If someone had asked me a few months ago what Mario Batali, Demi Moore, Antonio Banderas, Kim Basinger, and Sharon Stone had in common, I’d be very slow to hazard a guess.
But I was enlightened on a recent tour of Catalonia’s wine region, where I learned that all of these personalities were, at one point or another, the brand ambassadors for one of Spain’s most loved cava producers – Freixenet.
Cava could very well be the national drink of Spain. It is the beverage that is poured for every celebration, holiday, anniversary, or toast. Freixenet is renowned globally as the leading producer of sparking wine in the traditional method. Also known as Methode Champenoise this process, amongst other things, produces more of those bubbles per bottle.
Magnum to mini...
The Freixenet winery is located in Catalonia’s Penedès region, in a small village called Sant Sadurni d’Anoia. This town is the world’s top producing area of cava given the three main grape varieties used for its production – Xarello, Macabeo, and Parellada – are native to the region’s terroir.
The exterior of Freixenet’s winery is Mediterranean- inspired with its terracotta tiled roof tiles and columns, and surrounded by manicured gardens and trees. A local train station, within walking distance of the winery, services the surrounding area which is punctuated by vineyards and houses.
The road that leads to Freixenet
Our wine tour started with a brief family history of the winery – a 150 year old, family owned company, that was for a time a local business though has since expanded its wine production to various locations around the world. The majority of the walking tour took place in the wine cellars. Weaving our way in and around the dark and damp tunnels of the underground caves where the cava is aged, it is no coincidence that cava is the Catalan word for cave.
The underground caves
Over time, Freixenet has mastered Methode Champenoise by way of technological innovation to ensure efficient production and consistent quality. A good portion of the tour was dedicated to explaining the Methode Champenoise process. Because it is pretty interesting, I’ve included the CliffNotes version here:
Methode Champenoise is a double fermentation process that has been used for centuries to make sparkling wines. The wines are aged from 1 to 5 years, during which time they are placed on special racks at a 45 degree angle. During aging, yeast sediment (called lees) settles in the neck of the bottle.
Cava's aging process
To be consolidated for removal, a process called riddling is practiced. Imagine a vintner rotating every single bottle, little by little, every single day throughout the aging process. Tough work but it’s why the process is a craft. This continuous turning causes the lees to slowly settle in the neck of the bottle.
The lees are removed after the aging process (called disgorging) by freezing the necks of the bottles. The pressure within the bottle forces the lees out. Once this happens, the bottles are immediately topped off with the original base wine, and sugar is added (called dosage). Checked for consistency, they are then corked, labeled and packed for shipment.This part of the tour took place in the bottling plant, and the process was shown in more detail aboard a mini train that made its way from one level to the next in the 6 tiered building.
Tapas and tasting time
The tour ended with a sampling of the Cordon Negro Freixenet Cava, accompanied by a tapas lunch of cheese, salumi, jamon and plenty of the delicious traditional pan con tomate: tomato- and garlic-rubbed, olive oil drizzled, salt seasoned toasted bread, in a restaurant overlooking the grounds. It was a great way to relax and just enjoy the atmosphere.
A perfect meal
Freixenet produces over 100 million bottles of the sparkling wine annually. Being Spain’s top beverage exporter, Freixenet’s cava is available worldwide and identifiable by its frosty black bottle, stamped with a black and gold label. The mastermind behind this successful packaging idea was José Ferrer Sala – son of the family that started the Freixenet legacy – who also pioneered the brand’s use of TV advertising and marketing sponsorships featuring those aforementioned personalities. Today, the company’s annual holiday commercial is one of Spain’s most anticipated television events of the year. Shakira was the face of 2010 – I wonder who will be the face of 2011. Do you know?
TIPS: I would recommend taking a winery tour that combines a few regional wineries as this makes the trip worthy of a full day spent drinking and eating.
The Winery also has a store where Cava is available for purchase as well as branded memorabilia such as this tray we purchased, with Freixenet’s mascot.
Freixenet Mascot Serving Tray