A story of water and wine

Thursday April 9th 2020

A story of water and wine

Galicia has a soul of water. It is seen in the moss that lives on the stone walls, in the murmur that the streams leave in its forests and in the fertility of its fields. This soul feeds on a network of 10,000 rivers, streams, lagoons and groundwater that cover the entire territory and endow everything it contains with a special charisma. And, although all of them are important for this network to be maintained, there is a channel that stands out among all the others: the Miño channel. Direct witness of many chapters of our history, keeps on its shores and on its banks the ancestral essence of Galicia, the peculiar way of life of its people and the legends about mythological beings that have survived throughout the centuries.  And all this despite being the youngest river in Galicia.

The wild and heterogeneous landscape that the northwest of the Peninsula presents has its origin in the Alpine Orogeny that gave rise to the Cantabrian Mountains. The lands of central Galicia fragmented into several blocks that remained at different heights and caused many river basins to have to change their route and even the direction of their course. In the lands of Lugo many channels were forced to pour their flow into the interior of the province, generating among them all this great current of water that allowed them to reach the sea.

From its birth in Pedregal de Irima, Meira, to its mouth in Camposancos, A Guarda, its 343 km have crossed Galicia from northeast to southwest for 5 million years. On its route it harbors more than 20 natural regions, passes through three provinces and is part of innumerable population centers and two provincial capitals. Many Galicians therefore have their place of origin in or near the Miño, making it one of the most recognized signs of identity of this land. Its name probably comes from the Indo-European * mei- 'walk, go', a fact that shows that it has been part of the life of the inhabitants of these lands since time immemorial. Imitating the mythological creatures that populate its shores and corners, during its first kilometers it hides from the human eye and runs silently underground. In fact, until recently, it was believed that his birthplace was Fonmiñá, in A Pastoriza, which is the place where he comes to the surface after that underground walk. The small stream that meandered through the mountains of northern Lugo offers a much more robust and wide aspect as it passes through Terra Chá. It presents a similar aspect in its final section, in which it serves as a natural border with Portugal and in which the width of its channel increases as it approaches the sea.

In its middle part, however, it shows a completely different face. After leaving Lugo, its channel gradually fits between huge granite formations that range from 200 meters of elevation difference in Portomarín to 400 in Os Peares. This is the Miño of the Ribeira Sacra. The rough orography and the rotundity of the river draw for several kilometers an endless succession of meanders: the Canyons of the Miño, the place where the Miño keeps its soul as a winegrower. One of these meanders has become the quintessential image of the Ribeira Sacra: O Cabo do Mundo. It´s a peninsula in which the river forms a 360º curve and which brings together all the characteristics that have made this land a candidate for Heritage Humanity: the extraordinary beauty of the landscape, the Romanesque art, viticulture and an oenological heritage deeply conditioned by its peculiar physical and historical circumstances. From viewpoint of A Cova you get exceptional views of the entire enclave.


Thanks to the Miño and Sil canyons, the Ribeira Sacra has a microclimate that provides Mediterranean characteristics to an area with clear Atlantic trends. The depth of the canyons and the thermoregulatory effect of large river currents means that the average temperatures are higher than those of the other regions of inland Galicia and that the rainfall rate is lower than the average for Galicia. In fact, the temperature on the banks of the Miño during the summer is usually among the highest on the peninsula. This microclimate, together with the composition of the soils, are determining factors in the relationship of this land with viticulture.

The archaeological remains tell us about human life in the Ribeira Sacra since prehistory, which suggests that its many attractions did not go unnoticed in those distant times. The primitive nomadic populations that persecuted the herds of mammals, were already familiar with the Miño, with its abundant fishing, with the wild fruits that grew on its banks and with the refuge that its canyons offered. Thousands of years later, the development of agriculture allowed these peoples to abandon nomadic life. From 800 BCE fortified buildings high up on the slopes and cliffs emerge throughout the peninsular northwest: the castros (forts). They are circular-shaped villages formed by houses that are also circular and protected by a wall. They were fully integrated into the environment, taking advantage of geographical features to improve defenses and, in many cases, make them impregnable. These peculiar constructions gave rise to the term castrexo with which the inhabitants of the same are named, as well as the culture that developed in these lands during the following thousand years: the castrexa culture. 3,000 years later, this dispersion in small population centers throughout the territory remains one of the most characteristic features of Galician society.

