|Driving to the heart of the story in Penedès|
Most wine companies of its size are corporate. But Freixenet -- which owns 17 other wineries worldwide -- is still owned by the Ferrer family and run as a family business. I recently visited the company headquarters in Penedès, Spain, but I'm not going to try to tell you the Freixenet story per se. I'm just going to share 10 things I found interesting.
1. In the 1930s, company president Pedro Ferrer was executed in the Spanish civil war by Republican forces. Like most industrialists, Ferrer sided with Franco; had he not, he risked having his property seized. Instead, his execution order was signed by the short-lived president of Catalunya, who was later executed himself.
|Freixenet decides which grapes to plant by elevation|
3. "Cava" is, in my opinion, the worst-defined wine region in the world. It looks like an archipelago, or a rash, across far eastern Spain, with legal areas wherever big producers were making Cava when the name was passed in the 1980s. That happened because Spanish producers like Freixenet had been calling their wine "Champagne," but had to change when Spain joined the European Union in 1982. Producers eventually settled on the name "cava" because the wine is made in caves, but nobody wanted to tell existing big producers that they couldn't use the Cava designation for their wines from elsewhere. The great majority of Freixenet's wines come from Penedès, the main district of Cava, but they cannot use any subdesignation such as Cava-Penedès for political reasons.
5. Speaking of separate wineries, Freixenet recently introduced a kosher version, Excelencia Brut ($14), and built a winery just to make it, to avoid contamination with the gentile world. Many kosher wines have a stigma of inferiority, but to me, Excelencia is significantly more flavorful than the Cordon Negro: fresh, with a ripe apple flavor. It's made from 100% Xarello.
6. Perhaps this shouldn't be surprising, but Freixenet makes several outstanding reserve wines that are difficult to find in the US. Real Reserva is rich, toasty and complex and stands easily beside good Champagnes. Freixenet Vintage 2011 Brut Nature is smoky and savory with a long finish, a terrific value at $14. And the best of the lot, Casa Sala, is a freaky artisanal product, an attempt to duplicate many of the techniques from 150 years ago, including an authentic mammoth wooden press. The company declined to release vintages of Casa Sala from 2009 through 2012 because the quality wasn't up to snuff. But when it is good -- the '04 and '06 are outstanding -- it's complex, savory and salty on the finish, a great food wine that's fascinating. It's only about $40 US, so it's terrific value. The downside is that only about 15,000 bottles are made, and only about 300 make their way to the US.
8. The Ferrers built their business in the 1800s by selling still wine to the countries in the Spanish empire in South and Central America. They were knocked back by two events: the coming of phylloxera to Spain in 1872, and the Spanish-American war, which took away some of their best markets. In 1914, they refocused on sparkling wine, which was in short supply in Spain, but their early experience made them export-oriented from the start.
9. In addition to founding Gloria Ferrer in Sonoma County in 1982, the Ferrers bought the 3rd oldest Champagne house Henri Abelé, in 1984. They thought people wouldn't take Cava as seriously if they didn't have a Champagne house.
|Look closely and you can see Gloria Collel's picture on the label|
(This story originally ran on Wine Review Online.)