Founded in 1910, this small winery is now run by the founder’s grand daughter, Montse Rexach Peixó, following faithfully in the footsteps of the previous generations to produce up to 150,000 bottles of Cava a year befitting the family name.
Even in the pouring rain, the small, colourful Mediterranean terrace in front of the winery still brightens the day. Upon stepping into the small warehouse, you find yourself surrounded by the giant stainless tanks where the grapes are initially fermented and then mixed. Having been enthusiastically informed about the winery’s rich history, we descended 14m and 100 years back in time to the caves beneath, beginning in the youngest section, and, like some wine-loving Indiana Jones, working our way back to the darkest, earliest parts.
The caves were a real labour of love: in 1910, exploring the best way to produce and store wine, excavation began and a tunnel was created 7m below ground. Dug out by hand, it was a laborious process, but they quickly decided that the temperature was still too much of a victim to the whims of the climate outside, and so the decision was made to continue deeper. Thus, over the next twenty years,the tunnel network that remains in use today, situated 14m below the surface, came into existence. Stretching to well over 1000m in length, it’s a true feat of engineering, given that the founder had no architectural knowledge, and the volta catalana (Catalan arch) construction they employed is still standing strong today, even with houses having been built above some sections. One of the most fascinating quirks is that those digging away 14m down had very little idea of where they actually were in relation to what lay above. Therefore, periodically, they would come up to the surface to investigate, and they worked to buy the land above them as they went, hence the current location of the winery itself, and the vineyard.
The tunnel’s distance beneath the surface means a steady 14.5° day and night, summer and winter – especially important for Rexach Baqués, given that they significantly age all of their Cavas, with their most exclusive line maturing for seven years, this consistency of darkness and temperature allows the Cava’s colour and taste to be carefully preserved. Unlike at many modern Cava producers, the riddling process is still carried out by hand down in these caves, the bottles being expertly turned and stored in traditional wooden riddling racks.
In their day, the caves played also another important role – during the Spanish civil war, they were used as a refuge from the fighting above, and in fact some of the previous generation of the family were even born right there below ground. There might not have been much to eat, but at least they never went short of a good drink!
Arriving in the earliest tunnels, you come upon several racks of bottles barely visible beneath deep layers of spiders’ webs and dust, and discover that many have been here for upwards of a hundred years. Due to the temperature varying too much in this shallower cave, it’s not actively used today, so instead they keep some original bottles (still full) as a nod to their history and the labour of 100 years prior. In some of the corners of the cellar you can also see bottles stacked upside-down, a practice borne out of necessity, as the dampness of the caves caused many of the wooden riddling racks to disintegrate, the corner of the cellar providing an alternative vertical storage place.
From there, it was up the stairs and back to the future, and the cutting-edge machines used for disgorgement, dosage and cleaning and labelling the bottles ready for public sale. It is here where all the final touches are completed, balancing the levels, adjusting the sugars, adding a dash of Pinot Noir to their most exclusive bottles for extra structure and balance, to ensure all the Cava produced is to their exacting standards.
Thus the greatest treat was reserved for last, in a room full of intriguing pieces from the family’s history: the tasting. Rexach Baqués produce just a few different types of Cava each year, and generally in restricted quantities just as demand dictates, so nothing is left lying around to lose its quality – everything completes its aging process and is then rapidly distributed to keep it as fresh as possible. Under the understandably proud gaze of Montse, the sensations of the velvety bubbles, the delicate balance of sweetness and acidity, the note of chocolate here and buttery pastry there let you know you’re drinking pure gold – something crafted with love and a significant dose of family history and know-how.
Notes of ripe stone fruit with pastry characters. Ripe apples on the palate. Well balanced and firm. Elegant bubble. Generous length on the finish.
Expected to be one of the 50 Great Cavas for 2019!
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Photos: Jethro Swift