Candaz, Marce or Arxeriz, all located on the steep slopes of the Miño, are eternal memories of those times. You can visit the excavations of Castro de Arxeriz, which are located within the enclosure of the Ecomuseum with same name, very close to Adegas Moure. We encourage you to do so, both for the excavations and for the interesting content of the museum, where you can get up close to the traditions of the Ribeira Sacra in general and of the Miño in particular, and admire, among other curiosities, a sample of boats typical of the area which is a real wonder.

The inhabitants of the castrexos villages of Miño obtained in the vicinity of the same practically everything they needed to live. Its waters gave them abundant fishing (there are several places on its banks with the name of Pesqueiras/fishing zone), its microclimate made it possible for them to obtain food from the land practically all year round, the herds of mammals kept coming to drink on its banks, the lush surrounding forests provided them with all the wood they might need for both their buildings and for warming in winter, and their more insolated slopes proved to be especially suitable for agriculture, although their steep incline greatly complicated the work.

Metallurgy was also an important resource for many of those towns. The abundance of tin, copper, gold and iron, among others, and the progressive arrival of techniques from the rest of Europe, led to the existence of a rich goldsmith shop. The castrexos that inhabited the banks of the Miño washed its waters to extract the nuggets that traveled in its channel. With these nuggets, the iconic castrexos torques were then manufactured, among other pieces. The metals and the strategic location of Galicia in the Atlantic almost forced its entry into the great European maritime trade routes. Peoples of the south of the peninsula, of the North Atlantic, Phoenicians and Carthaginians, maintained commercial contacts with the castrexos in the centuries prior to Romanization. Of course, there was also a land trade, but in a time when the trip to the center of the peninsula could take weeks, while important commercial capitals such as Cádiz or Cardiff were only 4 days away, the sea offered clear advantages. The Miño river was furrowed with boats of all kinds. In addition to the multiple “steps” that existed to cross the shore in the absence of bridges, merchandise of all kinds moved through its navigable sections, making it one of the main arteries of economic life in the interior of Galicia. This is how things were in Galicia when the Romans reached the Mediterranean coasts in the 3rd century BCE. The two centuries that the conquest lasted make it the longest of those that the Empire carried out in European territory and, without a doubt, one of the most expensive. Although the Mediterranean coasts and, in a certain way, the interior, succumbed without much resistance to the invader, as they advanced towards the north the opposition that the population showed increased. So much so that the last conquered territory was the land of the castros and the last great Iberian river that annexed Rome was the Miño.

 The Galician lands, which stretched from the north of the Douro River to the Cantabrian Sea, were covered in a halo of mystery for the superstitious Roman legionaries. Many of them identified it with the ends of the earth and thought that they could not conquer it without paying a high price for it. Until 137 BCE the Romans did not attempt a military incursion into Galician lands. Decimus Iunius Brutus Callaico , motivated by the victories achieved over some towns north of the Duero, decides to continue north along the coast line. But when they found themselves in front of the Limia River, which flows a few kilometers south of the Miño, the aforementioned superstition of the Romans entered the scene. According to the chroniclers, the legionaries identified its channel with that of the Lethes, the river of oblivion in Roman mythology. Fear caused the legionaries to refuse to cross to the other bank and Brutus himself, with the legion's banner held high, to cross the river in the first place haranguing his soldiers to do the same from the other bank. The legions continued their advance, but their plans were soon cut short again. A few kilometers from the Limia it was the Miño that crossed its path. It is said that in the vicinity of its mouth, a vision made their fears return multiplied: the legionaries were frightened as the Atlantic Ocean swallowed the sun. Probably for many of them it was their first sunset before the sea and they saw in this fact a sign of the gods of punishment that awaited them for having entered these lands. Some sources suggest that the Bráccaros were trying to cut the communication routes and transport of supplies from the Roman bases of the Tagus, which could have precipitated their return. Other sources say that Brutus encountered this fact already back in Douro. Be that as it may, the military campaign in Galician lands had to wait another 70 years.

It was Julius Caesar who managed to enter the Galician interior, but for this he gave up carrying out a land deployment from the south. He preferred to board his troops and dock at Brigantium, A Coruña, and launch the final offensive by land from there. In this way he was moving away from the lands of the Miño that had caused so much fear in Brutus' men. In a few years, Gallaecia would become a Roman province.

