Freixenet: A Catalonian Tradition
The Cava winery Freixenet is one of the most famous customers of Massó Analítica, our distributor for the Catalonia region of Spain and the Balearic Islands. Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine that originated in this region. The name Cava refers to the wine cellars, cavas in Spanish, in which the aging process of the sparkling wine traditionally takes place. Freixenet has been producing Cava since 1914 and has become famous worldwide. Nowadays, the winery produces a large variety of Cavas, which are not only popular in Spain, but are exported to countries around the globe. Massó’s sales manager Julio along with product manager for ion chromatography Raül and application lab manager Elena joined me on a tour of the wine cellars, labs, and of course the tasting room of Freixenet.
On our tour of Freixenet, Carles Tombas, supervisor of the quality control laboratory at Freixenet, shared a part of his extensive knowledge and enthusiasm for Cava with us. Cava is produced according to the traditional method, which is the method that is also used to make Champagne. It’s production involves two fermentation steps: In the first step, the must, which is the freshly pressed grape juice including the skins, stems, and seeds of the fruit, is fermented to make wine. The second fermentation step, which takes place in the bottle, creates the carbon dioxide and thereby turns the wine into sparkling wine. Traditionally, typical Catalonian varieties of grapes are used in the production of Cava. These are Xarel·lo, Macabeu, and Parellada. Nowadays, however, Cava makers also use other grape varieties to offer a wider spectrum of different Cavas.
Yeast: A Key to Characteristic Flavor
In both fermentations, yeast is added to the must or wine, respectively. Different yeast strains are used in the two fermentation steps. The type of yeast being used has an important impact on the taste of the finished product. Unlike many other wineries, Freixenet doesn’t use commercial yeasts. Instead, yeasts have been collected from the grapes in Freixenet’s own vineyards and selected with respect to the desired taste and properties of the Cava. The yeast is frequently sent to a contract lab for DNA sequencing to make sure that there have been no mutations. After all, the yeast is to a large extent responsible for the recognizable Freixenet flavor. In case a mutation should occur, the original colonies are kept frozen as a backup—so far this backup has never been needed.
Fermentation and Aging
The first fermentation takes place in big tanks. The second fermentation takes place after the wine has been bottled. Once the second fermentation is completed, the sparkling wine is left to age for a minimum of 9 months with the solids left from yeast and sugar in the bottle. This adds to the flavor of the sparkling wine and is mandatory for the «Cava» denomination.
After aging for the desired time, the solids are removed from the bottle. This is done by tilting the bottles increasingly until they are upside down and the solids have accumulated the bottleneck. The technical term for this process is riddling. Then, the top of the bottle is immersed in a cooling solution to freeze the solids. This way, when the cap is removed, the solids are removed with it. Finally, the bottles are corked.
Quality and Environmental Control: The Freixenet Labs
Acidity is an important parameter in the quality control of wine and Cava alike. Freixenet is performing this analysis on an OMNIS system from Metrohm. However, Freixenet doesn’t only measure this obvious parameter. Freixenet performs waste water analysis by ion chromatography to determine its fluoride content. This fluoride is not a result of the wine production, but of the bottle production: Freixenet uses frosted glass bottles for some types of Cavas. To achieve the frosted effect, the bottles are treated with hydrofluoric acid.
Tasting the Diversity
Visiting the Freixenet winery is popular among tourists, who take a tour of the wine cellars. After having learned about Cava in theory, they can get a practical experience while tasting the large variety of Freixenet’s Cavas. Of course, we didn’t want to miss out on this experience either. Carlos selected a variety of Cavas for us that showed us the broad palette of flavors that can be achieved using the same traditional winemaking method by varying the grapes and aging times.