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Catalan Festival is Weekend’s Best Excursion

By KATHLEEN HILL Special to the Planet
Friday July 23, 2004

Traveling close to home this weekend, try the Catalan Festival at Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves just south of Sonoma. 

The 12th annual Catalan Festival of food, wine, and music (and dancing for everyone) is this Saturday and Sunday, July 24 and 25. Guests will enjoy wild Spanish guitar performances by Eric Symons, and colorful, pounding sardana and flamenco dance performances by the Flamenco Society of San Jose, California.  

Gloria Ferrer owners Gloria and Jose Ferrer (not the movie star, but an extremely interesting and creative man), come from ancient Catalonian wine families. Ferrer’s mother’s family had been making wine outside Barcelona for over 700 years. Francesc Sala I Ferres founded “Casa Sala,” the first wine exported from Sant Sadurni d’Anoia in 1861. His daughter married Pere Ferrer i Bosch, scion of “La Freixeneda,” the family’s 13th century estate in the Alt Penedes region. Eventually the first Freixenet Casa Sala appeared as the first family “cava,” or sparkling wine, to which the Ferrer family is still dedicated. 

Catalonia was one of the early kingdoms of Spain, along with Valencia and Castilla. Each kingdom developed its own language, culture, cuisine, heritage, and, of course, its own royal family. Through marriages, tugs of real war, and other conquests, the whole territory became one country, Spain.  

Barcelona surfaced as the dominant political and military center in the region, and by the 13th century it rivaled Genoa and Venice in Italy as a maritime power. Having linked with France’s Louis XII, Catlanonia’s forces were later crushed by Don Juan of Austria in the siege of 1652. When the Catalans tried again to secede from Philip V’s monarchy during the Spanish War of Succession, Catalonia lost and gave up Barcelona on Sept. 11, 1714. Today Catalonian’s celebrate that day as Catalonia’s National Day, and Gloria Ferrer’s annual Catalan Festival is pretty close to that holiday. 

The company launched its Cava Carta Nevada in 1941, expanded Freixenent internationally, and after researching sites throughout the United States began building Gloria Ferrer south of Sonoma (well, technically in Schellville) in 1984. The family now has wineries in Spain, France, Mexico, and Australia, and claims to be “the world’s largest methode champenoise sparkling wine producer.” 

Gloria Ferrer Vice President Eva Bertran joined the company with a fresh MBA and no wine experience (except drinking it occasionally), and was sent off to found Gloria Ferrer “in San Francisco.” 

Bertran was picked up at the airport back in 1984, and much to her surprise was driven right through San Francisco without stopping and over the Golden Gate Bridge. As she said, “the roads kept getting narrower and narrower and I wondered where they were taking me!” Eventually Bertran arrived at a trailer that served as the company headquarters parked on a dusty hillside across from Angelo’s meats on Highway 121, also known now as Carneros Highway. 

Bertran gently supervised construction and all aspects of developing Gloria Ferrer, and today oversees all aspects of the sparkling wine facility, including hospitality and the fabulous Catalan Festival this weekend. Winemaker Bob Iantosca and Vineyard Manager Mike Crumly, along with Eva Bertran, have all been with Gloria Ferrer from the beginning, an unusual silent but loaded statement for the winery’s ownership, policies, and management. 

Always a prosperous and republican area, Catalonia has fought for independence many times, achieving autonomy from 1932-1939, and crushed this time by Francisco Franco and the Nationalists. The Nationalists then tried to squelch anything Catalan and did until the Constitution of 1977, which gave Catalonia some degree of self government. Now Catalonia is Spain’s most successful region economically, producing about 20 percent of Spain’s gross national product on six percent of its land, and with only 15 percent of its people.  

Like many regions of the world, Catalonia works to maintain its own identity, and does so quite successfully. Barcelona, “Catalonia’s enchanted city,” is modern, urban, and artistic, with Moorish influences in older architecture. Many famous artists, including Pablo Picasso, lived or still live in Barcelona, which is sometimes called “Paris with palm trees.” 

At Gloria Ferrer’s sparkling winery set against the Sonoma hills, Catalan Festival goers will get to see the Gegants de Mataro, 15-foot tall papier mache “puppets,” some of which resemble Spanish kings and queens, sample fine Catalan, Spanish and Mediterranean foods and the best of Gloria Ferrer’s sparkling and still wines, listen to hot romantic Flamenco guitar, and dance along with Flamenco dancers.  

Cooking demonstrations augment samplings of paella, tapas, and other Catalan specialties will be available throughout the Catalan Festival. Guest chefs from the Avance Tapas Bar and Restaurant, the Girl and the Fig, The Lodge at Sonoma, Park Avenue Catering, The Pasta Shop with Cheeses of Spain, B44 Catalan Bistro, Thirsty Bear and Ramblas Tapas Bar, Destino, and La Tasca. 

If you go, visit other wineries’ attempts at country-of-origin replication along the same stretch of Highway 121 at Viansa’s Italian Market Place and Winery, Schug Carneros Estate Winery (German), Cline Cellars’ early American, and nearby Sonoma Country Antiques’ English imports. 


Kathleen Hill is co-author with Gerald Hill of Sonoma Valley: The Secret Wine Country and five other Hill Guides from Globe-Pequot Press. Send travel tidbits to her atª