Prior to taking this trip, if someone had asked me what Mario Batali, Demi Moore, Antonio Banderas, Kim Basinger, and Sharon Stone have in common, I wouldn’t have been able to guess.
But, on a recent tour of Catalonia’s wine region, I learned that they have all served as brand ambassadors for one of Spain’s much-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 sparkling wine made as la Methode Champenoise, a process that produces more bubbles per bottle.
The Freixenet winery is located in the Penedès region, in a small village called Sant Sadurni d’Anoia. This town, the world’s top cava producer, uses three main grape varieties: Xarello, Macabeo, and Parellada.
Our wine tour started with a brief history of the 150-year-old family-owned company. The majority of the walking tour took place in the wine cellars, where we wove in and around the dark and damp tunnels of the underground caves where the cava is aged. Cava is the Catalan word for cave.
Over time, Freixenet has mastered Methode Champenoise with technology to ensure efficient production and consistent quality. A good portion of the tour was dedicated to explaining the production process; 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.
Throughout the aging process, a vintner rotates every single bottle, daily, in a process 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 detail from a mini train that made its way from one level to the next in the six-storey building.
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 — toasted bread rubbed with garlic and tomato, and drizzled with olive oil. Relaxing in a restaurant with a vine-filled view made for a relaxing experience.
Freixenet, Spain’s top beverage exporter, produces over 100 million bottles of the sparkling wine every year. Its frosty black bottles are all 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 combining this tour with another as there are a number of nearby wineries.
Freixenet’s on-site store stocks cava and branded memorabilia, such as this mascot tray we purchased.