Sitting in a privileged location a stone’s throw from Igualada (the capital of the Catalonian province of Anoia), Fermí Bohigas winery, nestled amongst woods and vineyards, carries an illustrious wine making heritage stretching back nearly 800 years into the 21st century.
Walking through the impressive gates to Caves Bohigas, it’s as if you’re entering an old fortress. But get inside and it also feels like a traditional Spanish winery should feel; walking in through the arched entrance in a rustic whitewashed wall, the gravel crunching under your feet, you have the sensation of stepping back through time and coming to the right place. The courtyard that greets you is straight out of the most evocative romantic novel, the blooming rose bushes gently shaded by plane trees, wooden barrels and old wine making artefacts to remind you why you’re here, with old stone steps and little wooden doors inviting you to explore further.
And Bohigas can back it up with a longer and more detailed history than some countries – the winery is independent, family-owned, and they can trace their wine-making routes all the way back to 1290. The cellar (or “Cava” in Catalan) was first dug out in the 1500s and refurbished in 1929, also the year Bohigas officially began producing the sparkling Cava, having previously focused on still wines. Despite having expanded and now producing more than 600,000 bottles a year of various types – both sparkling and still –to sell locally and around the world, their history clearly remains very dear to them, as you’re reminded by the little touches throughout – a traditional wooden press here, original storage racks there, the house filled with memories and fascinating knick-knacks amassed during the family’s eight-century story in this spot.
Following the Cava-making process takes you through a barrage of contrasts, as Bohigas strive to achieve the fine balance between tradition and heritage, and modern and efficient practices. Climb the ancient stone steps that seem to lead into a tradition barn, and instead inside you’re greeted by sparklingly sterile modernity in the shape of giant stainless tanks; due to their size and to preserve the structure of the historical building in which they reside, the entire roof was removed, the tanks lowered in with a crane, and the roof rebuilt over them! These tanks are where the various grape varieties undergo their individual initial fermentation, and where the different varieties are then mixed in just the right ratios to create the base cava. From there, you descend into the dimly-lit cellar, immediately aware of the pleasant cool inside – the depth below the ground causes it to maintain a constant temperature year-round, perfect for the second fermentation and aging the various cavas they produce. Large, featureless, jail-like rooms inside the cellar reveal themselves to be historical wine fermentation tanks – an entry shoot in the ceiling allowed the grapes to be dropped in, and the weight of the fruit itself caused enough pressure to extract the juice, which then naturally fermented, before being removed through a pipe at the bottom, bottled and taken to market.
Escaping the damp chill of the cellar and emerging like hibernating beasts in the spring to cross the picturesque yard and enter the processing plant, you immediately return to the 21st century. Here, state of the art machines are the kings, bringing the required accuracy to finesse and finish the different types of wine ready for local or international delivery – about 90% of Bohigas’ annual production now being exported and enjoyed worldwide.
Tasting the Cavas – with a couple of slices of pan con tomate, naturally, since we’re in Cataluña – only reinforces the sense of pride in the tradition and quality produced at Bohigas – something that is backed up by their repeated high-scoring presence in the annual 50 Great Cavas contest, with more than one of their cavas securing coveted Highly Recommended or Outstanding results from the expert wine-tasting jury. If it’s good enough for them, it’s most certainly good enough for me!
On the day, we had the chance to sample three of their current Cava offerings (all of them with medals and amongst the 50 Great Cavas for 2018), and in case you’re wondering, this is what our expert wine tasters had to say after judging them in the competition earlier this year:
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