Long walks through rolling fields of lush twined vines, descending worn stone stairwells into a cool dark dungeon, holding large ivory candles whose shadows danced on the walls, brushing aside the cobwebs and dust to reveal ancient green bottles of vintage wine, that probably cost a fortune.
This was how I’d always envisioned a visit to a vineyard. Sadly, our first vineyard visit to Sula in Nashik didn’t quite match up. So while we were in Barcelona, how could we not take a day trip to the surrounding Penedès wine region? Given, that this wasn’t really wine, it was cava. Cava is a Spanish wine that is produced in Catalonia which I could best describe as a sparkling wine, but much better than most! We tried an entire bottle on our first night in Barcelona, and it was love at first sip.
We did our homework, researching all the possible vineyard tours in the area, feeling tempted by the high-end boutique tours with their “lunch in a castle” experience, helicopter rides and chauffer driven limousines. The idea of visiting a small quaint vineyard, where the family that had most probably been doing this for generations would personally take you around and cook for you sounded absolutely tempting, but eventually we decided to go independently as always, enter the town of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, and possibly check out a couple of vineyards.
This was tricky. Primarily because finding the RENFE station (which is different from a regular metro station) led us on a bit of a wild goose chase, and we rushed and ran about, hoping to catch the train in time, because the next one would be too late and we’d miss the first wine tour completely. Thankfully, we got there, managed to buy our tickets, and hop on the train just in time.
Take the Line 4 RENFE from Barcelona Sants or Barcelona Plaça Catalunya station towards Vilafranca del Penedès/ Sant Vicenç de Calders.
We enjoyed a 40 minute journey in the near empty train, watching the gorgeous Catalan countryside rolling out before us through the large windows. Hopping off at the empty station, there was only one taxi, which was quickly flagged down by a local. We crossed the road, and entered the gates of the large Freixenet property.
After clicking some photos with the vintage bottle shaped cars outside, we stepped in from the sweltering heat, bought our tickets for the 12:30 English tour, and settled down to wait in the plush sofas, watching the antics of a boisterous American family and occasionally glancing at the TV screen that was airing glamorous and star- studded Freixenet commercials on loop. Eventually, our tour guide walked up. She was young, and had frizzy flyaway blonde hair, slim and petite, wore an ill fitted suit and practical shoes, but spoke with an air of knowledge, but without confidence. She ushered all of us into a mini theatre where they screened a short documentary film about the history and brand of Freixenet.
We then walked a few steps to a bit of an exhibit area, where she showed us old photographs of the family that owned the vineyards. As she told us stories of the troubled times the vineyard had seen before the owners daughter Dolores Ferrer (nee Sala) turned it around, and with her husband produced some of the best cava the country has seen, I stood there, transfixed by her accent, that was lilting and just rolled off her tongue in wisps. Suddenly, I remembered her introducing herself using the last name Ferrer. I looked at the old black and white photographs in the trophy case before me, overheard another couple whispering the same thoughts I just had. Shes’s family. She’s the rightful descendent of the Ferrer family, heir to the Freixenet fortune. Gasp! I looked at her in awe, and everything she said and explained to us about cava seemed like gospel to me. After all, she wasn’t just some guide who had been given material to learn for the tour. No, she’d sat in Dolores Ferrer’s lap and taken her first sip of Cava with Dolores telling her just how to twirl it on her tongue and sip, savouring the different notes and flavours. Oh how incredible a life she must have lead. Snapping out of my fantasies of being reborn as a vineyard owner in my next life, I focused on what she was telling us with renewed enthusiasm. Then she showed us the different kinds of soils and how they affected the vine growing process, the bottling and labelling, the corks (with a star on them to connote genuine cava), the sedimentation and how it was removed with ancient machines and a freezing technology until recent years.
Then we took the stairs down, 4 stories below the ground, where every trace of summer just vanished. It was cold, we shivered and the walls were damp to touch and everything smelled of wine. The dingy caves were lined with row upon row of stacked bottles, (1.5 million to be precise) just waiting to mature, and we paused at the Cava Real (anything in Spain can only be called “Real” if it has the stamp of approval of royalty). Ms. Ferrer told us of how the king and queen had sampled it and given it their nod back in 1982. The bottles were covered in cobwebs, older than I was, and just gorgeously tempting. I wondered how much a bottle of that nectar would cost.
We then boarded a mini train that took us through to the newer wing where we saw some real futuristic machinery and shelves stacked with bottles of newer Cava, several of them packaged and ready for distribution.
At the end of the tour, we were taken to a lovely tasting room where the staff had already begun preparing for us, with flutes filled with a sharp, dry tingly cava – The Cordon Negro Brut. The tasting notes on this one say it’s a crisp, clean, medium-bodied, with a palate of apple, pear and bright citrus flavours with a moderately long finish with a crisp touch of ginger. It goes well with any kind of food. We were given a menu, should we wish to order anything else.
We went up and spoke to Ms. Ferrer, confirming her secret identity, as she explained that there’s no nepotism in her family business. She and her brother have studied subjects as vast as psychology, and have returned to the Caves Freixenet, to intern, and slowly, with hard work make their way up the ladder, learning all the ropes of the business as they go. I was impressed and amazed. She then concurred with our choice for the next sampling, telling us it was a vintage they held very close to their hearts at Freixenet.
Memories of the cobweb covered bottles appeared in our mind’s eyes as we decided to taste the Reserva Real. A cava created with wines of several vintages in the style of the great French ‘Cuvées‘. Pale straw-yellow in colour with abundant fine bubbles. Fine aromas with fruity tones predominating. Well harmonised with the aromas of ageing. Good, elegant structure, refreshing on the palate with a good length and nice biscuit finish. It was just as we imagined it to be, like nothing we’d tasted before, or would again for a very long time.
After the tasting, we walked into the shop (named after Dolores Ferrer) feeling a bit light- headed. We were amazed at the variety, and proceeded to pick up several bottles to drink back at the hotel, to add to our wine collection at home and to gift to friends back home. There were several gifts for wine lovers, and some great equipment for aficionados. They also stock bubble cases to ship the bottles in one piece.
At the end of our experience at Freixenet, we decided to give the other vineyards a miss, since we’d enjoyed this experience thoroughly. We wanted to have lunch at one of the famous restaurants in town, but everything was just too far away to walk. So light headed, we trudged back to the station, drifting off the sleep on the way back to Barcelona, as I dreamed of being born a Ferrer, running through the vineyards as a little girl, taking a sip of the finest cava, and knowing just what made it that way.Caves Freixenet, Carrer Joan Sala, 2, 08770, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, Barcelona, Spain. Tel: +34 938 91 7000 The 1.5 hour tour is available in English and Spanish, once a day (do check if it’s operational on the day you intend to go) English Tour for adults : € 6.50 per person Purchase it online here at a discount.