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The name Codorníu is undoubtedly associated with cava. The Codorníu Raventos family has been in the wine and cava business for 450 years, making it the oldest family-run business in Spain and among the oldest in the world. Codorníu can also be credited with inventing cava, the Catalan version of champagne, as they were the first ones to issue a bottle of the sparkling wine.
It was Jaume Codorníu who, in 1551, set up a wine making business in the Penedes wine region, about 50km from Barcelona, in the same place where the company still is based today. A century later, Anna Codorníu, who inherited the estate and was the last one to bear the Codorníu surname, married a notable wine dresser, Miquel Raventos, and so their children’s surnames became Raventos Codorníu and their grandchildren Raventos. And so, the Codorníu businesses changed hands from the Codorníu family to the Raventos family, the owner until this date, but conserved the brand name Codorníu.
Although Codorníu is best known for cava, it was first a wine company and only became a cava producer in 1872, when the first bottle was finally manufactured by Josep Raventos, five years before Cava Llopart, up the road from Codorníu, also released its first bottle. It was Josep’s son, Manuel, who decided to change the focus of the company towards cava because he saw potential in the new product.
At that time, European vines were being attacked by the phylloxera pest which could have killed up to 90% of all the vines, and Manuel decided to replace the old vines with new American ones which were immune to the pest. It was also at that time when he decided to build a state of the art winery which was completed in 1915 and which was designed by Gaudi-contemporary architect Puig i Cadafalch, famous for the beautiful building Casa Ametller, the one right next to the stunning dragon building, Casa Batllo, one of Gaudi’s most amazing buildings. The winery is still considered one of the most beautiful ones and is often referred to as the “Cava Cathedral”. A visit to Codorníu is worth it even if just for the building itself. Puig i Cadafalch also built the Raventos’ family country home, by the winery, sitting above the 30km of underground tunnels, split over 4 levels, where the 90 million cava bottles rest and age today.
The cava empire did not end there and Codorníu also moved back into wines around 1914 when Raimat was founded. Raimat is a separate brand also owned by the Codorníu Raventos Group and which produces high quality wines. Raimat’s first vineyards were in the Costers del Segre wine region, about 1,5h from Sant Sadurni d’Anoia, where the headquarters and the cava region are. This entrepreneurial spirit of the raventos family has brought many key first items, including the first TV ad which was broadcasted in 1959 when the first Spanish TV channel was inaugurated.
Despite the humble beginnings, in a tough land for agriculture, Raimat has become the largest vineyard in Europe with 2,000 hectares of vines used to produce both Raimat wines and Cava.
During the 20th century, Codorníu Group acquired wineries in other Spanish regions like Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Priorat as well as California and Mendoza, in Argentina bringing the total number to ten. Today, 50% of Codorníu production is exported.
Codorníu receives 200,000 visitors every year. That makes it one of the most visited wineries in Spain and a destination of pilgrimage. It is common for visitors to come as part of organised day-tours which stop in the Montserrat Mountain, a few kilometers from Codorníu, and have lunch in the area.
Codorníu offers buses from Barcelona and tours in English and other languages daily but is usually closed on Sundays and public holidays. Its location, up on a hill in front of Montserrat, gives it a privileged position and view that make for a fantastic visit.
Since 2017 is the 150th anniversary of Puig i Cadafalch’s birth, Codorniu is organising specific architecturally and heritage focused tours in his honour. There is also an Anna de Codorniu visit which includes tastings of three of Anna’s cavas accompanied with Catalan snacks after the visit.
The tours can also be paired with food in various forms. There are breakfasts to be taken pre tour, cheese and cava pairings or four types at the end of the tour, and for the more adventurous, an ebike tour that precedes the winery visit.
Codorniu’s modernist past
The standard winery visit includes a brief audiovisual documentary with 3D glasses that goes through the beginnings and the vineyards. It is then followed by a visit to the old winery, the first one designed by Puig i Cadafalch which includes the area that has been converted into a museum and is used for private events like weddings and conferences. After that, the most exciting part of the journey begins. Underground, four floors below the mountain side, Codorniu’s tunnels lie in peace, damp and dark. Here, the brand’s 90 million bottles are paved in 30km of tunnels that are spread over four floors accessible via stairs and an elevator. The tour goes directly to the 4th level where a small section of the tunnels have been kept just like how they were when they were created. The tour only visits this section, onboard a train, and does not go to the modern parts where bottles are being held today in modern palets.
Tunnel train tour of Codorniu
I enjoyed the tour, especially seeing how wine was made before and enjoying Puig i Cadafalch’s architectural masterpiece. But I found it short on wine or cava making and on history. There was little said on the building’s history, in fact, the modernist style or the architect’s name was not even mentioned once nor were we pointed at the magnificence of the building. Instead, we were slightly oversold on the private events Codorniu organises. There was also little talk about the beginnings of Codorniu, the family’s name or any of the many firsts the brand is known for. It was enjoyable, but I would have liked a bit more substance and less showmanship. At the end, we enjoyed two full glasses of cava, a white and a rose, in the tasting room.
Make a day out of the Codorniu visit
If you visit Codorniu in your own private car, there are several other activities and places you can visit close to Codorniu to make a day out of the trip from Barcelona or Sitges. These are some of the possibilities to be combined with a Codorniu visit:
Make it a day out for cava
Combine the visit to Codorniu with a visit to any of the other wine and cava wineries in the area. For example, Cava Llopart, the second oldest cava producer which is not too far from Codorniu. For lunch, stop at El Mirador de les Caves, right above Llopart, which offers combined tours of Llopart with lunch at very reasonable prices and with some of the most stunning views. Combining Codorniu with Torres makes it a complete day with the two most relevant wine and cava companies in the region. But if you want something smaller yet also fascinating, try Albet i Noya, the pioneer organic winemaker.
Cava and beach
If you want to start the day with a traditional Catalan breakfast and tour at Codorniu, you could have lunch by the beach in Sitges, enjoying a tasty paella near the waves at La Santa Maria. Sitges is a lovely quaint town by the sea, about 30km from Barcelona so makes for a great day out on its own and a lovely way to complement a cava tour. In Sitges, after lunch, you could enjoy a visit to the Cau Ferrat or Palau Maricel and a stroll along the town’s back streets and sea promenade.
Codorniu and Montserrat Mountain
Montserrat is perhaps the most iconic mountain in Catalunya. Montserrat is a holy place of pilgrimage by many and is topped by a working Benedictine monastery that is nearly 1000 years old. The mountain range is rounded as a result of erosion and that accounts for the name. In the monastery there is a black madonna, the most well known element of the mountain. For years until very recently, La Moreneta, the name used to refer to the virgin, was believed to have been carved in black but it was discovered that the virgin turned black as a result of smoke. Apart from the virgin and the unique landscapes, Montserrat is well known for having the oldest boy’s choir in Europe and their performances can be enjoyed in the weekend. Montserrat also has a museum with paintings from El Greco, Picasso and Dalí and treasures from ancient Egypt. The area around the basilica is dotted with several artisan products and some restaurants and bars where you can have lunch between Codorniu and Montserrat. If you don’t have a car, this tour can also be organised with transport from Barcelona.