One For The Road: José Ferrer, CEO of Vins Família Ferrer, on why cava can match up to champagne

By Hannah Choo 29 February, 2024

In One For The Road, we speak with the best wine and spirit guides to get to know them better. Here, we talk to José Ferrer of Vins Família Ferrer, the company behind seriously good vintage cava

To put this a little too bluntly, I don’t think many of us ever cared for cava until Vins Família Ferrer started producing sparkling wine. The Ferrers, with over 160 years of winemaking expertise, have been growing vines on the family estate since 1616. Coming from ancestors who founded the largest sparkling wine company in the world, Freixenet, Vins Família Ferrer has been making 100 per cent estate wines with minimal intervention, traditional techniques and a vertical wooden press that dates back to 1895. At the 250-hectare estate in Mediona, with some vineyards as high as 700 metres above sea level, only vintage Cava de Paraje (the best of the appellation) is produced with extra-long ageing, so you know the cava will always be complex, intense and full of personality. Here, we speak with CEO José Maria Ferrer, whose family is the reason why we have great Spanish sparkling wine today.

The Vins Família Ferrer vineyard. Photo by Vins Família Ferrer

How does Vins Família Ferrer preserve heritage and keep up with the times?

It’s very important to keep the heritage especially with this vineyard, because what we are trying to make is a very terroir-oriented cava. Cava has always been the product of blending, and with that, what one tries to do is to unify the product. You will want to always make the same product and the same house style, so the consumer knows what they are buying. But we are trying to make all the different things.

Different how?

We want a product that is single vineyard, single year. We play with nature, and nature is going to give us a different grape each year. To make the best cava each year, we have to always change the blend and to achieve what we think is the greatest possible product. To produce a terroir-oriented cava, you need a deep understanding of your vineyards, and to preserve the terroir richness, you need to preserve the biodiversity of the vineyard. By implementing organic and regenerative viticulture, we protect our vineyard for future generations.

Jose Ferrer inside the Vins Família Ferrer facility. Photo by Vins Família Ferrer

Why was the reputation of cava never great?

Cava has always been the cheapest version of Champagne. Nobody took care of the quality of cava. But now, a few cava makers are trying to improve the quality of cava, to make unique cava, and to change the way that we are confronting the market. It’s a challenge. Not everybody understands that cava can be more expensive, but we are happy to take on the challenge.

How has cava’s identity crisis been remedied?

With the classification system that was rolled out in 2017, winemakers have been able to change their labels to reflect their ageing status. There are four categories: Cava de Guarda, which requires a minimum ageing of nine months; Cava Reserve, which must be aged in the bottle for at least 18 months; Cava Gran Reserva, which has a minimum ageing requirement of 30 months; and the prestigious Cava de Paraje Calificado, which requires a minimum of 36 months. But even that is too young for us. We believe that to make good cava, you need to wait, to take the ageing potential to the maximum. Our youngest, in fact, is eight years old.

Can Sala 2008 was awarded Best Sparkling Wine of the World by The Drinks Business. Photo by Vins Família Ferrer

2017 is long time coming to change things.

Especially when cava began production in 1872. There are a few wineries that decided to exit the cava appellation, because they thought it was bad for their interest. There are inexpensive cava on the market, and they wanted to prove themselves to be better. As a result, they began bottling under a new label called Corpinnat, like a private club, but without control. It makes things a lot more complicated. How do you explain the difference between Corpinnat and cava? It’s creating a lot more confusion for the consumer.

At the end of the day, quality says everything, doesn’t it?

The importance is not just to be number one. It is consistency. But right now, we are always the best, so that’s good, and I am starting to like being number one. Nobody has tried to make cava like us, no one has cared. They thought that there was no marketing for this kind of wine because Champagne had it all. Yes, it is difficult to compete with great marketing, but luxury is not marketing. Luxury is to make your best efforts, to make the best product, to make sure you use the best quality grape.

Vins Família Ferrer