Can Sala and La Freixeneda: The original icons from the Freixenet Family

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Image: Can Sala winery
Image: Can Sala winery

The Ferrer Family make wine right across northern Spain, from east to west, as well as internationally. Yet their history and their heart lies in Penedès, and specifically in the glorious estate of La Freixeneda, a family house among the vines. Pere Ferrer Bosch was the youngest son of winegrowers, and nicknamed ‘El Freixenet’ from the name of the estate. In the early twentieth century he married Dolors Sala Vivé , daughter of another wine business. It was an ideal marriage of two ambitious vignerons. In 1914 the couple launched their first sparkling wine, using Pere Ferrer’s nickname – Freixenet – for the brand.

Sadly Dolors lost both her husband and one of her sons in the Civil War. However she carried on and built a remarkable business. Dolors was an exceptional woman, and an expert in wines. In that respect she has much in common with that other pioneer of traditional method sparkling wine, Madame Clicquot.

To celebrate her achievements, and the centenary of that first Cava, Josep Ferrer i Sala, her surviving son, and current honorary president of the Group, wanted to create an exceptional Cava in her memory. And indeed it is an exceptional project. The wine is made in Can Sala itself in Sant Quinti di Mediona, Dolors’ former family home. The little red painted building with its typical yellow frames to door and windows is where Josep Ferrer grew up.

Image: The press at Can Sala
Image: The press at Can Sala

The grapes are handpicked in the family estate from vines that are at least 60 years old, and pressed in a carefully restored traditional press originally acquired from Champagne 150 years ago. The minimum age for a Gran Reserva is 3 years. Can Sala is aged under cork stoppers for no less than 8-9 years depending on the vintage. All the work is done by hand, from riddling to disgorging – there’s no pumping or filtering. The wines are brut nature, with no liqueur d’expédition. These are Cavas that speak directly of their terroir. The average production is 12,000 bottles, of which 3000 are kept back for library stock.

The creative guide behind Can Sala, which was launched with the 2004 vintage, is Josep Buján.

Image: Josep Buján
Image: Josep Buján

Buján has an angelic appearance with his head of exuberantly silver curls. Beneath them, there’s a winemaker with exceptional experience and commitment. Just the man to recreate a classic wine for modern times. The governing body of Cava has just launched a new top category of wines, Cava de Paraje Calificado. The demands are stringent: an established single vineyard, lower yields, minimum ageing, an independent tasting panel, interviews with the winemakers, international recognition and so on. Buján produces the vast thick folder with printouts and maps that formed his submission to the authorities. He had no worries, in every category, from its history to its multiple awards, Can Sala more than exceeded the requirements. Thus Dolors’ family name is now part of the exclusive club of 12 which are the first wines to win this highest accolade.

Can Sala, Cava de Paraje Calificado, vintage by vintage

Can Sala is a blend of two of Cava’s classic varieties, Xarel.lo and Parellada. Each year Josep Buján makes his selection from the series of separate small fermentations.

2004, the first vintage, was a blend of 70% Xarello and 30% Parellada, harvested ripe, producing a golden wine. More than a decade on, the wine shows a vibrant intensity with notes of lime curd.

2005 is very different, despite using the same blend of varieties. Notes of apple, pear and cantaloupe melon followed by a silky, creamy midpalate. Exceptionally refined and elegant.

2006 is a blend of 50% Parellada and 50% Xarel.lo. The cava has a superfine mousse, and marvellous complexity in the mouth: from notes of pineapple and citrus, to undertones of cocoa richness. Very long finish.

2007

The current vintage. 60% Parellada and 40% Xarel.lo. Reveals the excellence of Parellada. Wonderfully complex with alluring notes of exotic fruit and tangerine.

2008

Not yet released, a 50/50 blend of the two varieties. Showing exceptional promise with lively notes of white peaches

La Freixeneda

Image: La Freixeneda
Image: La Freixeneda

The Ferrer family have owned La Freixeneda estate for 18 generations. Now Josep Ferrer i Sala has converted it into a perfect small bodega, with a blend of the latest technology and traditional techniques, tucked away within a very comfortable Catalan villa, with lovely views.

Here Josep Buján once more shows his creativity. The wine, La Freixeneda, is Buján’s first red wine, and he says he wanted to make something exceptional. It is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Garnacha, an uncommon blend in itself for Spain. More than that, one third of the Garnacha uses the ‘doble pasta’ technique, a traditional method for concentrating wine by using double the quantity of grapes. Equally the Cabernet Sauvignon is intensified, as some of the grapes are dehydrated for 10 days to imitate raisining. The wines are then aged in untoasted 1200 litre Slavonian oak butts for 14-20 months. Why Slavonian? Because, says Buján, that’s what the Italians use, and this wine in its winemaking makes more than a nod to Italy. What’s more, he adds that in historical times Catalonia and Italy were closely linked, and there’s undoubtedly something Italianate about it. There is no bottle ageing intended, so the bottle is closed with a glass Vinolok stopper rather than cork.

2012 Rich, lively, with an intense lift of brambles, and baskets of generous fruit. Delivers a finish that is savoury with a serious undertone. Definitely from the school of Amarone but with a firm Catalan twist.

2013 Wonderfully aromatic, with a blend of violets and a note of aniseed. Polished and ripe with a line of punchy freshness, and a note of dried herbs. (Not yet on sale).

Translated by ICY

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