Although the Castrexa essence never disappeared, with the Romans there was a profound transformation in the Ribeira Sacra. Agriculture and architecture were modernized and new mining techniques allowed the massive extraction and consequent looting for centuries of Galician minerals. In fact Gallaecia is considered to be one of the most important mines in the Empire and an inexhaustible source of financing for its military campaigns and its great monuments and buildings. But, as if to compensate for the plunder, the Romans made the seed of viticulture germinate in lands that seemed predestined for that use. Wine was a must for them. All the social classes consumed it in abundance and the barrels even accompanied the legions on their journeys. If there was no wine in the lands they were conquering, they imported it from other places. We do not know for sure that the vine was previously cultivated, what is believed is that at least there were wild species on the banks. In any case, it seems that it was the Romans who began their cultivation on the slopes better oriented to supply their men and trade in surpluses, and it is known that they prepared large areas for this purpose. With the romanization, the old land-based communications were modernized and improved. Main and secondary roads connected the new Roman populations among themselves, as well as with other population centers and with the seaports. Once again, its banks gave food, shelter, economic resources and the possibility of transportation to its new inhabitants. Taking into account that sea transport would continue to be faster than land transport for many centuries, we have no doubt that many goods of all kinds crossed its waters during the five centuries that the Roman presence in Hispania lasted.

But in the 5th century, things changed. The peoples of the north, commonly called "barbarians", crossed the limits of the Empire in their flight from the Huns. The difficulty of defending such extensive borders and the successive internal political and social crises caused the decline of the greatest civilization that had ever existed in Europe.

Suebians, Visigoths and Muslims successively occupy these lands throughout the following centuries. They were centuries of political instability and warlike actions, in which the dabbling and looting were the constant for long periods. The communication channels and the commerce suffer a gradual deterioration, the agricultural and livestock production focus on self-consumption and the population is impoverished. The Muslims, although they passed briefly through Galician lands, managed to conquer Tuy and established a base in the lower Miño valley, but despite their known weakness for water currents and their ability to manipulate them, they hardly left significant footprints in the land of the 10,000 rivers. Each of these civilizations left their mark in some way: locations, tools, art ... but it was the following centuries, those of the Middle Ages, that ended up shaping the personality of the Ribeira Sacra. The grandeur and beauty of the infinite terraced slopes has its origin in a few hermitages that from the 5th century were installed along the banks. From these primitive communities emerges, with the slowness that is presupposed for monastic life, the Ribeira Sacra that we have before our eyes today. These religious centers were gaining in power and importance as the Christian kingdoms and political stability settled. The announcement of the appearance of the remains of the Apostle Santiago in 829 was the definitive boost to the cultural and economic revival. Pilgrims begin to cross Galician lands from all points and in every way.  The most well-known and traveled road of the many that arrive in Santiago, the Camino Francés (French Way), after leaving behind the mythical mountain pass of Pedrafita do Cebreiro in the Ancares of Lugo, enters the Ribeira Sacra and crosses the Miño in Portomarín. The Camino de Invierno (Winter Way) also runs through these lands. It appeared to avoid the harsh winter conditions of the mountains bordering them to the south and entering Galician lands taking advantage of the Sil river route. The stages of this Camino that run through the Ribeira Sacra are an interesting way to get to know it. The section that runs along the banks of the Miño had already been used by the Romans as a secondary route and enters them through Fión, O Saviñao, very close to A Cova and our winery. From Diomondi, which has an interesting Romanesque church, a steep descent begins between walls of all times, forests and some houses that dot the slopes until reaching Belesar, a peculiar town that seems to merge with the Miño and that will help understand the visitor the curious symbiosis that occurs between man and nature in these lands.

Like the Romans, wine was a necessity for monks, but for more "spiritual" reasons: wine replaced the blood of Christ in one of the culminating moments of Christian rites. But its consumption was not limited to religious ceremonial. It was part of the usual diet of the monks and practically the entire population. Pilgrims and merchants, knights and peasants, accompanied their meals with wine.  It was also common to use it as an antiseptic and, of course, as a condiment. The demand increases progressively, so the Miño decided to use the human to get the winemaker he had inside. In exchange for being able to feel the roots of the vines growing on its banks, it gave them the best food. In exchange for covering itself in autumn with the golden mantle of his leaves, it protected them from the cold in winter. In exchange for seeing the coveted fruits emerge on its banks each year, it agreed to deliver them at the end of each summer. And in exchange for this process being repeated over the years, it accepted that its best slopes be manipulated by man to enable cultivation. Of course, that doesn't mean it made it easy… Working these wild lands, taking the fruit of those vineyards with enormous slopes, is a complex and hard work that has hardly seen technical progress in the last centuries. The orography does not allow it. The narrow terraces on which the vines are aligned descend on a dizzying slope towards the river. The work carried out in them requires large doses of skill, balance and strength.  The banks deliver their fruits, but the human makes great sacrifices to obtain them. The extreme conditions in which it is carried out make this viticulture receive, without being exaggerated, the qualification of heroic.

