On a visit to Barcelona, one realizes the important role of the city’s everyday customs in understanding Catalonia and its cuisine. Thus, taking my time to explore some of the region’s typical raw products seemed like a great idea. I immediately ran into it’s famous Mediterranean Trilogy: the tomato, the olive and the vine, and onto a new possibility for sightseeing: to visit a wine cellar and see first-hand the culture of production. After all, what better opportunity to do so then when staying right next to the world capital of cava wine. I decided to join a tour of Freixenet, one of Spain’s leading cava wineries. If, like me, you are visiting Catalonia, you cannot fail to book a morning for an introduction to the origin of this sparkling delicacy.
The next morning I got on the train to Sant Sadurni d’Anoia; a 40 minute ride from Barcelona’s Sants train station. The winery is literally just 20 meters away from the destined station, so as i arrived I went straight to the reception desk and began my tour of the winery “a la carte” – which is an intimate, VIP version of the tour i had booked by email the day before. When I travel, especially on vacation, I prefer smaller groups and more personalized tours; This version also included 4 tastings of cava and appetizers, all for 25 euros.
We started the visit with a video explaining the origins and the history of Freixenet. It all began in 1861 with the founding of Casa Sala, the leading exporter of wines of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia which, in 1914, began producing cava as a result of its partnership with the winery La Freixeneda in Upper Penedès. The small household winery, eventually became the largest producer of sparkling wine in the world. During the tour we touched the wooden barrels, smelled the fermentation aromas and saw the hundreds of thousands of bottles, which are stored annually to be supplied to more than 150 countries worldwide. Gradually we began our 18 meter descent underground, at which point atmospheric humidity had greatly increased. This is a necessary condition for the proper aging of high-end cavas such as Reserva Real (Royal Reserve) a name approved by the King and Queen of Spain themselves during their visit to the winery in 1982 for which an elegant badge on the wall stands witness. Luckily, for the ascent we are assisted by a small train that takes us through the area where the sparkling wine is bottled.
Being inside Freixenet’s winery one begins to comprehend it’s vast extents and the fact that it’s not just a winery, but an icon of Catalan history. My notion was confirmed when our guide told us that, in the early 70’s, the company began its international expansion in which its advertising played a key role. Their heavily invested advertising campaigns, based on the aesthetic of Freixenet’s sparkling bubbles, featured well known international stars like Liza Minnelli, Gene Kelly, Norma Duval, Shirley MacLaine, and Antonio Banderas, among others; and directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese.
Throughout the tour, the guide explained to us the origin and characteristics of cava and its mode of production, information which came to be very important when selecting a cava, as we learnt during the tastings at the end of the tour. It very interesting and gratifying to comprehend the entire process, step by step, and to be able to appreciate the differences between a variety of cavas. In general, sparkling wine is made as a result of the natural fermentation of wine from three classic varieties of grapes. It is important to know that their classification depends on their sugar content, starting with Brut Nature with up to 3 grams of sugar, an going upwards to Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Dry, Semi Dry and finally ending with Dulce, which can sometimes contain more than 50 grams of sugar per liter.
“Can we find it in Israel?”, is one if the questions most often repeated. Freixenet is continuously expanding towards new markets, and among them Israel, with the launch of the “Excellence Kosher” cava line; a new product aimed not only for Israel but for the entire kosher market at a very affordable price.
Leaving the packing area, we headed towards the winery’s bar where the tasting of the cava takes place. The “a la Carte” tour includes the tasting of four varieties of cava and a professional explanation of all details which should be taken into account when choosing a bottle. Then a waitress brings e accompanying appetizers including a variety of cheeses, tomatoes, olives and a few more ingredients, which brought out the distinct taste of each cava.
Finally, the tour ends at the winery shop. although it has the same prices as any of the stores in Barcelona, it ensures the products optimal storage and the availability of all varieties produced by the company. Upon leaving the warehouse, at noon, I wondered if there was something more to visit in the area and discovered there are many other wineries in the region; however their visit requires a car hire and thus I decided to take the train back to Barcelona in time for a relaxing afternoon on the beach.
[tab title=”How to get there” =”entypo-book”]The Freixenet winery is located 45 kilometers from the city of Barcelona and is well connected by highway and rail.
By Road: From the AP-7 and AP-2 motorway, exit 27: Sant Sadurní d’Noia, located 40 km from Barcelona and 70 km from Tarragona. On leaving the motorway turn right on the first “Sant Sadurni Sud / Estacio” indication.
By Train: RENFE offers Freixetren: a combined ticket which includes roundtrip travel by train, and a traditional visit to the Freixenet cava for 10.60 euros. Tickets are available at any station in Catalunya, including Torredembarra, Salou, Cambrils, Vila-Seca, Tarragona and Reus. Sant Sadurní station is within the R4 commuter line, 42 minutes from downtown Barcelona. The entrance to the winery is located 50 meters away from the station.[/tab]
[tab title=”Rates”=”entypo-info-circled”]Traditional tour – 1 tasting of cava or wine. Adults: € 7.00, Children 9-17 years € 4.20, Children 0-8 years old: € 0.00, Seniors, large families and groups of more than 30 adults € 5.25.
A la carte tour – tasting of 4 iconic cavas + appetizers: € 25.00 person plus VAT. / or, 4 tastings of Prestige cavas + Appetizer: € 30.00 person plus VAT. / or, 4 tastings of Gran Reserva cavas + Appetizer + Complimentary bottle: € 40.00 per person plus VAT.