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Penedes Wine Region, a set on Flickr.

The nest day we travelled to the Penedes wine region in Catalonia outside of Barcelona. The first winery we visited was Codorniu, one of the largest producers of cava, the Spanish sparkling of wine made in the same style as champagne. Just as with champagne, only sparkling wine produced and bottled in the Cava region can be labeled as such. It has its own D.O., one of about 75 throughout Spain with its own set of regulations and restrictions that maintain the quality and integrity of the enology and viticulture of the region.

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Codorniu is a very old, family-run operation dating back to the 16th century, although cava production only began in the 19th century. However, nowadays, cava is what the winery is known for. The Grupo Codorniu holds a total of 11 wineries in Spain, USA and Argentina although it is based in Barcelona. In addition to cava, the winery specializes in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and several other unique varietals. They produce 24 million bottles of still wine a year, 42 million bottles of cava and employ over 1,000 workers in their fields and production facilities. Across their wineries, Codorniu has 21 enologists who control the quality of the wine-making process and experiment to create new product offerings. They often meet to critique one another and use a standardized quality scale that classifies the wines as A, B, C or D.

Codorniu is an international operation that experienced a banner year in international trade in 2000. They are present in over 50 countries and are the number two brand of sparkling wine in Sweden. As far as Cava goes, they are the market leader and brand themselves as a sparkling wine for more than just special occasions. The bottles are moderately priced and even though it follows the exact same procedure as champagne, it averages at four times cheaper.

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After the presentation we toured the underground basements where the cava is stored. The caves went four levels deep and each level had a capacity for 25 million bottles. During the second fermentation process necessary for sparkling wine, the bottles have to be rotated to separate the sediment from the wine. The last step involves freezing the bottles and removing the fines before corking and labeling. We were able to sample a rose and a white cava that were both very crisp and dry.

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After Codorniu, we traveled to Villa Franca where we visited the Torres winery. Torres is the second largest winery in all of Spain with major operations also in Chile and California and a presence in over 140 countries. Their international holdings include actual wineries in Chile and California as well as companies in China, India, Mexico and Finland. They also are involved in subsidiaries in Germany, Cuba and Russia where they send “missionaries” to promote Torres wine and culture.

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At first, the Torres facility we visited was not so different from Codorniu. They had a modern, attractive lobby and an auditorium for educating visitors and tourists. In fact, Torres’ wine tourism program is internationally recognized and award-winning as we were soon to experience. But before that we learned quite a bit about the Torres ethos and way of business.

The Torres family has been making wine since 1870 and has remained a family operation throughout the life of the company. The firm is self-financed and reinvests 95% of her profits. Their product line consist of medium to top-range wines that are well-established in Spain as well as Mexico and Northern Europe. Outside of Spain they compete with traditional French wines for market share. Within Spain they make wines from more than four separate D.O.’s and compete most aggressively with Riojas. They are best known for their estate wines whose grapes all come from the same property qualifying them for the Crianza designation. This results in wines with a distinct and unique terroir and demand a higher price point for their scarcity and rigid controls.

In addition to still wines, Torres uses its existing resources to also make Brandy. They invest heavily in R&D and were the first in Spain to truly explore the science of viticulture. One thing that sets Torres apart is their passion for resurrecting ancestral varietals that have all but disappeared in winemaking.

Ecology is an important tenet of the Torres philosophy and stands as one of the three pillars of their overall strategy along with quality and the communication of wine culture. Their success in these core areas has made them the #11 most recognized wine brand in the world.

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After our presentation we entered the Tunnel of Seasons where we got our first real taste of just how far the winery goes to create a unique experience for their visitors. We waited for the tram that was to take us on a tour of the facility as the aromas characteristic of the different seasons of the wine growing process were explained and pumped into a dark tunnel. Honestly, it was a little weird. The tram arrived and we were ferried around the property. The Torres facilities were all very state of the art and industrial looking in contrast to the dank old world caverns of Codorniu but they are designed to enhance the quality and control of the product even though working with bulk amounts of product.

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Before visiting Torres, I would have been skeptical about the product and integrity coming from such a large organization but I was honestly surprised and impressed with how Torres is able to manage such a wide scope of operations and maintain its values. If nothing else, they do a wonderful job of communicating and promoting wine culture and have a sincere passion for their craft. After the tour we sampled their 2009 Atrium, a Cabernet Sauvignon with some Temperanillo added to make it Spanish of course. It was very good for a Cab with incredibly long legs at 14% alcohol, a deep crimson color and a mild flavor that opened up into some blackberry and spice.

After Torres we had one of the better meals of the trip in my opinion where I had pork cheek for the first time along with a quail leg salad. Upon returning to the hotel, I paused for a nap and went out with some of the other group members to get our final taste of Barcelona.

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