A visit to the land of Freixenet
It catches me by surprise to realize my July road trip through Spain ended nearly a month ago. The memories of friends made, wines tasted and roadside attractions we were too busy to stop for remain fresh and vital.
The week-long trip was made possible and paid for by the Freixenet Group, a name in winegrowing that dates back to the 16th Century and today is the world’s ninth largest wine company and the world’s largest producer of methode champenoise sparkling wines. I enjoyed every moment (except when a gypsy in Barcelona helped herself to my cell phone) and surely wouldn’t have had such a memorable nor educational trip without Freixenet (pronounced fresh-eh-net) sponsoring my travels.
The last leg of the journey wound up in Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, a colorful town in the Penedés region of Spain about 35 miles east of Barcelona. You first glimpse the Freixenet mother ship just off the Autopista del Mediterraneo and you take a roundabout way to get to the front door of the winery, where your first chore is to peer into the well-known black Freixenet bottle car created for the 1929 World’s Fair in Barcelona.
But it’s the immense building that gives you a sense of how extensive the Freixenet brand is. At anytime the eight-story building (including four storage and aging levels below ground) may be handling most of the 250 million bottles of sparkling wine produced every year.
“And 75 to 80 percent of our business is during the Christmas holidays,” said Toni Domenech, Freixenet PR master and our tour’s do-everything handler, interpreter and all-around “Where-would-we-be-without-him.”
“You can imagine how busy this place is leading up to that.”
Domenech led us through the depths of the building where the bottom rooms, walls weeping from ground water seeps and a suitable feeling of ancient times, were hand-carved from limestone. The fortress, for that’s what it seemed, is so expansive that at one point we hopped aboard a small electric train to return to the ground floor.
A few facts about the Freixenet:
– Freixent still uses hand riddling, the practice of tilting and turning each bottle multiple times every day to move the sediment into the next. Yes, there are machines that do this faster and less costly but Freixenet holds on to the old ways.
Different cavas: Each of Freixenet’s cavas uses a different blend of grape and varying levels of sweetness. Among the samples we tasted was the Cordon Negro Brut ($12), the “black-bottle bubbly” most people associate with the name Freixenet. Cordon Negro, for example, is made from a blend of Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parellada grapes.
– Harvest: All grapes are hand-picked. This normally begins around the end of August (Macabeo) and runs through October when the Parellada is ripe.
– The place is huge: Nine levels of winemaking, including a new section holding six 1.2-million liter stainless steel, temperature controlled tanks. Those tanks are so big they were put together first and then the winery built around them. Along with some 600,000 liter tanks, the winery’s total capacity is 38 million liters.
– In addition to the Cordon Negro Brut, Freixenet also produces Vintage Brut Nature ($14); Cordon Brut Extra Dry ($12); the Carta Nevada Brut and Extra Dry (both $9); the Cordon Rosado ($12, Trepat and Garnacha);and a Spumante ($9, Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Malvasia). A special line called Elyssia – derived from the Latin terms for heaven – includes a Pinot Noir Brut ($18, Pinot Noir 85 percent, Trepat 15 percent) and Gran Cuvee Brut ($18, Chardonnay 40 percent, Macabeo 30, Parellada 20 and Pinot Noir 10).
The highlight of the visit was meeting during lunch Jose Ferrer Sala, son of Freixenet founders Dorothy Sala and Pedro Ferrer. He says he’s “semi-retired” now but it was under his 50 years of guidance that Freixenet became a world leader in cava production.