Another peculiar and distinctive feature of the Ribeira Sacra also comes from the Middle Ages: the extraordinary abundance of Romanesque art. Monasteries and churches of magnificent work began to emerge among the vines, embedded in the terraces, defying gravity for spectacular views.

The daily activity of the river was not greatly affected by the political instability of those centuries or the changes it brought, and throughout the Middle Ages, the Miño maintained the same routines without significant variations, both on its banks and in its current.

But with the end of the Middle Ages, the Ribeira Sacra fell into a progressive decline. A succession of circumstances and fatal events caused the dismantling of the social structure and of the day-to-day life of its people.  The Catholic Monarchs were mainly responsible for this: the religious reform that they promoted reduced the number of monasteries substantially, which were fundamental in the economy of the people of Miño. And this was just the beginning ...  Trade with the Atlantic was interrupted and, to top it all, Galicia was left out of the Indias trade routes. Galician society enters into a deep crisis that lasts for the following centuries until, fed up with hunger and hardship, the Galicians begin a massive exodus to America that begins in the 18th century and lasts for more than two centuries. El Miño will keep forever on his retina thousands of images of thousands of emigrants who sadly left their land while, also sadly, their loved ones said goodbye on the other shore.  Years in which people left with their morriña in tow while Miño was left alone.  And, once again, it set out to wait for better times with his secrets kept in his meanders.

The 20th century awakens the Miño from torpor. The train made its appearance and, accompanying in several sections its channel, stimulated the commerce of the interior Galicia, so in need of sources of income having been left out of the industrial takeoff that occurred on the coast. In the middle of the century the river suffers for the first time in its existence important changes in its basin: In order to take advantage of the power of its flow, one of the largest in Spain, several hydroelectric plants are built. In the Ribeira Sacra are Os Peares, built in the 1950s, and Belesar, in the 1960s.  Its construction generated jobs and allowed the development of an electrical network in the area. But it was also an important sentimental blow for all those who were forced to see how the dammed water slowly swallowed their memories and their old life. Because under the waters of the Miño there were many towns that had to be evacuated for the construction of the reservoirs. The remains of some of them can still be seen when the water level drops. The documentary Asolagados, by David Vazquez, collects some of these stories.

 In the year 1965, shortly after the construction of the Belesar dam and very close to it, its banks were forever linked also to another story, that of O Piloto, the last Spanish guerrilla fighter in the anti-Franco struggle who was shot dead by the Guardia Civil. In 1958 an event occurs that, although in all probability it was more important for us than for Miño, it did contribute to a certain degree to the secrets that he kept jealously shyly re-emerge: José Moure founds Adegas Moure, thus materializing the bond that for generations had already existed between Miño and our family. During the following decades the interest in viticulture slowly reborn. Both in the Miño and Sil basins, a new generation of winemakers appears, putting their efforts to ensure that their wines transmit the terroir of these lands. José Moure Jr. and Evaristo Rodríguez, current manager, were two of them. The first prize we got, the Acio de Ouro from Cata Xacobeo in 1993, was at the same time a recognition of the work carried out by our parents and a motivation to continue on the same path. In 1997 the efforts of all these winemakers and harvesters bear fruit with the creation of the Ribeira Sacra Designation of Origin.

 Today, 3,000 years of history coexist on its medieval terraces. Vestiges of all times are part of the daily life of their neighbors and the Xacias are still alive in their corners. Despite all the vicissitudes of history and all the stories lived along its own, the population of the Ribeira Sacra, following the example of its rivers, lives in the present and looks to the future but without ever neglecting


1 Comment

Eduardo · 10 April, 2020 - 12:04

Buena iniciativa este blog ahora q dure....me cuesta un poco en gallego pero se entiende la mayoría

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