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 wouldn’t be able to guess.
On a recent tour of Catalonia’s wine region, I learned that all of these personalities were, at one point or another, brand ambassadors for one of Spain’s most loved cava producers: Freixenet.
Cava could be the national drink of Spain. It is the beverage that is poured for every celebration, holiday, anniversary, or toast. Freixenet is the leading producer of sparking wine made in the traditional method. Also known as Methode Champenoise, this process, produces more 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, which uses three main grape varieties in its production – Xarello, Macabeo, and Parellada.
The Mediterranean exterior of Freixenet’s winery features terracotta tiles roof and columns, manicured gardens and trees. There’s a local train station within walking distance of the winery.
The road that leads to Freixenet
Our wine tour started with a brief family history of the winery. That is, it’s a 150-year-old, family-owned company, that has since expanded from its local roots. The majority of the walking tour took place in the wine cellars. We wove 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 through technology 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, when 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
Imagine a vintner rotating every single bottle, little by little, every single day throughout the aging process — this is called riddling. 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). They are checked for consistency, 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 six-tiered building.
Tapas and tasting time
The tour ended with a sampling of the Cordon Negro Freixenet Cava and a tapas lunch of cheese, salumi, jamon and traditional pan con tomate — tomato- and garlic-rubbed, olive oil drizzled, salt seasoned toasted bread. Relaxing in a restaurant with a view of the grounds, we soaked up the atmosphere.
A perfect meal
Freixenet produces over 100 million bottles of the sparkling wine every year. As Spain’s top beverage exporter, Freixenet 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