Freixenet, the family-owned Spanish sparkling-wine giant, is expanding even further with the launch of a new brand in Argentina and the purchase of a winery in Spain.
"We've been looking at doing something in Argentina for a long time," said Freixenet president José Luis Bonet. While searching for suitable land to buy there, Freixenet has been making batches of Malbec, Syrah and Merlot from purchased grapes in rented winery space. The new brand, called Viento Sur, will be released in South America this year, and is set to arrive in the United States in early 2004. Viento Sur will retail for about $6 a bottle.
Bonet confirmed that the company is now in the final stages of purchasing 790 acres of vineyard land in the Tupungato Valley in the Argentinean province of Mendoza. The company intends to make both sparkling and still wines there, though Bonet did not provide details on which grape varieties will be planted on the site.
The news of Freixenet's expansion into Argentina came in the same week that the cava producer announced the purchase of a Spanish winery owned by the French luxury goods group Moët Hennessy—Louis Vuitton (LVMH). The bodega -- designed by the famous Catalan architect Oscar Tusquets -- was built in 1996 in Penedès to house Chandon Cava, but after seven years of trying to persuade Spanish consumers to drink a cava made by a French Champagne house, LVMH decided to pull out.
Freixenet is paying around 11 million euros (US$12.8 million ) in a deal that includes the winery, 225 acres of vineyards and a couple of sparkling wine brands that Chandon was making at the site. In July, work will begin on converting the winery into a still-wine facility, which will become the new home of Freixenet's René Barbier wines, which are currently made at the company's Segura Viudas winery.
"Our ambition is to be the No. 1 wine group in the world," said Bonet of Freixnet's future plans. The Ferrer family has been making cava for more than 100 years, but in the past decade, it has become, through acquisitions and partnerships, one of the fastest-growing wine groups in the world. The Freixenet Group has footholds in many Spanish wine regions, along with business interests in France, Mexico, California and Australia. In 2001, the company took a 60 percent stake in the Wingara Wine Group of Australia and then bought the Bordeaux négociant Yvon Mau, one of the biggest exporters of Bordeaux wines.
Although sparkling wine remains a core part of Freixenet's business at 10 million cases annually, still wines account for 40 percent of the company's total production, and that proportion is growing.
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