tarraconesis to Rome. A section of this road crosses the Can Bas estate from north to south. Very close by, an influential patrician from the Tarraco area built a villa here, which was at its peak in the 2nd century AD thanks to the vineyards and the wine trade. Inside this villa, gentlemen discuss business over a mensa, a marble table supported by three fearsome, skilfully carved lions. At Can Bas you can see a replica of one of these animals that served as a trapezophoron, supporting a table for a Roman noble. But it's getting dark.
XVII, XVIII and XIX centuries
Today in the big house there is great excitement. The busy servants are preparing a feast with the good and the best that is harvested and cooked at the house: fresh rye bread, fresh vegetables, fine cooked meats, caramelized apples and oranges. All of which is accompanied with the best estate wines. Today, the heiress is marrying Pere Bas. The surname of the husband re-names the estate. After the wedding the married couple lives at Can Bas and their descendents will all be from Can Bas.
Brandy and expansion of the vine
Harvest is approaching, in fact it is just around the corner, and everything must be ready. The young farm hands of Can Bas know that the master of the house is extremely scrupulous. He requires that all the tools, tanks, casks and harvesting vessels be very clean; above all else every year he orders the boards of the wine presses to be renewed because at the time of pressing the grapes, the juices should fall into the tank without any rubbish. He is right; all the effort of a year could go to waste if the wine were to be lost due to a lack of hygiene.
At Can Bas wine is not only produced for family consumption; a great deal more is produced which is sold. Part of the earnings of the year has been invested in restoring the church of Sant Joan Salern which has become very well known. Furthermore, since brandy has become a product for export to Northern Europe, the master has decided to plant vines where before wheat was grown.
The golden age
Since it was possible to export wine to America, vines in the Penedès have spread like an oil spill and they now cover the mountains and low lands. Now, at Can Bas, nearly all the land is dedicated to the vine. The price of wine continues to increase and for this reason, the current owners have considerably expanded the wine estate; they have invested in the construction of new pressing tanks and have expanded the cellar. Can Bas has become a very large property and its name has become a mandatory reference of the region. Can Bas is Can Bas.
XX and XXI centuries
The hammer blowOn their return from Barcelona, the owners of Can Bas remark how much has changed in the city; now Barcelona is much more beautiful and has a new modern district; the International Exhibition of 1888 has transformed the appearance of the city, and some highly distinctive buildings are going up in a new style known as “modernisme” (Art Nouveau), of which the architect Gaudí is the leader. But the owners of Can Bas come back stricken from Barcelona. What was just a rumour has been confirmed: the plague of phylloxera is advancing fast and nothing can be done to stop it. It has already destroyed many of the vineyards in Europe, has spread to Catalonia and in the Penedès growers fear the worst. And in fact, in eight years phylloxera destroyed nearly 400,000 hectares of vineyards in the Penedès. Can Bas was not spared the disaster. The only vines to survive were those planted in sandy soils or on plots hidden amid the woods, like L'Anciana and La Secreta, which have survived to the present day.
Starting from zeroBut nothing and nobody could ever break the spirit of the people of Can Bas. And if they had to move on and start again, so be it! The old dead vines were uprooted and new ones were planted, grafted onto American rootstock that was immune to the effects of phylloxera. Many native grape varieties disappeared in the plague, but others adapted well to the new American rootstock, like Xarel·lo, Macabeu and Parellada. These varieties are ideal for making the cava that had recently come into fashion among the well-to-do in Catalonia. The great-grandfather of Pere Ventura - the current owner of Can Bas - was one of the pioneers in introducing the méthode champenoise in the region.
The sober nobility of the country houseThe insistent ringing of the church bell at Sant Joan de Salerm heralds the big day. Work on the country house is complete and, after a mass, the snow-white new frontage of the house is blessed. After all that has happened, Can Bas seems not only to have risen from the ashes, but after the renovation work the big house has taken on a noble air. Its general appearance has the sobriety typical of Mediterranean country houses, but both the ground plan and the details reveal the influence of the great wine-making chateaux of nearby France. Can Bas takes on the challenges of wine-making in the 20th century with its head held high.
The spirit of Pere VenturaThe spirit of Pere Ventura dominates Can Bas, infusing it with his energy and outlook. The new owner wants the past that has lain sleeping for so long in the memory of Can Bas to illuminate the present. But as a man of his time, Pere Ventura realises that wine-growing and wine-making must meet today's demands. Consequently, he is committed to making excellence the standard of his single-estate and single-terroir wines; recognition and respect for farming work must be the norm to assure the quality of the landscape, wine-growing and wines of Can Bas; and with his gaze set firmly on the future, Pere Ventura works in accordance with painstaking sustainability and environmental protection criteria. For Pere Ventura, Can Bas is Can Bas, now and forever.
- The Middle ages and Renaissance
Wine, teach me the art of seeing my own history /At Can Bas we have set ourselves the task of preserving, studying and protecting the cultural heritage in our wine-growing estate. The biggest part of our heritage consists of the landscape, the vines we grow and the wines we make in our winery. Nevertheless, we also feel that the things - both material and immaterial - that have helped to shape the history and personality of the estate are heritage. At Can Bas we have records of archaeological, ethnological, documentary, cartographic and artistic pieces of enormous value, today preserved in public archives and museums. Two exceptional buildings stand out among our material cultural heritage: the Romanesque church of Sant Joan Salerm and the country house of Can Bas. At Can Bas, moreover, we care for the intangible, ephemeral and enormously fragile heritage - passed down from generation to generation - that bears witness to the uses, representations, languages, techniques and traditions that have left their imprint on the place and which give it meaning. At Can Bas we believe that behind heritage lies knowledge. And it is this knowledge that we feel has been entrusted to us that we want to pass on through our wines and the tours of our estate.
As if it were already ash in my memory Jorge Luis Borges. Soneto del vino, 1964