It is difficult to get bored of Barcelona since it is a fun city with excellent gastronomy. However, to really get to know Catalonia, you must leave the city. If you like cava, one of the best tours you can do is go to the Freixenet wineries. Another place you can go is to the Salvador Dali Theater Museum in Figueres.
Arriving is quite easy; the best option is to buy the combined train and entrance pass that costs €16.50. You can buy this combined ticket at all train stations. The entrance of the wineries alone costs €15 (2018) for adults so it is definitely better to buy it together.
From Barcelona Sants station it takes about 45 minutes on the R4 train to reach the town of Sant Sadurni D’Anoia. The train stop is very close to the entrance to the Freixenet winery, you only have to walk about two minutes.
The history of Freixenet
As the champagne can only come from France, in Spain it is called cava and in Italy, prosecco. This house of cavas is just as important as Moet & Chandon in France. It was founded in 1861 by Francesc Sala Farres but its original name was not Freixenet but ‘Casa Sala’. It remained a family business and was the first to export from the Sant Sadurní d’Anoia region.
Dolores, the daughter of Francesc, married Pedro Ferrer Bosch and this marriage was what really caused the brand to grow in 1914. Pedro’s family had a farm in Alt Penedès since the thirteenth century called ‘La Freixeneda’. He dedicated himself to growing the business and was the one that launched the first products under the Freixenet Casa Sala brand. ‘The Freixenet’ was the nickname of Pedro.
They established wineries at the beginning of the twentieth century when business was flourishing and Spain’s economy was thriving. But the good fortune did not last long, since the Spanish Civil War began just after that. Pedro and his son, both were captured and never found.
Luckily the business was already exporting so it could withstand the Civil War and the Second World War. Since 1935, Freixenet was already sending cava to the United States. Today, they have expanded their empire to Australia, California and Mexico. They are considered as one of the leading companies in the world, exporting wine to more than 150 countries.
Freixenet is known worldwide for its aggressive marketing campaigns. In 1929 during the celebration of the Universal Exhibition, they launched the ‘Freixenet Child’ that became the symbol of the brand. Over the years they have used famous stars in their commercials, including Liza Minelli, Gene Kelly, Shakira, Pierce Brosnan, Penelope Cruz and others. They even managed to get Martin Scorsese, famous Hollywood director, to run their campaign in 2007.
How is the cava made?
The Spaniards learned from the French how to make cava. When the plague of phylloxera fell on Spain, the Spaniards had to turn to France to learn the solution. They learned to make champagne with their white grapes but with France had patented the name, they had to find another one.
Dolores dedicated herself to experimenting with different types of yeast native to the area. They are still using the same yeast from those times. Currently, the vineyard has an entire laboratory with a galley to make and store yeast. The son of Dolores, Jose Ferrer, continued to improve the processes, including pressing the grapes pneumatically and using refrigerated tanks to control fermentation. He also launched the black bottle of Cordon Negro in 1974 which was a total success.
Tour of Freixenet
The tour of the Freixenet winery begins with a presentation of the family’s history, which I have already told you. You have to be patient since the tasting is done at the end. Our guide explained the process to make the cava. There are three main grapes in the cellar, which are macabeo (also known as viura), paralleda and xarel-lo. However, you can also include pinot noir, chardonnay, monastrell, grenache, malvasia and trepat.
You will see the new and old parts of the cellars. To go to the old parts you will go down about 18 meters below the ground to find the place where the ‘Real Reserve’, the most expensive cava, is aged. The name of the cava was approved by the kings of Spain who visited the vineyard in 1982. This part of the tour is done with the help of a small train.
The best is the end where you will end up in a store where you will taste two cavas for adults and grape juice for children.
The prices for sale are not lower than in other places in Spain. At the end of the tour we bought two flirty bottles and took the train back to Barcelona.