Wine production was restricted while Priorat was under control of the Moors. So it wasn't until the 19th century that about 36,000 acres (15,000 hectares) were being cultivated for winemaking in the region. But a vine louse destroyed the Priorat's winemaking industry in 1900 causing many farm and wine-producing families to emigrate. The farmers who stayed turned to almonds, hazelnuts and olives as alternative crops. It wasn't until the 1950s that the replanting of vineyards began. Progress was slow, though, and by the 1980s only about 2,100 acres (900 hectares) had been planted with grape crops[source: Barcelona Field Studies Centre].
Known for its dry climate and poor soil, the Priorat region gets such little rain that locals say the priorato vines can suck water out of stone. They have to. The area is of volcanic origins, and its soil consists of slate and quartzite, or small particles of mica. The topsoil is only 19.7 inches (50 centimeters) thick, so the vines must plunge deep into the bedrock to find water [source: Wines from Spain].
The slopes are so steep that machine harvesting isn't practical for most wine producers in the Priorat; grapes have to be picked by hand. Most vineyards are planted between 328 feet (100 meters) and 2,297 feet (700 meters) above sea level. Between the harsh conditions and the amount of manual labor required to produce wine in Priorat, it's not surprising the yield is low. Not to worry, though -- the quality is extremely high [source: Cellar Tours].
Several producers established a cooperative, which proudly put its first wine on the market in 1991. When American wine critic Robert Parker gave that first vintage top marks, and the New York Times wrote about Priorat wine, prices soared and the industry took off. Since 2000, Priorat's vineyard land area has doubled, as have its export sales. The 85 producers in the Priorat region now produce half a million liters of wine annually [source: Barcelona Field Studies Centre].
If you're ready to try out one of the region's famous wines, grab a glass and move ahead to the next section.