As three very inquisitive and rather bull-headed, business executives fondled the Cordon Negro bottle, their solitary female counterpart inquired in a high-pitched, squeaky voice, “So, what you’re saying that this wine isn’t Champagne?”
“I’m afraid that it is not Champagne. They call it a Cava“, I replied, unable to get the image of her nibbling on a piece of cheese, rather than a steamy plate of Chicken Cordon Bleu, as her mousy voice continued to rattle in my ear.
“Well, is it a Cava because it has a black bottle?” she inquired with one eyebrow slowly slipping over the other in frail confusion.
At this point in my life, my knowledge of wine was rather rudimentary. I could tell you some very general facts about French and Californian wine, but Spain was a country I associated with horses, hot weather and dark, beautiful women. Beyond that, I was hopeless, except for one bit of trivia; Freixenet produced Spain’s flagship sparkling wine called, Cava. Although similar to Champagne in its method of production, Cava wine is unique to Spain.
“No, from my understanding, the black bottle is merely a marketing tactic that is obviously quite effective, but it is called Cava because it was made in Spain and not France.”
“Yeah, well, why is that they call it Cava if this is the only sparkling wine made in Spain that I’ve ever seen in the store or in a restaurant. Like Kleenex, why not just call it Freixenet?!”
I distinctly remember feeling as if I was trumped. She brought up a very good point, because I hadn’t seen a Cava wine other than Freixenet in all my years in the wine trade. In the half dozen high-end restaurants I had worked over the nine years I had lived in Minneapolis, only Freixenet was a fixture as our featured Cava, while our labels of Champagne changed as quickly as our seasonal menu. During that time, not even the legendary Codorniu was name familiar to most restaurateurs or waitstaff. So how did this internationally known Cava make a name for itself?
During our month long tribute to Cava, I think it’s important that we make a distinction between the international powerhouse, The Freixenet Group, and the smaller family-owned behemoth, Freixenet. The Freixenet Group consisting of well over 4,000 references in 150 countries, is worthy of a long and lengthy conversation detailing the international influence it’s had on both Cava and still wine, but today, we are going to limit ourselves to the Cava producing winery, Freixenet.
From the Marriage of Two Wine Lovers came the Largest Cava Producer in the World
Freixenet, pronounced “fresh-eh-net”, founded their success as a Spanish wine producer just over 100 years ago with the marriage of Dolores Sala Vivé of Casa Sala and Pedro Ferrer Bosch of La Freixeneda, two legendary winemaking families. However, its reputation as a Cava business truly commenced in 1914, when Pere Ferrer Bosch, the son of “La Freixenada” – a 13th century family estate located in the Alt Penedes region, decided to exclusively produce cava. A year after their vows, Dolores and Pedro launched their very first products with the Freixenet name as an acknowledgment to the moniker given to Pedro Ferrer by the community. Immediately reinvesting the profits made on their initial success, they built new cellars in Sant SadurniÂ d’Anoia so as to make higher quality wines and increase their production capacity.
Dolores, being a trailblazer in her time, turned the “old boys” business on its head as she earned herself an international name as an exceptional winemaker and wine taster, alongside her given titles as manager and mother. Hence, when her husband, Pedro Ferrer Bosch, and their oldest son were killed during the Spanish Civil War, it was up Dolores to keep the ship running. Coming from generations of winemakers and innovators, Dolores was no stranger to leadership, and with great fortitude, she took over the company, launching both their Carta Nevada in 1941 and their famous, Cordon Negro in 1974. By the 1960′s Freixenet was producing over 1 million bottles a year, and by 2000, they had reached well over 200 million bottles a year, accounting for over 50% of all Spanish sparkling wine production and 80% of exports.
As my customer pointed rather astutely so many years ago, Freixenet has made an astonishing name for themselves based on primarily two labels, the Carta Nevada and the Cordon Negro. What you may not know, as we didn’t either, is that Freixenet is also the producer of high end Cavas such as their premium cuvee, Brut Nature 2000, available in the USA. In addition to an Espumante made with 50% Macabeo, 35% Xarel-lo and 15% Malvasia, Freixenet also produces a Brut Rosado elaborated with 50% Garnacha and 50% Monastrell.
For those of us who live in Spain, we have a few labels available at our fingertips, such as the Reserva Real Cava, a blend of several different years made with 80% Macabeo, Parellada y XarelÃ¢€Â¢lo (in equal parts) and 20% Reserva wine; the Trepat, a red monovarietal cava; and the Primer Cuvee, made with 55% Macabeo, 25% Parellada, 20% Xarel-lo, just to name a few. (Flickr photo by edastrauch)
What is also important to point out is that the Group Freixenet also owns a handful of Cava wineries throughout the Penedes, including Castellblanch, Segura Viudas, Conde de Caralt and Canals & Nubiola, all of which we’d like to include in our Cava notes to be released at the end of the month.
If you happen to be in Barcelona, I would highly suggest visiting this winery for several different reasons. The primary reason is sheer entertainment alone. As you zoom through each of their half dozen interconnected buildings, some of which contain enough space on one floor to hold one million bottles of cava, you may think your dreaming, because it seems physical impossible that such a structure can exist. Their bottling plant alone is a wondrous feat, containing four machines that can fill approximately 50 thousand bottles an hour at full capacity! For the thrill factor alone, it’s absolutely worth it. The second reason is because it will offer you a good understanding as to how cava is made, as they explain each part of the process showing both traditional and modern winemaking techniques. Finally, it’s glitzy with their wine shop displaying candles made with Macabeo, lotions containing grape essences, and examples of every bottle of wine they produce.
What Cavas from Freixenet have you tried? Would you bring them to your next holiday party?
Address: P.O. Box 1949, 23555 Carneros Highway (121) Sonoma, California 95476
Bottles Produced Annually: 200 million
Wines Produced in Liters: 50,000 liters of port wine and 100,000 liters of table wine
Bodega Founded: 1988
Enologist: Josep Bujan is their Technical Director
Grape Varieties Grown:
White: Xarel.lo, Parellada, Macabeo, Malvasia
Red: Garnacha and Trepat
Wines Elaborated: As every country is different, we would suggest jumping online to their website to see what is available in your area.
Distributor: Again, please find the country your interested in on their website and then look for the appropriate distributor. Here is the link for the distributors in the USA
Visits: Unlike the majority of Spain, they give tours in several different languages every day of the week. So you won’t have a problem getting in. However, they suggest you Email them prior to your visit to ensure both space and availability.