Perhaps the oldest extant wine estate in Priorato, Scala Dei dates back to 1163 and the foundation of a Carthusian monastery that began the story.
The name Scala Dei itself is Latin for 'Ladder of God' and looking at the steep, terraced vineyards on the slopes of the holy mountain of Montsant it is easy to visualise at least a part of the reason for such a name. The monks left more than 150 years ago, driven out by angry locals who resented the collection of tithes, and it was not until 1878 that wine was again made here.
Five families who had been given the land formed a union that was to become the estate that is recognisable today. While the region as a whole fell in to a slump following the ravages of phylloxera at the end of the 19th century and winemaking was in danger of ceasing in this tough mountainous enclave, Scala Dei continued to make wine and was rewarded for such endurance when the early 1990s saw a great revival of interest in the unique climate, topography and soils of the region, recognised and appreciated by a new generation of winemakers led by René Barbier and Alvaro Palacio.
As a result some of Spain's greatest wines are now made in Priorato, and today Scala Dei is at the forefront of such premium wine production. Garnacha tinta (called garnatxa in Catalan country) is the principal red variety, with plantings of syrah, carineña, cabernet sauvignon and the white garnatxa blanca alongside it.
They use only grapes grown on their own 90 hectares of land at up to 700 metres altitude, harvesting by hand at extremely low yields, and sorting by hand every grape that arrives at the imposing winery, before ageing the wines in the 17th century cellars that remain from the monastery of old. Today the estate is part owned by the Codorniu cava house and there has been much investment in equipment, bolstering their commitment to quality.