Josep Lluís Pérez
Spotlight No. 14
By now everyone is familiar with the legend of the renaissance of the Priorat led by René Barbier and five friends. One of the first to enlist in the adventure was Josep Lluís Pérez, a highly educated, instinctively philosophical man who trusted fate. So the idea of making wine with this disparate, but good-natured, group was one he could not refuse. As we all know, the experiment went well and everyone is enjoying their own version of success — but for Josep Lluís there is always more knowledge to be gained, more life to explore.
Josep Lluís stepped into his destiny at the age of 12. He left his simple life on a farm in Alicante and worked hard to get an education, earning a PhD in biology at the age of 21. He married his true partner in life, Montse Ovejero, also a biologist. They had four children and were enjoying life in Sant Cugat, an affluent suburb of Barcelona, when Josep Lluís received an offer to be the headmaster at a high school in a forgotten place in the Montsant Mountains called the Priorat. That was 1979, when paved roads and even telephones were rare in the region. His family was not really excited, but Josep Lluís sensed that something was waiting there for them and he had to find out what it was.
One thing led to another: The school offered many areas of study, but two years after they arrived the government offered the opportunity to add viticulture and enology to the curriculum, and the region naturally accepted. The department was very popular, and Josep Lluís found that bringing scientific knowledge out of the lab and into nature through the transition to wine was exciting. Two years later he requested that his responsibilities be focused on that department. The school soon became known as the “Priorat School,” serving as the regional hub for viticulture, wine education and analysis. It was the wines they were making at the school that motivated René Barbier to invite them to participate in his collaborative dream.
For the Pérez family, growing up in the Priorat meant helping in the vineyards and playing on the oak barrels, unconsciously assimilating the smell of fermenting grapes into their futures. Each of the children earned degrees in their own area of interest, including music, veterinary medicine and linguistics, but in the end they have all come home, lending their individual skills to the family pursuit of discovery and the making of great wines. Daughter Sara and son Adrià are biologists and enologists, following in their parents’ footsteps while finding their own voice in the world of wine.
José Lluís is sure about two things: 1) Life is theatre. The earth is the stage and nature is the protagonist, challenging us to understand it, and 2) he cannot resist the urge to find the next thing we have yet to know. And at the age of 77, Josep Lluís, with his tireless pursuit of ideas (and a daily yoga practice that starts at 4:30 a.m.!), shows no signs of slowing down.
Pictured with son Adrià Peréz, who makes the wine at Cims de Porrera as well as a wine called Les Cousins with his cousin Marc Peréz.